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An Improved Forage Grass for CowsBy Linda Cooke
September 12, 1997
Birdsfoot trefoil could be a big hit with farmers and livestock alike. Unlike alfalfa, this forage puts up with less-than-perfect soils. Also, it tolerates heavy grazing, its nutritious and cattle apparently find it tasty. The bad news: Birdsfoot trefoil is highly susceptible to root diseases.
Now scientists with USDAs Agricultural Research Service have developed the first commercial variety of birdsfoot trefoil that resists root diseases. ARS and the University of Missouri released the new variety, called Steadfast, in 1995.
The secret behind Steadfasts sturdiness is a wild birdsfoot trefoil found by ARS scientists in Morocco in the late 1980s. Steadfast has borrowed an important trait from the Moroccan trefoil: the ability to produce rhizomes, runners that enable the plant to spread to new sites. Rhizomes grow below the soil and can root to make new plants. Even if parts of the original mother plant succumb to disease, new plantlets that develop from rhizomes allow the plant to live and spread.
This new tool for survival should help the yellow-flowered Steadfast win fans in the U.S. farming community, which has been wary of birdsfoot trefoil in the past because of its disease susceptibility. Another plus for the new variety: It wont cause bloating, the formation of excess gas in the grazing animals stomach.
The September issue of Agricultural Research magazine contains a story about the development of Steadfast from its Moroccan parentage to its distribution in the United States. The story can be viewed on the World Wide Web at: