Bermudagrass is the most used warm-season perennial grass forage in the southeastern United States and is planted on more than 12 million hectares. The most famous cultivars were developed decades ago: Coastal (1943), Coastcross-1 (1967), Tifton 85 (1992) and Florakirk (1994). These cultivars have revolutionized the livestock and hay industry in our region. However, the growing demands for animal-based products in a world facing new challenges require investments in research on forage breeding. USDA-NIFA has just awarded $450,000 to UF/IFAS, the University of Georgia and Auburn University to select, release and disseminate improved cultivars. Five assistant professors — Esteban Rios and Marcello Wallau — both with UF/IFAS — Lisa Baxter of UGA and Leanne Dillard of Auburn — are leading the project in collaboration with William Anderson and Karen Harris-Schultz from the USDA-Agricultural Research Service in Tifton, Georgia.
They have evaluated hundreds of forage bermudagrass accessions for yield, nutritive value and bermudagrass stem maggot for more than five years in several locations in the southeast. The team is now ready to select accessions with improved traits and pursue cultivar release(s) for accessions outperforming older cultivars. Further, on-site and on-farm trials will reveal the best management practices to successfully establish and grow the improved cultivars.
The cultivar ‘Newell’ is the first release from this effort and planting material is available upon request to Esteban Rios. Preliminary funds provided by the Florida Cattlemen Enhancement Board and the Florida Milk CheckOff to Esteban Rios were fundamental in generating preliminary results for the new project.