The acquisition and conservation of plant genetic resources is essential to protect the indigenous vegetation and its biological diversity. It serves to contain the loss of diversity, which threatens the food supplies of South African communities and its people. The selection and improvement of this germplasm along with suitable exotic plant material is aimed at developing pasture and forage cultivars adapted to South African agricultural conditions for the strategic supplementation of the fodder flow from natural pastures.
Forage utilisation is the single most critical component of any fodder flow management and production system as it controls the most significant variables such as forage yield and quality, botanical composition and persistence, as well as animal performance. The description and quantification of plant animal interaction for sustainable animal production is therefore a requirement in developing grazing and integrated land use systems of benefit to commercial, communal and smallholder farmers.
The conservation and evaluation of plant genetic resources
The main foci of the programme are in Biodiversity and Support services to farmers through:
The acquisition of germplasm, which includes the collection, introduction and exchange of germplasm locally and internationally.
The conservation of germplasm in the genebank. This includes aspects such as seed technology, seed conservation, seed multiplication as well as the conservation and multiplication of vegetative material.
Screening of pasture crops to determine the impact of stress factors on the crops. Both climatic, (drought, moisture and temperature) and nutrient (phosphate and aluminium) factors are considered.
Describing the variation in forage plants to characterise them for their use as forage plants.
The evaluation of forage plants with potential, after final genetic purification, for optimal management requirements and for seed production.
This programme is supported by a genebank with storage facilities for indigenous and exotic forage seed and an active exchange of germplasm with international agencies.
Forages for sustainable agriculture
Breeding selection, seed production and management is undertaken on annual and perennial temperate grasses and legumes and on annual and perennial tropical and sub-tropical grasses and legumes. This has resulted in the release of improved forage cultivars and the generation of income from seed production and royalties. The image of South African research is improved by the successes of the cultivars on the national and international markets.
Several cultivars resulting from this programme, have been registered and granted plant breeder’s rights:
Lolium multiflorum (Italian and Westerwolds rye grass), Secale cereale (Rye), Lolium perenne (Perennial ryegrass), Festuca arundinacea (Tall fescue), Trifolium repens (white clover), Medicago sativa (lucerne), Eragrostis tef (teff), Avena sativa (oats), Eragrostis curvula (lovegrass), Digitaria eriantha (Smuts finger grass) and Vigna unguiculata (cow peas).
Legumes for sustainable agriculture
The main focus is land care and a support service to farmers. Specific attention is given to legume species and their management in the winter and summer rainfall areas, the nitrogen fixing capabilities of annual and perennial legumes and their use in extensive and intensive legume-based pastures. Lucerne, fodder trees and shrubs being investigated as dryland legumes for extensive pastures and smallholder farming.
Marike Trytsman, Private Bag X05, Lynn East, 0039,RSA
Tel: +27 (0)12 841 9611
Fax:+ 27 (0)12 808 2155