Submitted to: Symposium Proceedings
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: November 15, 2007
Publication Date: December 7, 2007
Citation: Casler, M.D. 2007. Improving forages for quality [abstract]. Proceedings of ForageFest2007. Paper No. 4. Technical Abstract: Forage quality is animal performance potential of a stored feed or standing forage crop. Breeders seek to improve quality by increasing digestibility or intake potential. Digestibility has received the greatest amount of attention, because it is a direct measure of metabolizeable energy and is readily measured in the laboratory. Progress toward improving digestibility has been documented in many forage species, including legumes, cool-season grasses, and warm-season grasses. Digestibility is not an actual trait of plants. It is not regulated directly by plant genes, but determined by many other plant traits that are regulated by genes.Most documented progress toward increased digestibility has occurred as a result of chemical changes to the plant, including decreased lignin or increased soluble carbohydrates. The longest running breeding program working toward increasing forage quality is the bermudagrass program at Tifton, Georgia. In 30+ years of work, they simultaneously increased digestibility of bermudagrass by 30% and forage yield by 12%. These varieties have been planted on millions of hectares. The only factors limiting the progress forage breeders can make toward increasing forage quality are a lack of long-term commitment and/or a lack of funding. There is a wealth of natural genetic variation for plant traits related to forage quality and livestock performance and these traits can be easily manipulated, often without any negative consequences.