1 Oct 2019

Researchers keen to develop game-changing ryegrass

11:52 am on 1 October 2019

Researchers from the University of Otago are undertaking a three-year project focused on developing more productive pastures.

Ryegrass field on a sunny day, green treetops in the background

Photo: 123rf

New Zealand's green paddocks are generally full of ryegrass, but when it flowers in late spring it is no longer as nutritious for the livestock feeding on it.

Now a team from the University of Otago's Department of Biochemistry want to develop a ryegrass that doesn't flower on-farm.

One of the project's leaders, Associate Professor Richard Macknight, said this could lead to a far more productive and efficient New Zealand farming landscape.

"There have been recent advances in our genetic understanding of how flowering is controlled, and we are using this knowledge as a starting point to discover the key genes required to prevent ryegrass flowering on the farm," he said.

The successful development of ryegrass cultivars that don't flower in field conditions will extend peak production, enabling farmers to utilise current farmland more efficiently, Associate Professor Macknight said.

"If a ryegrass variety that we help develop ends up being grown by New Zealand farmers and it helps farming become more sustainable then that would be tremendous - that's the ultimate goal," he said.

The problem with suppressing flowering was if the grass didn't flower at all, it wouldn't produce the seeds for farmers to plant, Associate Professor Macknight said.

To get around this problem, they were aiming to develop a plant that can be induced to flower for seed production under artificial conditions, but will not flower when grown on New Zealand farms, he said.

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