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New pre-breeding, crop improvement R&D for grass and forage crops - IF0120

Concerns about greenhouse gas emissions, and diffuse pollution of waterways have strengthened the need for farming systems that are environmentally and economically sustainable. Grassland represents more than 70% of the UK's agricultural land and the development of systems of land use and livestock production with reduced environmental footprints is essential if this need is to be met.

New roles for grasslands have also been identified including the protection of land and water quality and their potential for carbon sequestration. Their genetic diversity also provides a source of genes for adaptation to climate change.

Forage grasses, especially perennial ryegrass, and legumes (white and red clover) are key components of agricultural grasslands across the UK. The proposed research builds on existing programmes of genetic improvement of grasses and legumes at IGER and the use of its unique genetic resources. This work has demonstrated genetic improvement with respect to 'environmental sustainability' traits and shown the potential impact of novel varieties with these traits at farm and catchment level.

The proposed work uses the extensive natural genetic resources available in grasses and clovers to deliver environmental sustainability traits in UK grasslands . It is focused on the contribution that genetic improvement, allied to appropriate management, can make to reduce the environmental footprint of current livestock agriculture and also on exploiting the role of grasslands in the mitigation of, as well as adaptation to climate change.

Modern techniques in plant breeding (non GM) will be used to develop germplasm with the potential to make a significant contribution in four key areas.

(i) Reducing diffuse pollution of air and water from livestock systems. This will be achieved firstly by the genetic improvement of the composition of grasses and clover to optimise nutrient, particularly nitrogen, use in the rumen. Secondly, we will reduce the need for fertiliser inputs. The development of grasses and clovers that perform well at lower levels of applied nitrogen(N) and phosphorus (P) will require less fertiliser application thereby helping to reduce diffuse pollution of water in compliance with the EU Water Framework Directive.

(ii) Enhancing the carbon sequestration potential of grasslands as a contribution to climate change mitigation. Genetic variation for key traits involved in C sequestration will be identified.

(iii) Improving the stability and resilience of grasslands through the use of multi-species mixtures. We will study multi-species swards in comparison with monocultures or grass/clover swards with respect not only to stability and resilience but also in terms of their effects on the delivery of ecosytem services (e.g. clean water).

(iv) Adaptation to climate change through enhanced water use efficiency. This involves selection for morphological and physiological traits that affect soil hydrology. Genotypes will also be selected for increased water use efficiency under times of drought.

The exploitation of our developing understanding of genes for key environmental sustainability traits and the means for their assembly in elite germplasm via new gene marker technologies together with a close association to the forage seed industry provides a robust pipeline enabling knowledge transfer between basic and applied research through into farming. IGER is also committed to playing a strong role in knowledge interaction with end users and other stakeholders through a range of mechanisms.
Project Documents
• Final Report : Grass and clover genetic improvement to deliver environmental benefits   (1518k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2007

To: 2008

Cost: £448,646
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Institute of Grassland and Environment Research (IGER)
Agricultural Land              
Integrated Farming Systems              
Sustainable Farming and Food Science              
Sustainable Farming Systems