Submitted to: Book Chapter
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: December 22, 2011
Publication Date: N/A
Technical Abstract: Forage crops have a large number of benefits to society, including ecosystem services such as soil and water conservation, wildlife habitat, and diversification of the agricultural landscape. However, their principal function can only be realized when they are processed through livestock to produce meat, milk, or other animal products. This is an inherently inefficient process, because much of the energy that is locked up in forage plants is lost during the conversion of forage to animal products. These losses occur in the form of manure, urine, metabolic inefficiencies, and processing losses. Since the 1960s, plant breeders have been working to reduce losses associated with manure and urine, largely by selecting plants and varieties with improved forage quality. With concerted and dedicated efforts, breeders can improve forage-quality traits of forage crops. Results from livestock trials are sufficiently numerous and consistent that plant breeders have a high degree of confidence in the relevance of increases in forage digestibility and its impact on animal performance. Continued progress will be dependent on continued funding for forage breeding research and on breeders’ innovative and imaginative approaches to overcoming barriers such as yield drag associated with increased quality.