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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Madison, Wisconsin » U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center » Dairy Forage Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #327840

Title: Use and breeding of forage grasses in the North Central USA

item Casler, Michael
item UNDERSANDER, DANIEL - University Of Wisconsin

Submitted to: North American Alfalfa Improvement Conference
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/1/2016
Publication Date: 7/12/2016
Citation: Casler, M.D., Undersander, D.J. 2016. Use and breeding of forage grasses in the North Central USA [abstract]. North American Alfalfa Improvement Conference. Paper No. M2.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Forage grasses are used for conservation harvesting, usually hay or balage, and for grazing within the North Central region of the USA. Historically, smooth bromegrass, timothy, reed canarygrass, and orchardgrass have been important species and they still exist in many old hay fields. Tall fescue, meadow fescue, ryegrasses, and festuloliums are becoming more popular and valuable with recent genetic improvements. Grasses are used in pure stands with a single variety, in multi-species grass mixtures, and in mixtures with legumes. Grasses are included with alfalfa in some situations to reduce non-fibrous carbohydrate concentrations when fed with corn silage, to provide some stand buffering in case of heaving or traffic damage, or to reduce drying time. Grass breeding activities are at an all-time low in the USA, due to loss of positions and lack of interest at the national level in funding these activities. The USDA breeding program in Madison, Wisconsin is the only program remaining in this region. This breeding program is focused on developing new cultivars for use in management-intensive rotational grazing, working closely with extension and production agronomists across temperate North America to develop and evaluate grasses to improve quality and productivity of grass-based pastures. New cultivars for the North Central USA originate from the USDA breeding program, from other parts of the USA, and from outside the USA; primarily, Europe and New Zealand. Ryegrasses are used largely as emergency forages (Italian and annual ryegrasses), short-term pasture (perennial ryegrasses), or medium- to long-term pasture (perennial ryegrasses in mixture with more persistent species). All ryegrasses lack true winter dormancy, so they are highly susceptible to extreme cold and desiccation that occurs during open winters and snow molds that occur under snow cover. Some genetic variation occurs for tolerance to these conditions and European breeders have made some progress in developing more winterhardy cultivars. Tall fescue has become more popular and useful in the northern USA with the development and deployment of soft-leaf cultivars that have improved palatability and digestibility. Meadow fescue is a new forage grass within the past 20 years, garnering significant market share among graziers due to its high palatability, high fiber digestibility, extreme cold tolerance, and good drought tolerance. Increasing forage yield is the principal breeding goal for meadow fescue with average yields about 5% lower than for tall fescue. Festuloliums are hybrid derivatives of Italian or perennial ryegrass with meadow fescue. As such, they combine the high quality and grazing tolerance of the ryegrasses with some of the winterhardiness and drought tolerance of meadow fescue. They are used primarily in grazing systems and as a major component of multi-species pasture mixes.