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The economic value to dairy systems of genetic gains in the nutritive value of perennial ryegrass in grass–clover pastures

Wims, C. M., Ludemann, C. I., Phillips, H., Chapman, D. F.
Animal production science 2017 v.57 no.7 pp. 1357-1365
Lolium perenne, botanical composition, breeding, cultivars, diploidy, economic valuation, farm profitability, farmers, financial economics, flowering, genetic improvement, grazing, leaves, metabolizable energy, pastures, spring, tetraploidy, tillers, New Zealand
Perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) breeding efforts have focussed on improving pasture nutritive value by altering flowering behaviour and increasing ploidy. However, the gains in farm profitability that this has delivered are not known. The flowering behaviour, botanical composition and nutritive value of pastures based on 24 perennial ryegrass cultivar–endophyte combinations released in New Zealand since 1970 were compared under grazing for 3 years in the Waikato region of New Zealand. Cultivars were grouped into the following three functional groups for data analysis: mid-season-heading diploids, late- and very late-heading diploids, and late- and very late-heading tetraploids. The first of these groups included older, ‘standard’ cultivars, while the latter two groups were dominated by cultivars released since 2002. The appearance of reproductive tillers in grazed pastures was delayed by 4–8 weeks for the late- and very late-heading cultivars, resulting in pastures that maintained a greater proportion of green leaf and had a greater metabolisable energy (ME) concentration during spring. Tetraploid pastures had a greater ME concentration than did diploid pastures, largely due to the greater ME concentration of the perennial ryegrass component of these pastures. The gains in pasture nutritive value achieved by broadening the range of perennial ryegrass functional types have the potential to deliver economic benefits in the range of NZ$54/ha.year (late-heading diploids compared with mid-heading diploids) to NZ$232/ha.year (tetraploids compared with mid-heading diploids) to New Zealand dairy farmers. Potential economic gains can be diminished by changes in pasture botanical composition both over time and between functional groups.