AgResearch’s Margot Forde Germplasm Centre has applied to the Environmental Protection Agency to evaluate 18 new grass species in real farm conditions, rather than in the laboratory or containment facilities.
The EPA, which is calling for submissions on this proposal, says the new grass species could help make New Zealand’s pastures become more tolerant to disease, pests and drought. This could improve productivity, increase returns to farmers and enhance the environment.
The grasses are all closely related to perennial ryegrass, New Zealand’s most common pasture grass. The aim is to transfer desirable traits from the 18 species to ryegrass by integration and crossbreeding. The new species would not themselves be grown as pasture.
While new to New Zealand, the 18 grass species are distant relatives of New Zealand native grass species. The EPA says it is therefore highly unlikely they would hybridise naturally with native grasses. They are wild relatives of pasture grass species already in cultivation in New Zealand.
The new grasses have adapted to harsher growing environments overseas and possess desirable traits such as drought tolerance, pest and disease resistance, and being nutrient efficient. Incorporating these traits could improve the resilience of local pasture and reduce the need for fertiliser, irrigation, pesticides and herbicides, lowering farmers’ input costs and enabling more sustainable, environmentally friendly farming practices.
Another potential benefit is being able to reduce grazing animals’ methane emissions, which would help New Zealand to meet its target under the UN Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
AgResearch says it will pay particular attention to the potential for any new cultivars to become weeds affecting maize, wheat, barley and other crops, and will work with Plant and Food Research on this issue. After a weed risk assessment it ruled out one species for entry into New Zealand.
Public submissions on the proposal opened on Wednesday and will close at 5pm on Wednesday 22 February 2017.