Future grass will make animals healthier, more productive

11 Nov, 2016 09:17 AM
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NZ research is looking to produce more productive ryegrass pastures.
What we are doing is enhancing the ryegrass so that there is more energy and nutrition stored
NZ research is looking to produce more productive ryegrass pastures.

Grasses of the future will make animals healthier, more productive and reduce their impact on the environment.

New Zealand's AgResearch scientist Tony Conner said advances in modern grasses would bring many advantages to farming.

The forage science group leader said the NZ Grasslands Association conference in Timaru last week was timely given the work the organisation was doing in the area of forage science.

There were many benefits for New Zealand in building upon the DairyNZ forage value index and the emerging pastoral industry forage strategy.

"Our teams are engaged in underpinning science and plant breeding research to create high-performance forage legume and grass varieties for New Zealand farms and the international market," he said.

"We develop animal safe endophyte strains that add value to production from elite grasses, and are also pursuing research and development related to biofuels, speciality forages, new endophyte traits and animal/forage interactions. Our group is home to world-leading teams in the genetic development of forages and encompasses a broad range of capabilities with staff working in areas from fundamental to applied research."

Most of the cultivars are commercialised through Grasslanz Technology.

An investment of $25 million across five years into genetically modified forages research was made possible with a grant from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Endeavour fund .

"What we are doing is enhancing the ryegrass so that there is more energy and nutrition stored in the grass," Dr Conner said.

"This means the animals feeding on it are healthier, and therefore they become better producers for the farm. The result will be a major boost for the agricultural economy.

"What we are also finding is that a by-product of these changes to the grass will be important gains as far as the impacts on the environment. This includes less methane gas produced by the animals and the change in nitrogen requirements with these grasses could reduce nitrate runoff.

"We are mindful of the need to continue strong working relationships in this sector, including the scientists and its many stakeholders so that our advances are relevant to the industry."

NZGA president, David Stevens of AgResearch, said the conference had been an opportunity for farmers and their agricultural industry business partners to hear from and quiz scientists who were taking the industry forward.

"It's really about the interface of science and practice: what works and how can you get it to work," he said.

"It's summed up in the association's motto: fuelled by science, tempered by experience."

Leading local farms hosted field trips during afternoon sessions including a robotic pasture-based dairy farm, intensive sheep and beef finishing with and without irrigation, and a more traditional breeding-finishing operation making use of some of the latest forages.

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