Boffins Unite to Probe High Sugar Grasses

Article excerpt

TEAMS of scientists from five European countries have joined forces to carry out an ambitious programme of research on the latest 'high sugar' grasses and their future role in livestock farming.

Staff at the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research, Aberystwyth, are co-ordinating the four-year programme, which is financed by a prestigious research grant from the European Union, worth 1.7 million Euros.

Pilot studies have linked the grasses with a striking combination of economic and environmental benefits, including production benefits and a reduction in some forms of pollution.

As a result, many think they have an important part to play in the move towards more sustainable forms of animal production.

With this in mind, scientists from IGER and leading centres in Germany, Ireland, Norway and Sweden, are working together to establish the best way to grow and use the grasses.

IGER has a distinguished record of breeding high sugar grasses, and some of its own varieties (now commercially avaiable through partner company, Germinal Holdings Ltd), will feature prominently in the research, together with other locally-adapted mainland European varieties.

"The SweetGrass programme is particularly exciting because it shows that high sugar grasses are attracting interest, not just in the United Kingdom, but right across northern Europe," said Professor Mike Theodorou, who co-ordinates the programme and leads IGER's contribution.

The appeal of the new grasses lies in their effects on livestock nutrition. "We've shown that, when animals eat sweet grasses, they are able to use the protein in their diet more efficiently," expained Prof Theodorou.

"The upshot is that more of the protein finds its way into milk or meat, while less ends up being excreted in the form of nitrogen in dung and urine. …