Creating high quality forage legumes and grasses

Plant breeding requires many years of research, trials and testing to safeguard the variety's characteristics and reliability. Lantmännen Lantbruk employes plant breeding experts to develop varieties that are later used as components in grass seed mixtures. The overall objective is the production of good quality forage.

Linda Öhlund is involved with the breeding of forage legumes for the whole of Sweden. The work to develop forage grass is led by her colleague in Svalöv, Christer Persson. “We need strong breeding programmes in order to meet demand," says Linda Öhlund.

Breeding success

Linda Öhlund is focusing on the development of red clover, white clover and lucerne (alfalfa). “It is not uncommon for it to take 15 years from the cross first being made until the new variety reaches the market. The process involves testing the material over a number of ley years. We also want to establish the varieties more than once before deciding on the varieties that will go on to official variety testing. Seed propagation itself also takes longer than cereals, for example, as forage crops do not produce seed until the second year. Each species is tested for characteristics such as yield capacity winter resistance, seeding, forage quality and disease resistance.

"Winter resistance is most important and depends on many factors. With red clover, we make our selection in the greenhouse for resistance properties against both root rot and clover rot, and this is crucial," says Linda Öhlund. All of the material is then tested in field trials, normally lasting over three ley years.

The right kind of red clover

We focus our breeding on two types of red clover: the later variety possessing excellent winter resistance and the slightly earlier varieties that are suitable for cultivation. On the continent there is an early red clover variety characterised by an early development rhythm and strong regrowth capability, but limited winter resistance. For robust varieties, the mixture of forage legumes and grass crops becomes more even between harvests and between ley years.

Grass as protein crops

Grass as a crop is complex. The initial phase of development is primarily carried out in pure populations. In the next phase, just before launch, an evaluation is made when mixed with other species to ensure that the mixture interacts for the best results. Most importantly perhaps is that the development rhythm of the varieties ensures a sensible harvest window in reality.

There has been much debate about domestic protein crops and there is a great to be achieved by increasing the protein content of forage. "Why not fully utilise grass as we now have a crop that works well in our climate. Robust varieties with the right quality characteristics that are being grown in well-established cultivation strategies together with rapeseed or pulses offer a sustainable basic alternative for most animal species" concludes Linda Öhlund.

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