Grassland is suffering badly in the summer drought, leaving many livestock producers without forage – but festuloliums are proving their worth by remaining green and healthy.
The grasses – a cross between drought-tolerant fescues and high-quality ryegrass – were originally bred for the south European climate, but have become increasingly popular in the UK, where DLF is pioneering a UK range.
“I was walking around our Didbrook trial site recently and every festulolium plot stood out,” says Tim Kerridge, managing director at DLF. “You could spot them a mile away.” However, one plot that really impressed was from an old overseeding trial which was abandoned after the trial finished. “It was sown with predominantly perennial ryegrass in 2004, and then overseeded each year with a festulolium,” explains Mr Kerridge.
The trial ended in 2009, and almost every other plot – from clover to ryegrass – has since been invaded by broadleaved and grass weeds. “But the festulolium plot is almost 100% festulolium, and the remarkable thing is that it was still green, when everything else around it was dead.”
Farmers should consider including festuloliums in their grass mixtures, to benefit from their deep rooting abilities, drought and stress tolerance, disease resistance and persistence, he adds. “Perseus, which is new to the AHDB Recommended List this year has very high yields and forage quality but is far more persistent than Italian ryegrass alone. It is also the only variety on the RL with the top score of 9 for Crown Rust, which is a very important disease in UK grassland.”
A new variety, which is working its way through the trials and is already approved in the EU, is Hipast – a fescue type which is high quality, dense and very persistent making it suitable for longer term leys. “In the past, most festuloliums of this type were best suited for cutting – this is the first true multi-purpose variety that is equally suited to long term grazing ” says Mr Kerridge. “It has big implications for replacing PRG on a host of different soils and sites.”
The Didbrook trial site undertakes official trials for AHDB, as well as in-house breeding programmes and commercial trials. With a total of 7,000 different plots, it offers comprehensive testing, measuring yields, dry matter, and quality characteristics. “There are a number of different festulolium types reflecting tall fescue, meadow fescue, Italian ryegrass or PRG genetics,” explains breeding station manager Tony Strickland.
“We’re introducing different genes to get the best of both worlds, with very vigorous growth, extensive rooting, high quality and yields. Festuloliums are very popular across the country – so aren’t just suited to droughty sites – and there are some very exciting developments in the pipeline.”