Genetic gain in perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne) varieties 1973 to 2013

J. McDonagh, M. O’Donovan, M. McEvoy, T. J. Gilliland*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Citations (Scopus)
329 Downloads (Pure)


Perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne) forms the basis of grassland production in temperate pastures and is globally one of the most important forage grasses. Consequently, there has been large plant breeding industry investment over the past 40 years in producing new varieties and independent testing systems designed to identify and list those with the most improved performances. This study was conducted at the Plant Testing Station, Crossnacreevy, Northern Ireland and compared the DM yield and sward density of new varieties submitted from 1973 to 2013 and grass digestibility from 1980 to 2013, under conservation and simulated grazing managements. A variety × years matrix was compiled for each parameter and comparable means between varieties never in side by side performance trials were produced. Dry matter yields showed an overall significant (p < 0.001) average annual increase of 0.52 % under conservation and 0.35 % under simulated grazing, with similar gain levels within maturity groups or ploidies. These rates were not constant over time, and periods of no gain occurred in various variety groupings. Sward density of the examined varieties did not change significantly. Herbage digestibility showed no improvement over the timeframe but had the largest differences between concurrent varieties, indicating that improvements were possible in the future. The study indicated that plant breeding gains were primarily DM yield focused with sward density remaining stagnant over the 40 years, while the lack of grass digestibility improvement appeared to only require more time to overcome. Evidence of benefits and risks of variety testing influences on plant breeding objectives was discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-199
Number of pages13
Issue number2
Early online date10 Aug 2016
Publication statusEarly online date - 10 Aug 2016


  • Breeding
  • Genetic gain
  • Recommended lists
  • Ryegrass
  • Varieties

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science
  • Horticulture


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