26 Jan 2016

Drought-resistant pasture being investigated

3:55 pm on 26 January 2016

Scientists have identified a type of plant that recovers quicker than others after drought and are taking the next steps to get it on to farmers' paddocks.

Looking back on the Wairarapa from Castle Point.

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

But they say it could be eight to 10 years before it is available.

The Primary Growth Partnership - Transforming the Dairy Value Chain is funding the research into pasture resistance.

It comes at a crucial time with 2015 being the hottest on record and Marlborough, Canterbury and parts of Otago enduring their second season of drought.

Dairy NZ scientist David Chapman said the ryegrass plants were collected from dairy farms in Waikato in 2011 and showed better response to rain and signs of drought tolerance compared to other plants they had collected.

"The material has come from dairy farm pastures, so it's been subject to all the normal dairy farm management practices and no doubt a lot of year to year variation and climate and growing conditions," Dr Chapman said.

"It's then been grown...for three or four years by...AgResearch and then identified by the AgResearch scientists as showing superior ability to recover from drought, so that offers a promising possible source of genetic variation for the breeders to work on over the next couple of years."

Dr Chapman said the next step was for plant breeders to better understand the grass's genetics and properties.

"There's a lot of situations where pastures just don't perform long term as we expect them to and we're not sure why, and this is one promising lead that we've got to understand what are the genes...that might be driving the traits of the plants that give them the ability to perform well over long periods of time and pastures, and that's exactly what we want."