THE latest high-sugar grass available in New Zealand has the potential to significantly lift animal production, with scientists reporting up to 5.5 percent higher digestibility levels than conventional varieties.
A product of agricultural seed company Germinal New Zealand, the high-sugar grass is called AberGreen AR1. It is the first perennial ryegrass in the country to offer close to an optimum balance of energy and protein, which means it is more digestible for livestock than conventional varieties.
The result is higher intake and improved animal performance.
Germinal general manager Sarah Gard said digestibility, a measure of pasture quality and nutritional value, is one of the most important factors for increasing milk or meat production.
“A digestibility gain of one percent is worth three percent of yield.
“AberGreen AR1 has 5.5 percent higher digestibility than standard ryegrass varieties, which means they can absorb more energy from the feed. This offers the potential for dairy cows, beef cattle and lambs to significantly increase production.
“I firmly believe that there are three pillars to a good ryegrass — yield, quality and persistence. There is little benefit in growing a lot of low-quality feed.”
AberGreen AR1 is the latest addition to Germinal's range of high-sugar grasses, which are bred to produce a higher level of water-soluble carbohydrates (WSC), or sugar energy, than traditional ryegrass.
In an independent trial of New Zealand cultivars, AberGreen AR1 had a 15.5 percent higher than average WSC level.
The increased sugar energy has proven to lift animal production. New Zealand research shows that lambs grazing high-sugar grass finished 17 percent faster and 19 percent heavier than lambs grazing a conventional ryegrass variety.
“The high sugar content enables the microbes responsible for the breakdown of forage to operate more efficiently, so more protein is converted to meat and milk and less is excreted into the environment,” says Gard.
“AberGreen AR1 is also very densely tillered and provides superior ground cover compared with other ryegrasses in New Zealand. As a result, it has an increased ability to withstand heavy grazing and pugging.
“The increased ground cover provides the plant with greater ability to capture light for photosynthesis and growth, restricting the invasion of weeds and unsown species.”
Importantly, AberGreen AR1 can help farmers reduce their environmental footprint.
“The extra soluble sugars can change rumen fermentation patterns, reducing methane emissions. A New Zealand trial reported nine percent lower methane emissions from sheep fed high-sugar grass, such as AberGreen AR1, when compared to a conventional variety,” says Gard.
“Meanwhile, the improved use of ruminal protein can limit the amount of nitrogen lost in urine.”
Germinal has a strong focus on innovation. Its research partner is the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) in Wales. This exclusive collaboration allows Germinal to draw on world-leading research and apply it to New Zealand's unique conditions.
The company has also established a research and development station in Christchurch, which is supported by on-farm trials throughout New Zealand.