Michael D. Peel, PhD Forage & Range Research Lab Utah State University Logan, UT 84322-6300 (435) 797-3288 Mike.Peel@ars.usda.gov
Rangelands of the Western U.S. are an important natural resource, ensuring their productivity will contribute to economic stability. Legumes increase the productivity of rangelands plant communities. The FRRL is developing forage legumes for use specifically on Western U.S. rangelands that will establish easily, persist under harsh stresses and produce high quality forage. One of these is rhizomatous alfalfathat will persist under drought and withstands high grazing pressure.
The principles of quantitative genetics are utilized in an applied plant breeding program to develop improved forage legumes and forbs that are adapted to the semi-arid rangelands and irrigated pasture of the Western U.S. The project works on alfalfa, kura clover, cicer milkvetchand birdsfoot trefoilfor irrigated pastures. For rangelands the project works on alfalfa, sainfoin, small burnet, cicer milkvetch, Utah sweetvetchand globemallows. The greatest focus is on developing materials that will establish and most importantly persist. Hence the main traits of interest include those that confer persistence such as rhizomedevelopment, depth of crown, dormancy and seedling vigor to ensure plant establishment. Persistence both on dry rangelands and under heavy grazing pressure in pastures will provide the largest economic boost to land managers under any situation. Other major traits that are improved in the breeding effort are forage yield, and forage quality particularly stability of protein in the rumen.