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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

New Trefoils Give Breeders More Options

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New Trefoils Give Breeders More Options

Two new lines of narrowleaf and big trefoil plants from the Agricultural Research Service should help breeders develop improved forages for livestock and wildlife.

Trefoil species provide excellent nutrition. Unlike alfalfa, these forages don't cause bloating. They also tolerate marginal production conditions such as dry, saline, or flooded soils. Because trefoils are legumes, they fix nitrogen into the soil for later use by grasses and forbs. This can reduce the need for fertilizer.

The ultimate goal of ARS agronomist Jeffrey J. Steiner and geneticist Paul R. Beuselinck is to increase forage quality on pastureland. That way, farmers won't have to purchase as much feed to supplement the diets of their livestock that graze on pastures.

The popularity of birdsfoot trefoil, a related species, has grown steadily over the past few decades. But growers have only been able to obtain a few commercial varieties of big trefoil, and those were not bred for U.S. farm conditions. No commercial varieties of narrowleaf trefoil are available.

Both of the new releases—ARS-1207 narrowleaf trefoil and ARS-1221 big trefoil— combine the characteristics of dozens of different genetic populations that were collected from around the world. These populations, known as accessions, are stored in the ARS-managed National Plant Germplasm System.

"This seed is intended for breeders, not farmers," says Steiner. "The germplasm enables breeders to evaluate all available characteristics for each species without individually testing each accession." That way, he says, breeders can use the releases to develop varieties adapted to local conditions.

The narrowleaf line descends from 41 different accessions originally collected in about a dozen countries. The big trefoil germplasm incorporates more than 80 accessions from at least 8 countries.

Big trefoil grows in warmer, wetter areas than birdsfoot trefoil. Narrowleaf trefoil prefers drier, warmer areas that may be saline.

Researchers and breeders can obtain small amounts of seed from Steiner.—By Kathryn Barry Stelljes, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.

Jeffrey J. Steiner is in the USDA-ARS Forage Seed and Cereal Research Unit, 3450 S.W. Campus Way, Corvallis, OR 97331-7102; phone (541) 750-8734, fax (541) 750-8750.

Paul R. Beuselinck is in the USDA-ARS Plant Genetics Research Unit, University of Missouri, Waters Hall, Room 207, Columbia, MO 65211; phone (573) 882-6406, fax (573) 882-1467.

"New Trefoils Give Breeders More Options" was published in the April 2000 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

Last Modified: 3/17/2014
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