Skip to main content
ARS Home » Midwest Area » Madison, Wisconsin » U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center » Dairy Forage Research » Research » Research Project #424141

Research Project: Redesigning Forage Genetics, Management, and Harvesting for Efficiency, Profit, and Sustainability in Dairy and Bioenergy Production Systems

Location: Dairy Forage Research

2015 Annual Report


Objectives
1: Develop appropriate defoliation (grazing & harvested) & nitrogen (N) application management guidelines for temperate grass-legume pastures of the North Central & Northeastern USA to improve seasonal yield distribution, extend the grazing season, & improve the efficiency & utilization of energy inputs. 1A. Determine influence of manure source & application time on temperate grass productivity, seasonal yield, nutritive value, & persistence, pasture composition, & soil chemical & physical properties. 1B. Determine the influence of N source, N application date & rate, & defoliation management on the productivity & persistence of red clover grown with orchardgrass. 2: Improve establishment, harvest management, & storage methods to reduce N inputs, increase the profitability of crop rotations, increase the recovery of dry matter & nonstructural carbohydrates, improve the energy density of baled hays, & mitigate the negative effects of rainfall on ensiling, storage, & feeding characteristics of rain-damaged silages. 2A. Identify optimal plant spacing to maximize yield of biomass alfalfa. 2B. Develop improved methods for interseeding alfalfa into maize to bring alfalfa into full production the following year. 2C. For large hay packages, quantify effects of several baling factors on subsequent preservation performance of stored hay. 3: Improve pasture grass & legume production systems through increases in establishment capacity, persistence, productivity, resilience to climate extremes, & quality. 3A. Measure comparative effectiveness of mass selection, maternal half-sib selection, & marker-assisted paternal half-sib selection for persistence & biomass yield in diploid red clover. 3B. Determine optimal plant-selection age to simultaneously maximize genetic gain for persistence & biomass yield of red clover. 4: Improve profitability, conversion efficiency, & adaptability to climatic variation in forage & bioenergy crops. 4A. Quantify effect of decreased lignin & decreased etherified ferulates on agricultural fitness of three temperate pasture species, including tolerances to drought, heat, & grazing. 4B. Use a biomimetic model based on artificial lignification of plant cell walls to identify new lignin bioengineering targets for improving fermentability of forage & biomass crops. 4C. Create & evaluate a series of upland x lowland switchgrass hybrids of differing origins to determine if heterosis is related to geographic origin of parents. 4D. Quantify genetic gains made during three cycles of phenotypic selection for increased biomass yield in WS4U upland switchgrass. 4E. Identify spaced-plant traits predictive of sward-plot biomass yield of switchgrass. 5: Improve dairy industry production capacity & environmental sustainability to meet the demands of existing & emerging markets & improve dairy industry resilience to abiotic & biotic stressors while maintaining producer economic viability. Using a comprehensive, systems approach along with existing/new databases & models to identify opportunities & support Livestock GRACEnet, LTAR & Climate Hub efforts to improve the environmental performance of dairy systems across the Northeast, Midwest, & West.


Approach
Objective 1. Solid and liquid manure applications will be evaluated in a series of grazing experiments designed to improve seasonal availability of nutrients and seasonal distribution of pasture productivity. Defoliation and manure application treatments will be applied to grass-clover mixtures to identify combinations that increase the competitiveness of red clover in mixed grazed swards. Objective 2. High vs. low-density plant spacing will be evaluated to determine the effect on biomass yield for high-biomass alfalfa cultivars. Gibberellin-based growth regulator treatments will be evaluated for their effect on establishment and seeding-year biomass yield for alfalfa interseeded into maize. Propionic acid preservatives will be evaluated to determine their effect on reducing spontaneous heating and nutrient loss of large-rectangular bales of alfalfa hay. Objective 3. The comparative effectiveness of mass selection, half-sib selection, and marker-assisted half-sib selection will be determined in an empirical study designed to improve persistence and forage yield of red clover. The optimal age for selection of red clover plants will be identified by evaluating empirical gains from selection for persistence and forage yield on selection nurseries of various ages and degrees of plant mortality. Objective 4. The effect of lignin and etherified ferulates on persistence and forage yield will be evaluated in a series of field experiments designed to evaluate progeny with high or low levels of each cell-wall component in three grass species. The direct effects of monolignol substitutes on cell-wall fermentability and saccharification will be evaluated by using these novel compounds, compared to classical monolignols, as substrates for artificial lignification of maize primary cell walls. Heterosis between upland and lowland switchgrass ecotypes will be evaluated in a series of experiments to quantify hybrid vigor and to identify sources of variation that contribute to variation in hybrid vigor. Objective 5. Experimental research will a) determine the effect of pasture stocking density and relative sward maturity on carbon and nitrogen sequestration in mixed grass-legume and grass monoculture pastures; b) test the regional application of a new alfalfa forage and cover crop system for improving alfalfa-corn rotations; and c) evaluate tannin-containing germplasm to promote forage production and feeding systems that enhance the utilization of nitrogen on dairy farms. These data plus data from other objectives will aid in development and validation of whole-farm and pasture models of dairy production being developed by ARS at University Park, PA. The models will be used to guide future research and develop a knowledge base that will assist farmers with carbon and nitrogen management.


Progress Report
Objective 1. Solid and liquid manure application to grazed forage grasses continued, and runoff was measured post-application in the spring. Stocking density was modified to account for the increasing variability in nutrient distribution due to grazing. Nitrogen sources were applied to orchardgrass-red clover mixtures, and legume contribution to pasture production was assessed during subsequent grazing events. Objective 2. Proportions of leaf compared to stem, stem diameter, and compositional analyses of leaf and stem fractions were determined for biomass alfalfa planted at low- to high-plant density by conventional row seeding compared to precision-spaced seeding. A collaborative study was initiated at four different sites to further evaluate various rates of the growth regulator prohexadione in early compared to late and single compared to split applications on glyphosate-tolerant alfalfa interseeded into glyphosate-tolerant corn. Additional studies were initiated to evaluate adjuvants for increasing the effectiveness of prohexadione action on interseeded alfalfa, to assess herbicides for use in conventional (non-GMO) production of corn with interseeded alfalfa, and to identify the most suitable types of alfalfa germplasm for interseeding into corn. Objective 3. Approximately 40,000 red clover plants were phenotyped four to five times for plant vigor and persistence. Approximately 10,000 red clover tissue samples were collected for possible DNA extraction. Approximately 2,000 red clover samples were genotyped as part of the paternity testing validation project. Objective 4. Field plots to evaluate the impact of reduced ferulates or reduced lignin concentration were established and harvesting was initiated. Parents and progeny of 64 switchgrass hybrids were established at two locations. Glucose yields following chemical pretreatment and enzymatic saccharification were determined for maize cell walls artificially lignified with various kinds of alternate monomers.


Accomplishments
1. High quality grass variety for grazing systems. Livestock producers who use management-intensive grazing systems need improved grass varieties that are more long-lived in the pasture and of higher quality for growth and milk production. ARS scientists in Madison, WI developed and released Hidden Valley meadow fescue to the public. This grass variety represents a significant improvement in forage quality over typical pasture forage varieties, as measured by increased fiber digestibility, combined with superior cold tolerance to survive throughout the humid temperate regions of the eastern U.S. and Canada. Seed was produced and distributed as requested to seed companies for further seed multiplication and commercialization. This variety is expected to fill a significant demand for a cold-tolerant, drought-tolerant, and high-quality grass for management intensive grazing systems in the North Central and Northeastern U.S.

2. Promising plant bioengineering targets for enhancing biofuel production from biomass crops. Cell walls in plants are the world’s most abundant source of carbohydrates for fermentation into biofuels. Prior to fermentation, these carbohydrates must be liberated from lignin in cell walls by harsh and costly chemical pretreatments. In laboratory studies, ARS scientists in Madison, WI, working with university collaborators, found that lignin formed in part with natural plant antioxidants improved the production of fermentable sugars from cell walls following mild alkaline pretreatments. These results provide compelling evidence that genetic engineering of plants to form lignin that includes these antioxidants could significantly reduce the cost of producing biofuels from biomass crops.

3. Interseeding alfalfa in corn to reduce soil erosion and phosphorus runoff, and to boost forage yields. Producers looking to maximize the economic and environmental sustainability of their farms often utilize crop rotations where corn and cover crops are followed by several years of alfalfa production. Unfortunately, farm profitability in this system is constrained by the cost of growing cover crops with corn and by the low yield of alfalfa during its first production year. Alternatively, alfalfa interseeded into corn could provide groundcover during corn silage production and jumpstart alfalfa forage production the subsequent year, but this system has been unworkable to date because competition between the co-planted crops often leads to stand failure of alfalfa. Recent field studies by ARS scientists in Madison, WI identified prohexadione-calcium as an effective plant growth regulator for doubling the survival of alfalfa interseeded into a corn silage crop as a dual-purpose cover and forage crop. Following corn silage harvest in the fall, interseeded alfalfa reduced runoff of water and phosphorus by up to 60% and soil erosion by up to 80% from cropland and doubled first year yields of alfalfa compared to the conventional system where alfalfa was spring seeded after corn. Ongoing work is needed to maximize the reliability and profitability of this production system across diverse production systems and environmental conditions.

4. Newly released red clover variety has improved persistence and yield. In an effort to improve the protein content and quality of forage fed to dairy cattle, producers often grow a legume such as red clover with grass. However, improved red clover varieties are needed with better yield and persistence for both pasture and hay or silage uses. ARS scientists in Madison, WI recently released an improved variety of red clover, FF 9615, which was commercially available through forage seed vendors in 2015. This variety has significantly improved persistence and yield and is expected to improve red clover productivity in the cool-humid regions of the U.S.


Review Publications
Rioux, R., Willis, D., Bonos, S., Smith, D., Casler, M.D., Kerns, J. 2014. Quantification of Sclerotinia homoeocarpa overwintering in planta and detection in commercial seed. PLoS One. 10.1371/journal.pone.0110897.
Sabatier, R., Oates, L.G., Brink, G.E., Bleier, J.S., Jackson, R.D. 2015. Grazing in an uncertain environment: Modeling the trade-off between production and robustness. Agronomy Journal. 107:257-264.
Grabber, J.H., Santoro, N., Foster, C.E., Elumalai, S., Ralph, J., Pan, X. 2015. Incorporation of flavonoid derivatives or pentagalloyl glucose into lignin enhances cell wall saccharification following mild alkaline or acidic pretreatments. BioEnergy Research. doi 10.1007/s12155-015-9605-2.
Grabber, J.H., Coblentz, W.K., Riday, H., Griggs, T.C., Min, D.H., MacAdam, J.W., Cassida, K.A. 2015. Protein and dry matter degradability of European- and Mediterranean-derived birdsfoot trefoil cultivars grown in the colder continental USA. Crop Science. 55:1356-1364.
Mohammed, R., Brink, G.E., Stevenson, D.M., Neumann, A.P., Beauchemin, K., Suen, G., Weimer, P.J. 2014. Bacterial communities in the rumen of Holstein heifers differ when fed orchardgrass as pasture versus hay. Frontiers in Microbiology. 5:689. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2014.00689.
Grabowski, P., Morris, G., Casler, M.D., Borevitz, J. 2014. Population genomic variation reveals roles of history, adaptation and ploidy in switchgrass. Molecular Ecology. 23:4059-4073.
Casler, M.D. 2014. Heterosis and reciprocal-cross effects in tetraploid switchgrass. Crop Science. 54:2063-2069.
Evans, J., Kim, J., Childs, K., Vaillancourt, B., Crisovan, E., Richmond, T., Jeddeloh, J., Kaeppler, S., Casler, M.D., Buell, C. 2014. Nucleotide polymorphism and copy number variant detection using exome capture and next generation sequencing in the polyploid grass Panicum virgatum. Plant Journal. 79(6):993-1008.
Cosendey-Kezen Leite, R., Rodrigues De Oliveir, F., Frazao-Teixeira, E., Dubey, J.P., De Souza, G., Lilenbaum, W. 2014. Occurrence and risk factors associated to Toxoplasma gondii infection in sheep from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Tropical Animal Health and Production. 46:1463-1466.
Casler, M.D., Vermerris, W., Dixon, R. 2015. Replication concepts for bioenergy research experiments. BioEnergy Research. 8:1-16.
Riday, H., Riesen, P., Raasch, J.A., Santa-Martinez, E., Brunet, J. 2015. Selfing rate in an alfalfa seed production field pollinated with leafcutter bees. Crop Science. 55(3):1087-1095.
Brink, G.E., Sanderson, M.A., Casler, M.D. 2015. Grass and legume effects on nutritive value of complex forage mixtures. Crop Science. 55(3):1329-1337.
Jahufer, M., Casler, M.D. 2015. Application of the Smith-Hazel selection index for improving biomass yield and quality of switchgrass. Crop Science. 55(3):1212-1222.
Lipka, A.E., Lu, F., Cherney, J.H., Buckler IV, E.S., Casler, M.D., Costich, D.E. 2014. Accelerating the switchgrass (panicum virgatum L.) breeding cycle using genomic selection approaches. PLoS One. 9(11):e112227.