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Scientists have developed a new grass variety which could be a gamechanger for livestock farmers facing increasingly extreme weather conditions. Novel grass ‘could be a gamechanger’

• High yielding and drought tolerant

• Deeper roots increase resilience

• Better water and nutrient uptake

Scientists have developed a new grass variety which could be a gamechanger for livestock farmers facing increasingly extreme weather conditions.

Researchers at Aberystwyth University’s National Plant Phenomics Centre found significant differences in rooting depth and behaviour when comparing new festulolium varieties with tetraploid ryegrasses.

Festuloliums are a cross between a ryegrass and fescue. A perennial festulolium, AberRoot has been bred by Aberystwyth scientists with the aim of developing characteristics suitable for our changing climate.

Robust variety

The new grass has a high-sugar content but is also tolerant to dry and cold conditions. It was bred by crossing an Aber High Sugar Grass tetraploid variety with Atlas Fescue, a native of the Atlas Mountains in north Africa.

Researchers compared root depths at 21, 42 and 77 days. They also looked at the effect of simulated grazing by cutting the grass at intervals similar to a rotational grazing system in the UK.

When AberRoot was compared with a tetraploid ryegrass, after just 21 days it had a deeper root depth than the tetraploid. After 77 days, it also had higher shoot and root dry weight – important for dry matter potential.

“It is clear the festulolium has greater rooting depth,” said Fiona Corke, Smarthouse manager at the National Plant Phenomics Centre. “When roots reach further, they can access water and nutrients deeper in the soil profile.”

This means better water and nutrient uptake – but it also improves carbon capture and soil porosity which provides better drainage and benefits soils which are at risk of flooding.

Simulated grazing

Researchers also noted simulated grazing was followed by a burst of extra root growth. Dr Corke said: “We want to explore the effects caused by grazing further, and to understand the impact of root depths on soil health and applied nutrient efficiency.”

AberRoot is the first perennial ryegrass based festulolium to be listed on the AHDB Recommended Grass and Clover List. It is expected to be available to UK growers in spring 2024.

Paul Billings, managing director of Germinal said: “We are pleased to see our Germinal Deep Root products showing such promising results. We will now conduct further trials to build up a bigger, more robust dataset.”

Germinal was committed to finding solutions to the challenge of producing food in the face of climate change, said Mr Billings. “Grassland is this country’s biggest crop and largest carbon store – and the foundation of sustainable livestock production.”