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Breeding Advances in Grass Varieties Shown at Teagasc Conference

There are huge opportunities to grow and utilise more grass in Ireland. A Teagasc organised international conference - ‘Grasses for the Future’ taking place in Cork today, Thursday, 14 October is hearing how grass dry matter production can be increased using newer grass varieties. International grass breeders are outlining how up to 18.5 tonnes of grass dry matter per hectare can be produced annually. Currently in Ireland we utilise about 7.9 tonnes of grass dry matter per hectare on dairy farms, with lower amounts utilised on beef farms.

Opening the conference, Professor Gerry Boyle, Director of Teagasc, highlighted the sustainability of grassland based livestock production. He emphasised the fact that grass based ruminant production further increases Ireland’s competitive advantage globally. “We can achieve high output of quality meat and milk products from grass, which is a low cost feed. Furthermore grass based production systems are sustainable from an environment, animal welfare and social perspective,” he said. Professor Boyle encouraged delegates to ensure that the progress taking place in grass breeding is replicated on grassland farms.

This unique conference hosted by Teagasc is providing an opportunity for all involved in the grassland industry including breeders, merchants, farmers, advisers, evaluators and scientists to participate in strengthening progress in the grassland sector.

Grass breeders speaking at the event are not shying away from this challenge. Pete Wilkins, ex IBERS – Wales, is showing the potential for the future with focussed grass breeding. Dr. Wilkins is presenting data which shows that grass varieties are producing upwards of 18.5tDM/ha/year over a three-year period. If this level of grass dry matter production is realised on farms it will bring grassland farming to a whole new level. Dr Alan Stewart, PGG Wrightson – New Zealand, is highlighting the importance of breeding and evaluating grass varieties in the environment for which they are being bred. Dr. Stewart explained that the priority placed on each trait being selected for in a breeding programme will depend on their economic value within the various farming systems where they will ultimately be used, as well as the potential to make genetic gain in each trait.

In 2010 there has been an increase in the level of reseeding, partly due to the need for grass fields to recover from the weather related, poor grazing conditions in 2009. Head of Grassland Science in Teagasc, Michael O'Donovan said: "We have to move off the traditional target of 2% of the area of Ireland reseeded annually. This needs to increase to match other countries like New Zealand where 4% of the land area is reseeded with higher producing grass varieties annually."

Conference delegates will visit the Teagasc Animal and Grassland Research and Innovation Centre, Moorepark, tomorrow. A workshop for delegates will take centre stage and site visits to Moorepark’s grassland research programme and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food grass evaluation site in Fermoy. Over 200 delegates, both national and international are attending the event highlighting Ireland’s important position in the international grassland community.

This event is being sponsored by Goldcrop, Barenbrug, Independent Seed Company (Moregrass), Germinal Ltd, Irish Grassland Association and is being held in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and AFBI, Northern Ireland.