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New Wheatgrasses Set to Appear on Pasture

By Jan Suszkiw
July 21, 2003

New sources of high-quality forage could soon be in store for cattle of the Central and Northern Great Plains (CNGP).

The Nebraska Foundation Seed Division is now propagating foundation seed for three new wheatgrass cultivars ("Beefmaker," "Haymaker" and "NU-ARS AC2" ) developed by Agricultural Research Service and University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) scientists. The division plans on making the seed available this fall to seed producers who agree to market the cultivars and certify their genetic lineage. Spring 2004 could mark the first sales.

Beefmaker, an intermediate wheatgrass, is recommended as a pasture forage for yearling beef steers because it's protein-packed and readily digested. Haymaker, another intermediate wheatgrass, produces high hay yields in low-rainfall areas. It's intended as a cool-season hay crop for maintaining beef cow herds, according to Ken Vogel, who leads the ARS Wheat, Sorghum and Forage Research Unit, Lincoln, Neb.

During field trials from 1993-97 in western North Dakota, Haymaker averaged 1.4 tons of forage per acre, a yield that surpassed seven commercial cultivars. Like Beefmaker, Haymaker can be grown in different grassland environments of the CNGP.

NU-ARS AC2 is a Fairway type of crested wheatgrass adapted to semiarid regions. NU-ARS AC2 yields equal some of the best standard crested cultivars even though it's about six inches shorter in height. It should provide genetic diversity and high, stable yields when used to reseed cool-season pastures and rangeland in the mid- and short- grass ecological regions of the CNGP.

The three wheatgrasses are partly derived from Eurasian germplasm including specimens that ARS Hall of Fame Scientist Douglas Dewey collected while in the former Soviet Union in 1977. Around 1983, Vogel led research to evaluate the Eurasian strains' characteristics and crossbreed superior plants from the best accessions. Next followed multilocation trials in which Vogel evaluated the resulting strains to once again select superior plants. He did that work in collaboration with David Baltensperger (UNL), Gerald Schuman (ARS, Cheyenne, Wyo.), Robert Nicholson (Kansas State University) and Dwight Tober (Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.)

ARS is USDA's chief scientific research agency.