Work to control ryegrass flowering

Dr Lynette Brownfield and Associate Prof Richard Macknight.PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Dr Lynette Brownfield and Associate Prof Richard Macknight.PHOTO: SUPPLIED
A quintessential Kiwi landscape usually includes green pastures dotted with livestock munching on healthy, vibrant grass.

Those green fields are generally full of ryegrass and in late spring the ryegrass flowers. When it does, it is no longer as nutritious for the livestock feeding on it.

A research project from the University of Otago's department of biochemistry is aiming to develop a ryegrass that does not flower on-farm.

That project, headed by Associate Prof Richard Macknight and Dr Lynette Brownfield, was this month awarded $999,999 by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's (MBIE) Endeavour Fund "Smart Ideas"
programme.

The research could ultimately lead to a more productive and efficient New Zealand farming landscape, Prof Macknight says.

"There have been recent advances in our genetic understanding of how flowering is controlled, and we are using this knowledge as a starting point to discover the key genes required to prevent ryegrass flowering on the farm."

The successful development of ryegrass cultivars that do not flower in field conditions will extend peak production, enabling farmers to utilise current farmland more efficiently, he says.

That will increase productivity, making the reduction of land use more financially viable, thereby reducing environmental impact.

"If a ryegrass variety that we help develop ends up being grown by New Zealand farmers and it helps farming become more sustainable, then that would be tremendous - that's the ultimate goal," he said.

The problem with suppressing flowering was if the grass did not flower at all, it would not produce the seeds for farmers to plant, Dr Brownfield said.

"So to get around this problem we are aiming to develop a plant that can be induced to flower for seed production under artificial conditions, but will not flower when grown on New Zealand farms."

While the potential benefits are significant to New Zealand, its environment and its farming sector, the reality is such research needs serious backing to succeed. The Endeavour Fund had provided that backing, Prof Macknight said.

"Without this funding we couldn't undertake this research, so we are certainly grateful MBIE has recognised the potential of this research.

"Now, the work begins."

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