Northern Ireland's Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) and Barenbrug are marking a 30-year partnership, one that has seen the development of many new and highly productive grass varieties.

The vast bulk of this development work was undertaken as part of the AFBI grass breeding programme, centred at Loughgall in Co. Armagh.

A cumulative increase in grass yields of around 0.5%/yr and the addition of 46 varieties to recommended lists, are included in the list of the achievements secured from this landmark grass-breeding partnership.

AFBI and Barenbrug

Barenbrug announced its hook-up with AFBI in 1991, with the objective of providing a steady flow of new varieties to meet the evolving demands of the UK and Ireland’s grassland and livestock industries.

“Ever since then, under the initial stewardship of AFBI breeder, David Johnston, and latterly Dr. Gillian Young, the Barenbrug - AFBI partnership has managed advance after advance,” according to Barenbrug UK’s commercial agricultural manager, David Linton.

New varieties have shown consistent and significant improvements in traits such as yield, digestibility and disease resistance.

“As we seek to reduce the agricultural sector’s carbon emissions to meet the industry’s net zero goals, it’s vital we look to new varieties which raise productivity and output," he added.

“We need to be doing more with less, something that good grass genetics can help us achieve.

AFBI’s grass breeding programme is supported by funding from Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs [DAERA] with commercialisation and marketing the responsibility of Barenbrug."

The combination of rigorous testing at AFBI’s Loughall site in Northern Ireland, coupled with further evaluations conducted throughout the UK and Republic of Ireland by Barenbrug, has provided the steady supply of new varieties used on a commercial basis by farmers.

While the partnership is set to bring new grasses to market every year up to at least 2028, a further 45 varieties remain in official trials at Cropvale – Barenbrug’s mainland UK trials site – having successfully made it through the demanding development process.

Recommended Lists

The AFBI - Barenbrug partnership currently has 19 ryegrass varieties listed on the 2021/2022 Agriculture and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB) Recommended Grass and Clover Lists (RGCL).

Included on the list is Gracehill – revealed to be the best performing late-heading perennial ryegrass variety – and recognised as one of the very best forage grasses available.

“As we celebrate 30 years of the partnership, we will continue to provide farmers with a range of grasses that meet their changing requirements for high-performing cutting and grazing mixtures, under a variety of conditions," Linton concluded.