This issue of the Irish Journal of Agricultural and Food Research is devoted to the proceedings of an international conference, entitled "Grasses for the Future - Perennial ryegrasses:current and future genetic potential". This conference was organised by Teagasc, Animal & Grassland Research and Innovation Centre, Moorepark, Fermoy, Co. Cork in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and held in Cork, Ireland on October 14 & 15, 2010. All of the papers in this issue have been subjected to external peer review and the normal editing process. Some of the papers differ considerably from the version circulated to conference participants.

Recent Submissions

  • The economics of reseeding on a dairy farm

    Shalloo, Laurence; Creighton, P.; O'Donovan, Michael (Teagasc (Agriculture and Food Development Authority), Ireland, 2011)
    Herbage production and utilization on Irish dairy farms is well below its potential. A number of factors influence herbage production and utilization, not least the level of annual reseeding (introduction of a new grass ley) on the farm. The potential farm performance is reduced by old permanent pasture due to the combined effects of reduced out-of-season herbage production and lower overall herbage yield when compared to perennial ryegrass. Based on the sales of grass seed, it is estimated that approximately 2% of the land area on dairy farms in Ireland is reseeded annually. This has created a situation where the overall percentage of perennial ryegrass in sward is low. The objective of the present study was to investigate the economic benefits of reseeding through simulating the consequences of reseeding different proportions of the farm on an annual basis. Four levels of an annual reseeding programme were evaluated: 1%, 5%, 10% and 15% of the farm reseeded annually; evaluated at three milk prices (20 c/L, 27c/L and 33 c/L). Increasing the level of reseeding resulted in an increase in total and seasonal herbage production and, when accompanied by an increased stocking rate, increased herbage utilization. At a milk price of 27 c/L, farm profitability was €20 764, €24 794, €30 073 and €33 515 on a 40 ha farm when 1%, 5%, 10% and 15%, respectively, of the farm was reseeded annually. Irrespective of milk price, increasing the level of reseeding had a positive effect on profitability and the highest gain was achieved at the highest milk price. Sensitivity analysis showed that sward persistency and, to a lesser extent, herbage utilization had significant effects on the benefit from reseeding.
  • Studies into the dynamics of perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) seed mixtures

    Gilliland, T.J.; Hennessy, D.; Griffith, V. (Teagasc (Agriculture and Food Development Authority), Ireland, 2011)
    The dynamic interactions of four perennial ryegrass seed mixtures sold in Northern Ireland were studied under simulated grazing and conservation managements. Mixture composition was determined as changes in phosphoglucoisomerase isozyme frequencies by calculation from known isozyme frequencies of the component varieties. Mixture productivity was measured over 4 growing seasons and compared with yields predicted from those of the components in monoculture, weighted for their actual proportion in the mixture. No significant differences were found between actual yields for mixtures and their predicted yields, but when these differences were regressed against the heading date range among the varieties in each mixture, a significant relationship was observed. A wide range in heading date among the components of the mixtures was associated with increased yield stability over years and with a declining yield advantage for the mixture compared to its components grown as monocultures. In this aspect, the mixtures showed a more rapid decline under conservation management than under simulated grazing. Mixtures also had a flatter seasonal yield-production profile than their component varieties. Tetraploid components were more aggressive than diploids, though a more open-growing diploid maintained its proportion in the sward better than a dense-growing type and manipulating the sowing ratios could be used to influence final sward composition after 2 years. It was concluded that the differences in heading date range within mixtures had a significant impact on mixture dynamics, with the tetraploid component being the most aggressive.
  • Capturing the economic benefit of Lolium perenne cultivar performance

    McEvoy, M.; O'Donovan, Michael; Shalloo, Laurence (Teagasc (Agriculture and Food Development Authority), Ireland, 2011)
    Economic values were calculated for grass traits of economic importance in Irish grass-based ruminant production systems. Traits considered were those that had the greatest potential to influence the profitability of a grazing system. These were: grass dry matter (DM) yield in spring, mid-season and autumn, grass quality (dry matter digestibility; DMD), 1st and 2nd cut silage DM yield and sward persistency. The Moorepark Dairy Systems Model was used to simulate a dairy farm. Economic values were calculated by simulating the effect of a unit change in the trait of interest while holding all other traits constant. The base scenario involved a fixed herd size and land area (40 ha), and an annual DM yield of 13 t/ha. The economic values generated under the base scenario were: € 0.152/kg for DM yield in spring, € 0.030/kg for DM yield in mid-season and € 0.103/kg for DM yield in autumn; € 0.001, € 0.008, € 0.010, € 0.009, € 0.008 and € 0.006 per 1 g/kg change in DMD for the months of April to September, respectively; € 0.03/kg for 1st cut silage DM yield, € 0.02/kg for 2nd cut silage DM yield; and − € 4.961 for a 1 percent reduction in persistency. Alternative scenarios were examined to determine the sensitivity of the economic values to changes in annual DM yield, sward utilisation and a scenario where silage production was the focus of the system. The economic values were used to calculate a total merit index for each of 20 perennial ryegrass cultivars based on production data from a 3 year plot study. The rank correlation between the merit index values for the cultivars under the base scenario and the scenario involving a reduction in herbage utilisation was 1.0, while that with the scenario involving reduced annual DM yield was 0.94. It is concluded that the total merit index can be used to identify cultivars that can generate the greatest economic contribution to a grass-based production system, regardless of system or intensity of grass production.
  • A review of perennial ryegrass variety evaluation in Ireland

    Grogan, D.; Gilliland, T.J. (Teagasc (Agriculture and Food Development Authority), Ireland, 2011)
    Official National List (NL) testing of perennial ryegrasses commenced in Ireland at the start of the 1970s with Northern Ireland (NI) having one site as part of the UK NL testing network, and the Republic of Ireland (ROI) using 5 sites. The different testing strategies adopted to achieve sufficient precision for regional Recommended Listing in ROI from a multi-site system and from a single-site system in NI were considered, including the test protocols, use of sequential sowings, timeframes and ‘merit scores’. The precision with which varieties can be discriminated for yield potential was shown to decline at lower trial plot yields. Furthermore, reducing the number of data sets used for decision making was shown to increase the ‘breeder’s risk’ of having an improved variety incorrectly rejected but not the ‘tester’s risk’ of erroneously recommending a variety that was not a clear improvement, because statistical analysis expanded confidence limits. These variety lists initially assessed only yield and persistency, giving a progressive improvement in recommended varieties and despite high genotype-x-environment interaction effects was most clearly evident in spring productivity improvements. The lists have been highly influential in both jurisdictions as almost all agricultural grass seed sales were recommended in ROI or NI, but the overuse of late maturing varieties in the ROI market and declining reseeding levels across Ireland indicated the current limits of this influence. This, and increasing requirements from Irish farmers for improvement in the nutritive value of varieties to support greater dependence on grass for animal production, has led to increased testing for digestibility and other quality parameters. While there is valid scientific evidence that shows that improvements in perennial ryegrass varieties has increased milk and meat production, more detailed information is required to satisfy the specific needs of local farmers. Consequently, a research initiative has been instigated to develop an index that will incorporate all the yield, persistence and quality performances of each recommended variety into a ranking score for a specific herd management system. This guidance should simplify recommendations and better quantify variety improvements in financial terms. It is envisaged that this will encourage an increase in the renewal of Irish pastures, promote selection of varieties based on enterprise-specific value and will continue to enhance the profitability and sustainability of grass-dependent Irish farming as has been achieved since recommended lists were first introduced in Ireland.
  • A theoretical and practical analysis of the optimum breeding system for perennial ryegrass

    Conaghan, P.; Casler, M.D. (Teagasc (Agriculture and Food Development Authority), Ireland, 2011)
    The goal of plant breeding is to effectively and efficiently select for the best phenotypes leading to the development of improved cultivars. The objectives for this review are to describe and critically evaluate breeding methods appropriate to the improvement of perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) in a long-term breeding programme. The optimum breeding system is dependent on the traits for improvement, and the available physical and human resources. Forage dry matter yield, persistency, disease resistance, nutritional value and seed yield are considered among the most important traits for improvement. Careful consideration should be given to the expression of the trait under the management regime imposed in the breeding programme and under real-world sward conditions in the target sowing region. Recurrent selection programmes for intrapopulation improvement are most appropriate for breeding perennial ryegrass. Three distinct types of recurrent selection may be implemented: (i) phenotypic recurrent selection, (ii) genotypic recurrent selection and (iii) marker-assisted selection. Genotypic recurrent selection will be a necessary part of the breeding system if forage yield is a trait for improvement. Genotypic recurrent selection may be practiced using full-sib or half-sib families, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Phenotypic recurrent selection in tandem (i.e., within-family selection) or in succession with genotypic recurrent selection should be used to improve traits that have a high-correlation between performance from spaced plants and from sward plots. Genome-wide selection represents the most interesting and exciting potential application of marker-assisted selection, although it remains to be seen how beneficial it will be in practice.
  • Ryegrass breeding - balancing trait priorities

    Stewart, A.; Hayes, R. (Teagasc (Agriculture and Food Development Authority), Ireland, 2011)
    In all ryegrass breeding programmes it is necessary to select a range of traits within different cultivar types, varying in ploidy and flowering time. The traits selected in ryegrass breeding can be broadly grouped into production traits such as yield, quality and persistency; those seed production traits crucial for delivery of the cultivar, as well as those traits that can benefit the environment, or allow ryegrass to be used for biofuel production. The emphasis placed on each trait will depend on its economic value within the various farming systems where each cultivar will ultimately be used, as well as the potential to make genetic gain in each trait. In all cases multiple trait selection will be required, to develop a cultivar improved for key traits of interest but importantly the cultivar must not have unacceptable performance for any trait. Where the genetic variation is inadequate within perennial ryegrass it may be necessary to enhance ryegrass diversity. In the future this could be achieved through targeted introgression from the closely related Festuca species, or through introduction of genes via genetic modification. Funding of ryegrass breeding internationally will increasingly be subject to the economic success of a few larger seed companies as Government funding for field-based breeding is diminishing and shifting focus to more basic research, often of a molecular nature. Ensuring this expensive basic research and associated molecular technologies are used effectively in ryegrass breeding programmes will remain a challenge when seed companies operating field-based programmes are vulnerable to considerable economic pressure.
  • Gains in dry matter yield and herbage quality from breeding perennial ryegrass

    Wilkins, P.W.; Lovatt, J.A. (Teagasc (Agriculture and Food Development Authority), Ireland, 2011)
    During the last 100 years, in Western Europe and elsewhere, considerable effort has been devoted to improving perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) for agriculture. The first persistent cultivars to be widely used were more digestible than other common pasture species but were no higher yielding than the better wild populations of perennial ryegrass. Two main approaches (here called mainstream breeding and population improvement) have been used to further improve the species for the UK, but no recent experiments to assess progress have been published. In 2006, two plot trials were established at IBERS to compare the performance of some newer cultivars and candidate varieties with the first persistent cultivars to be widely used in the UK. One trial involved comparing 10 intermediate-heading (6 diploid and 4 tetraploid) cultivars and candidate varieties with the intermediate-heading cv. Talbot, and the other involved comparing 11 late-heading (4 diploid and 7 tetraploid) cultivars and candidate varieties with the late-heading cv. S23. During 2007 to 2009, one silage cut and 6 other cuts were harvested each year, annual dry matter (DM) yields were determined and DM samples analysed for in vitro DM digestibility (DMD), water soluble carbohydrate (WSC) and crude protein (CP) concentrations in the DM. Percentage ground covered by perennial ryegrass in November 2009 was estimated visually. Twenty of the 21 cultivars were significantly (12 to 38%) higher yielding, 15 were significantly (10 to 27 g/kg) higher in mean DMD, 15 were significantly (25 to 58 g/kg) higher in mean WSC and 7 (all diploids) were significantly higher in ground cover in autumn of the third harvest year than their respective control cultivars. There were no significant differences among the varieties in mean CP over all harvests. The newest intermediate-heading cultivar (the diploid Abermagic) produced 29% more DM, was 10 g/kg higher in DMD and 51 g/kg higher in WSC, and had significantly better ground cover at the end of the third harvest year than Talbot. The newest late-heading cultivar (the tetra-ploid Aberbite) produced 28% more DM than S23 and was 22 g/kg higher in DMD and 58g/kg higher in WSC, although it was similar to S23 for ground cover at the end of the third harvest year. Both of these new varieties were developed entirely or partly by population improvement at IBERS over 26 years (1980 to 2005). These results suggest that the rates of gain in DM yield under nitrogen-limiting conditions and in herbage WSC concentration from perennial ryegrass breeding can be improved by utilizing new technologies and better breeding strategies.
  • Requirements of future grass-based ruminant production systems in Ireland

    O'Donovan, Michael; Lewis, Eva; O'Kiely, Padraig (Teagasc (Agriculture and Food Development Authority), Ireland, 2011)
    There is a renewed interest in grazing systems in many temperate and subtropical regions of the world. This results from lower inflation-adjusted prices, the proposed removal of some subsidies and tariffs, and rising labour, machinery and housing costs. The utilization of grass by grazing should provide the basis of sustainable livestock systems as grazed grass is the cheapest source of nutrients for ruminants. This is very important in the Irish context as there are approximately 130 000 farmers involved in primary production in Ireland and the value of the goods produced was €5.8 billion in 2008. For the future, the key objective for grazing systems is to ensure high grass utilization, allowing increased output per hectare for all sectors. The primary emphasis in grass breeding needs to be focused on (i) seasonal growth pattern as well as overall annual growth, (ii) nutritive value, including digestibility, particularly in the mid-season period, (iii) ensuring a sward canopy structure that is suitable for grazing, and (iv) development of persistent cultivars that perform under farm conditions. Evaluation programmes should also consider including an estimate of production potential at the field as well as at plot level, and evaluation under grazing management systems as well as under mixed grazing/silage management systems. It is difficult to accurately quantify the breeding achievements for grass mainly because its value, whether grazed or conserved, must be indirectly realised through the output of animal product. Grass evaluation and breeding need to better accommodate the requirements of the grazing ruminant. This will necessitate the application of new approaches and knowledge, which will ultimately enable further increases in animal output per hectare to be achieved.