British Seed Houses has funded the amenity turfgrass breeding programme, based at the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (IGER), since 1988. With an annual research budget of £15m and more than one hundred independent research initiators, it's a unique UK resource and demonstrates the company's commitment to the continual improvement of turf cultivars and any 'Aber' material produced by the programme is exclusively marketed and distributed by BSH.
Grass breeding started at the Welsh Plant Breeding station in 1919 and the Aberystwyth 'S' strains were the basis for the expansion of grassland productivity after the war. During the sixties and seventies, the station concentrated on developing new breeding techniques which have provided the core breeding methodology still in use today.
Building on these traditional methods, new developments in gene mapping technology are an exciting progression in breeding for specific traits such as drought tolerance and other environmental stresses, disease resistance and seed yield. This is all being achieved via a non-GM route.
At the BSH grass breeding programme, we have a number of breeding lines focusing on seed yield, disease resistance, drought tolerance, uniformity and year round colour, whilst maintaining good turf quality. Hybridisation between fescue (Meadow and Tall Fescues) and ryegrass is the foundation for many of the new developments.
Though ryegrasses are generally superior in establishment and turf quality, fescues tend to be more broadly adapted to environmental stresses and are less demanding of nutrients. To date, progress achieved from hybridisation and subsequent back-crossing has included the development of the 'stay green' varieties, AberNile being the first to be commercially available.
The stay green trait is now being introduced into a wide range of turf germplasm, including the typically darker green and more stress tolerant US germplasm. Genetic mapping has identified genes that might further enhance the stay green phenotype of elite turfgrass germplasm.
Paramount to the commercial success of any grass variety is its seed production potential and for any variety to be commercially sustainable in the long term it is necessary, with perennial ryegrass, to aim for seed yields of at least one tonne per hectare. Selection procedures for seed setting, a major component of final seed yield, are also being integrated into variety selection programmes.
We now have one Slender creeping red fescue, AberFlight, going into commercial production and it is being closely followed by AberCharm, which has improved turf quality and colour.
The first Chewings fescue to emerge from the programme will be entered into STRI trials in 2009. Early trials indicate it combines good turf quality and disease resistance with reliable seed yields and uniformity.
The Sheep's Fescue AberFleece will appear on the STRI list in 2008. It has a dark colour, good shoot density and an exceptionally low growth habit making it an ideal cultivar for use on areas requiring low-maintenance such as golf roughs, road verges and conservation areas
BSH is renowned for its extensive bentgrass portfolio and following on from its highly successful Browntop bent, AberRoyal, we currently have a very promising variety included in the STRI close mown trials. It shows good disease resistance, especially to Fusarium and has turf quality similar to Heriot.
If you'd like to receive regular updates from BSH's breeding programme, you can register to receive its e-newsletter at www.bshamenity.com.
The 2008 BSPB/STRI seed listings will be available to download from the website from 22 January by clicking on the banner at the top of the home page.