Link: breeding forages for WUE


Cereals & Oilseeds
Project code:
01 April 2008 - 31 March 2013
AHDB Beef & Lamb
Project leader:

About this project

The Problem:

The Defra commissioned Sustainable Farming and Food Research Priorities Group identified the need to increase water-use-efficiency (water used per unit of production) of UK grassland crops and to develop new cultivars with improved drought resistance to assist water conservation and adapt to climate change.


Project Aims:

To develop new varieties of the main species of UK grasslands: perennial ryegrass, Italian ryegrass and white clover; that are drought resistance to improve productivity during summer droughts.



This project exploits new plant breeding technologies and marker-assisted-selection to target genes proven to improve drought resistance. They include the transfer and incorporation into elite ryegrass and white clover cultivars of only those genes necessary to induce effective drought resistance without compromising forage quality and ruminant nutrition.  New lines were tested in France as well as in the UK to ensure a range of drought and heat stress conditions.




An Italian ryegrass variety with high water use efficiency and superior yield traits was identified and has subsequently been entered into NL trials in 2013. Marker assisted transfer of drought tolerance genes into Perennial ryegrass varieties was undertaken and these lines continue to be assessed to identify potential new cultivars for NL trials. For a significant number of the foliar and rooting traits it was the Italian and perennial ryegrass species that determined the nature of trait expression and not the Festuca sp.  This is a significant finding for future festuloliums breeding and offers opportunities to develop new varieties with resilience to drought stress and a range of environmental services including combating soil erosion and compaction and for C-sequestration.

White clovers:

Variation in WUE between stolon mapping family parents was confirmed in a glasshouse experiment.  Significant differences between the parents in root density and in response of root growth were observed.  Three promising lines with good seedset and rhizomes were identified and seed of these lines was multiplied. Spaced plants of the best lines were grown in the field to quantify Distinctiveness, Uniformity and Stability (DUS) in summer 2012 alongside established control varieties. Leaf size, heading date and stolon characteristics were recorded. Leaf size measurements suggest that these lines should be regarded as small-leaved which is important for future variety submission. DUS analysis indicated there were no problems with these lines.

One variety was submitted to UK National List trials in 2013. Another potential variety has been identified but it needs further testing before a decision is made on submission to NL testing.


Planned activity:

  • General messages about variety selection and new variety availability with novel traits is included in grassland management KT      events and material.
  • Press releases have been completed as have various KT articles. Messages were communicated at Grass and Muck event in 2012 and further activity is planned for the Grass and Muck event in 2014 (biennial event).
  • A number of academic publications have been published in international journals from this work.