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In greenhouse, Dana Smith and Jason Goldman evaluate bluegrass seedlings. Link to photo information
Technician Dana Smith (left) and geneticist Jason Goldman evaluate new bluegrass hybrid seedlings at Woodward. Click the image for more information about it.

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Finding Better Year-Round Forage

By Ann Perry
January 25, 2008

A herd of hungry cattle isn't a pretty sight. So scientists with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) are developing forage grasses that provide nutritious forage to livestock in the southern Great Plains throughout the year.

A key goal of this work is producing both warm-season and cool-season forage grasses that can live for long periods on highly erodible lands. Candidates need to be able to withstand major challenges from extended dry spells, insect pests and plant diseases.

ARS rangeland scientist Phillip Sims, agronomist Tim Springer and plant geneticist Jason Goldman work at the ARS Southern Plains Range Research Station (SPRRS), Woodward, Okla. Research at Woodward revolves around three grasses native to the southern Plains—Texas bluegrass (Poa arachnifera), eastern gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides) and sand bluestem (Andropogon hallii).

In 2005, the Woodward station released an important new eastern gamagrass called "Verl." It was the first gamagrass release that had been selected from a hybrid breeding program. In field trials, Verl equaled or surpassed standards set by "Pete," a highly productive gamagrass released in 1988.

Springer was a driving force behind a new sand bluestem variety called "Chet." This grass has a forage dry matter yield almost 9 percent greater than that of "Woodward," a key sand bluestem variety developed during the 1950s.

Hardy Texas bluegrass has survived heat and drought for centuries. But it is susceptible to diseases like leaf rust, and the seed is difficult to harvest and plant.

Goldman and Sims are developing useful forage hybrids for the southern Plains by cross-breeding Texas bluegrass with other grass species and with bluegrasses from other regions. They have produced more than 80 hybrid types, many of which are complex hybrids of three different species. Although these species are not released yet, they offer great promise as feed for cattle in U.S. Southern Plains.

Read more about this research in the January 2008 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.