INSIDERSTurf & ForageA Global Approach to Breeding Climate-Smart Grass Varieties

A Global Approach to Breeding Climate-Smart Grass Varieties


In my previous column, I talked about how DLF breeders share germplasm with each other around the world. That increased collaboration provides us with data the likes of which we didn’t have in the past to help solve problems.

This global approach to research is revolutionizing grass breeding in ways that positively impact our world. As an example, DLF breeders are working to lower methane production in livestock farming.

Thirty-six percent of methane emissions come from natural sources. These natural emissions include wetlands, termites, oceans, and even volcanic eruptions like the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii. The remaining sixty-five percent of methane emissions are from human sources, including things like the production of fossil fuels, landfills, and livestock farming.

Cows, sheep, goats, deer, as well as the giraffes and camels at your local zoo are ruminant animals. Ruminant animals have four compartments in their stomach instead of one, like us. During the normal digestion process, ruminants depend on microflora in their rumen to digest fibrous plant material. These rumen microflora break down complex plant material, which is then fermented into several chemical compounds, which can then be utilized by the ruminant.

One of the by-products of the fermentation that occurs in the rumen is methane. The ruminant animal releases methane when they chew their cud and belch. If you have ever home brewed beer or wine, it is much the same process.

Studies have shown we can get increased milk and meat yield with increased fiber digestibility while also lowering the methane that is produced from the ruminant livestock that are grazing on those grasses. That not only helps the farmer that grows our grass, but also the environment and the climate in which we all live.

The availability of better data has changed everything for grass breeders, growers and customers. Grass breeders want to provide solutions, but we can’t get there if we don’t have the best data. DLF’s unique business model is allowing us to usher in a revolution in grass breeding.

Let’s use fiber digestibility as an example. In DLF research, we aim to collect forage quality data on every harvest for all our forage grasses. In Wisconsin alone, we collected over 7,500 measurements for fiber digestibility in 2022 and over 150,000 worldwide. With this amount of data, we are making tremendous progress in delivering forages with increased fiber digestibility worldwide.

Another example is gray leaf spot disease in ryegrasses. It is a very devastating disease that has been around for a long time in the United States and Brazil, causing decreased forage yield and quality in pastures. Only recently has it become an issue in Europe, due in large part to climate change.

With our global research model, we can utilize all the different locations we have within the company. Whether that is our Kentucky research site or our research site in Brazil, we can get a handle on those diseases and create genetic improvement that is going to benefit the world. Reducing disease levels means reducing the use of products designed to quell those diseases; those products can often contribute to climate change as well.

Of course, ensuring long-term success in this area means going beyond breeding. Seed enhancements, especially the use of biologicals, will further revolutionize grass in the future. Applying biologicals to grass seed not only enhances the potential of those seeds but can provide insights into how we can breed better seed that can theoretically work in conjunction with biologicals to create climate-smart grass varieties.

Steven Reid, Head of Lawn & Consumer Turf R&D, DLF
Steven Reid, Head of Lawn & Consumer Turf R&D, DLF
Based in Oregon, Steve leads DLF North America’s turf and forage grass variety development and has helped develop many of the top varieties available today, including Banfield (used in the 2014 FIFA World Cup).