Forage crops are a collective term for different perennial grass and meadow legumes. They are grown in meadows and are harvested by mowing or animals grazing. Graminor breed and represent varieties within 16 different forage crop species.
The most important forage crop species for the Norwegian farmer are Timothy grass, Meadow Fescue, ryegrass, red clover, and white clover.
Forage crop seeds are usually available to the Norwegian farmer in the form of seed mixtures. The mixtures are made by seed companies and are adapted to different parts of the country. Seed mixtures are composed of different species and varieties that complement each other. Some varieties are also available in pure stock.
The most important traits in forage crop breeding is:
The priorities in traits are different across species. Yield is important in all species. In Timothy, feed quality is especially important. In red clover resistance to frost and clover rot is very important. In English ryegrass, we want to increase the useable area in Norway by producing varieties with better winter hardiness. Seeding ability is especially important in tetraploid red clover and white clover.
Most of Graminor’s forage crop breeding is based on progeny testing. Carefully selected parents are crossed and the offspring is tested to breed new and better varieties. Every year we make about 400 crosses within 3 to 4 species. Grass species are pollinated by the wind while legumes such as red and white clover are pollinated by bumblebees.
Plant breeding is a long process. It takes between 10 and 15 years to breed new varieties within most species. Forage crops take even longer. It can take up to 27 years from the first crossing is done until a new forage crop is available to farmers.
Since forage crops are perennial plants, it takes many years to test them in the field. We have two rounds of testing, selection and propagation of seeds that altogether take 20 years. After 20 years, we have a handful of potential new varieties that are sent for official variety testing. We send potential new varieties to official testing every year.
In addition to traditional breeding methods, Graminor also utilize newer technological methods. In the NexTim project for instance we collaborate with NMBU and the Norwegian Computing Centre. The goal of this project is to breed new and better timothy varieties for different parts of Norway through the use of Big Data methods.
In addition to testing at the research station, Bjørke forsøksgård in Hamar, the variety material is tested to varying degrees at NIBIO’s units: NIBIO Nord Holt in Tromsø and at NIBIO Vest Fureneset in Askvoll and by NLR at Løken farm in Valdres.
The most important forage crops in Norway
Timothy is the most important and cultivated species of forage crop in Norway. It gives a high yield with good quality and palatability. Timothy is mostly grown for mowing. There are different Timothy varieties adapted to both southern and northern areas in Norway. The biggest challenge in growing Timothy is duration during intensive operation. About 30% of the Timothy varieties sown in Norway are from Graminor.
English ryegrass gives a high yield of good quality but is less winter-hardy than Timothy and Meadow Fescue. Ryegrass can withstand more frequent mowing than Timothy. Diploid types are suitable for grazing while tetraploid types are suitable for mowing.
Meadow fescue withstands intensive production and grazing better than Timothy. In addition, Meadow Fescue is more resitant to drought and has better regrowth than Timothy, however quality and palatability is better in Timothy. There are northern and southern varieties of Meadow Fescue. Almost all certified Meadow Fescue that is sown in Norway originates from Graminor.
Red clover is the most important meadow legume in Norway and is best suited for short-term meadows for mowing. Red clover has a taproot, which reaches deep into the soil and makes red clover drought resistant. Due to its ability to bind nitrogen from the air, red clover is an important nitrogen fixing plant in organic farming. Red clover provides high yield with a high protein content and high feed intake.
There are diploid and tetraploid types with varieties adapted to both southern and northern areas of Norway. Almost all the red clover grown in Norway are varieties supplied from Graminor. Gandalf is the most commonly used diploid variety today.
White clover is adapted to grazing, intensive harvesting systems and long-lasting meadows. Like red clover, white clover has the ability to bind nitrogen from the air. White clover has a much shallower root system than red clover, which makes this species susceptible to drought. White clover has good quality with high protein and mineral content. The greatest challenge with white clover is seed production. Litago is currently the most widely used variety.
Meet the forage crop team