Better Breeding Strategies for Grass

Forage Improvement Senior Scientist Dr Zulfi Jahufer with the switchgrass germplasm

New Zealand forage plant breeding has received a boost from Forage Improvement Senior Scientist Dr Zulfi Jahufer’s recent sabbatical with Dr Mike Casler of the USDA Agricultural Research Service, located at the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Centre in Madison, Wisconsin.

Dr Casler is one of the world’s foremost theoretical and applied perennial grass breeders, with more than 200 publications in the field.  The benefit for New Zealand is the potential to get greater traction toward integrated breeding targets such as the DairyNZ Forage Value Index.

Their work has been published in Crop Science, and is generating agricultural media interest in the United States.

The paper is featured on the Crop Science, Agronomy and Soil Science Society websites, and has been picked up by the Western Ag Info radio network syndicated to 80 stations in the American West.

“Our specific study focused on improving the efficiency of breeding grass for yield and quality factors for biofuel, which is very similar to the yield and quality factors of value in pastoral contexts,” says Dr Jahufer. “We evaluated a breeding strategy based on a multi-trait selection index, compared to single trait approaches.”

He says their success will benefit forage breeding in New Zealand, specifically using the correlated genetic response of multiple traits to improve the overall rate of gain.

“This provides a step up in designing and implementing breeding approaches to best realise genetic gain from multi-trait selection indices.”

Their findings are being incorporated into a simulation and decision support tool for forage plant breeders that Dr Jahufer is developing with support from Pastoral Genomics, where genomic selection approaches are being developed to lift the rate of gain in the Forage Value Index.