New feed and forage genetics are coming down the pipe for cattle feeders.
At the end of February, the Prairie Grain Development Committee approved three new feed and forage barley varieties from the Field Crop Development Centre, as well as two triticale varieties that would be suitable for feed and forage.
“Over the past couple of years, there has been great interest from farmers to get forage and feed crops,” said Flavio Capettini, head of research for barley breeding at the Field Crop Development Centre.
“Feed and forages are among the main objectives of our centre, so the meeting went pretty well. We had several varieties approved for registration.”
Historically, barley — and especially feed barley — has struggled to attract the same private investment as other field crops such as canola and wheat. The bulk of that investment has been put into malt barley development, and as a result, barley yields have trailed those of other feed crops.
But that’s starting to change as producers begin to understand the value of feeding barley that was designed for that purpose, said Capettini.
“We know many farmers take the chance to have malt quality in their crops, and depending on how the season goes, they may commercialize that malt,” he said. “That’s OK as a production strategy, but the varieties grown over more than half the area of barley grown in Alberta are malting varieties and only about 20 per cent of barley goes to malt.”
Feed and forage varieties won’t command the same premium as malt varieties if they make the grade, but they come with some added benefits for producers who grow their own feed, he added.
“We expect that feed varieties will have higher yields than the malt varieties, the management will be more flexible, and they’ll have less quality restrictions.”
The first barley variety approved for registration is SR18524, a six-row feed and forage barley that saw grain yields between 103 and 107 per cent higher than the checks and forage yields 103 per cent higher than the check. It performed especially well in the Western Black and Grey Wooded soil zones. And with its superior nitrogen use efficiency, solid lodging resistance and high yields, SR18524 has strong potential for annual forage and feed production.
The second — TR18647 — is a two-row hulled general purpose barley with potential for feed and forage use. Its grain yields were about five per cent higher than the check, while its forage yields were similar to the checks. The forage quality of the line, however, was far superior, with high forage protein, fibre digestibility, and starch and low neutral detergent fibre and acid detergent fibre.
The final feed barley variety approved — TR18645 — is another two-row hulled variety that shows promise for feed use. While it’s well adapted to all soil zones, it did particularly well in dry areas during the drought years, with a yield boost of between five to eight per cent over the checks in 2018. (Its typical yields were between three and four per cent higher than the checks.)
Two new triticale varieties (a winter triticale called WT0006 and a spring triticale called T272) were also approved.
The breeding program has been able to develop these new lines in part thanks to a ‘fast breeding’ approach that allows breeders to grow multiple generations in a single year using a winter nursery in California. This cuts the time to commercialization for a new variety almost by half.
“In a breeding program, the most expensive trait is time,” said Capettini. “Every year that a higher- yielding variety is not deployed in the farmer’s field, it’s a huge loss from a production perspective.
“For a normal breeding program, it takes 12 to 14 years to get a variety in farmers’ fields. With our capacity and our infrastructure, we’ve been able to reach that phase in eight or nine years, and with approvals for new infrastructure, we’ll be able to do it in less time than that.”
But that will depend on how the province’s new research frame- work rolls out, Capettini added, referencing recent budget cuts to Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.
“We have some exciting things coming, and we hope to stay in business for the following years, so it depends on how that process goes here.”