• The effect of grass genotype and spring management on the nutritive value of mid-summer ryegrass swards

      O'Donovan, Michael; Hurley, Grainne; Gilliland, Trevor (Teagasc, 2008-07-01)
      The objective of this project was to investigate the environmental, morphological and management factors that control reproductive initiation and development in Lolium perenne L. (perennial ryegrass) and their influence on mid-season sward quality. These factors were assessed on eight perennial ryegrass cultivars through spaced plant and plot studies. The first part of this project determined the effects of meteorological conditions and latitude on reproductive initiation and ear emergence of cultivars over two consecutive years. It was concluded that the critical day length requirement for reproductive initiation varies between perennial ryegrass cultivars and is independent of latitude and the normal range of conditions. Using this information a strong correlation (r2 = 0.94) was found between the critical day length for ear initiation and the ten year standardised ear emergence dates of the cultivars. This correlation was sufficiently robust to predict the critical initiation date for any perennial ryegrass cultivar on a UK recommended list or on the EU common catalogue by using their heading dates from the UK Plant Breeders Rights trials at Crossnacreevy. Large variation was observed for secondary initiation and re-heading between cultivars of similar and varying maturity, which is a major factor reducing mid-season sward quality. The propensity for initiation of re-heading was strongly influenced by the severity of defoliation (intense to very lax), but there was also evidence to suggest that critical day length post-solstice, may determine the latest date when further reproductive initiation could occur. Differences in plant growth modes were clearly evident as the sward structure, plant morphology and nutritive compositions differed significantly between cultivars during the mid-season. Defoliation management also significantly affected mid-season sward structure, morphology and nutritive composition. While the effect of defoliation height on the sward physical and chemical compositions was inconclusive, an intensive (30 mm) defoliation resulted in plants returning to a vegetative growth mode earlier compared to a lax (60 mm) defoliation treatment. It was observed that defoliation at a critical growth stage can significantly affect subsequent sward structures. Delaying initial spring defoliation resulted in a greater leaf proportion and swards of greater herbage quality in the plot study. This study, therefore, established the need for more detailed evaluation of cultivars by national testing authorities to allow farmers to select cultivars for grazing use that will optimise animal intake and performance.