History of US Forage Breeding

During the 1930's, public institutions began plant breeding research, mainly with corn. During the 1940's and 1950's there were significant "landmark" forage cultivars produced by public institutions. The University of Kentucky released KY 31 tall fescue. Oregon State University released Alta tall fescue. In Virginia, the USDA developed Potomac orchardgrass. Forage grass breeding work continued within the public institutions, but in the 1960's private companies began to focus on alfalfa for higher yields of high quality forage.


Plant breeding's main aim is to develop improved cultivars. Plant breeders identify useful traits and work to develop genotypes that have these improved characteristics. The improvements include increased resistance to diseases and insects, greater yield, higher quality, and greater tolerance of climate and soil conditions.

In addition to traditional breeding objectives, such as total yield, persistency and disease resistance, priority breeding objectives include:

  • Grasses with a high content of sugar (water soluble carbohydrate) to improve animal performance and the effective use of protein in the rumen
  • Characteristics that enhance the selection of forages by grazing stock;Grasses with a high content of unsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants to improve the quality of milk or meat products
  • Grasses with improved mineral composition, which have positive health benefits for livestock
  • Extended seasonal production for early and late grazing

Plant Variety Protection Act

The Plant Variety Protection Act prohibits others “from selling, importing, or exporting the cultivar, from sexually multiplying the cultivar for marketing, or producing another cultivar from the protected cultivar.” This legislation provided a way to profit from research by creating specific markets. Throughout the 1980's and the 1990's many private forage varieties were released, increasing the choices available to farmers and ranchers.

Traditional Breeding Techniques
Gene-based, Molecular Techniques

Web Resources


Oregon State University


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