Tifton Turfgrass Breeding
Tifton Turfgrass Breeding
Crop & Soil Sciences
Turfgrass breeding efforts at the University of Georgia, Tifton Campus are focused on the development of stress tolerant cultivars.
Homeowners, turfgrass managers, sod producers, and city planners benefit from turf through soil erosion control, water filtration, recreation, and aesthetic value. Ever-changing abiotic (drought, heat, shade, etc.) and biotic (insect, disease, nematode, etc.) stresses challenge the sustainability of established turfgrass stands. The development of reduced input turfgrasses (water- and nitrogen-use efficient, pest resistant, etc.) through plant breeding could offer an attractive alternative as irrigation, fertilizer, and pesticide prices rise or become less available.
Turfgrass breeding efforts at the University of Georgia, Tifton Campus are focused on the development of stress tolerant grasses that will be more sustainable than older varieties. Recent evaluations using rain-out and shade structures, non-irrigated plots, and reduced fertilizer input have been prioritized. Pesticide applications, including insecticides and fungicides, have been eliminated from routine maintenance programs to aid in the identification of varieties with natural resistances or tolerances, i.e., environmentally friendly turfgrasses.
Turfgrasses developed in Tifton during the past 15 years have been licensed to numerous growers in many different countries across the globe. There are currently 22 farms producing TifGrand bermudagrass on a little less than 1000 acres. TifTuf bermudagrass, released in 2014 on the basis of its drought tolerance, wear resistance, persistence in the shade and widespread adaptability (currently the #1 ranked bermudagrass in the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program trials), has now been distributed to 47 sod producers across the United States and internationally. It is being grown on approximately 4,000 acres with continued producer interest for rapidly expanding this variety. Efforts have been initiated at UGA to develop new zoysiagrasses that are more vigorous, disease tolerant, and pest resistant than currently available cultivars. An agreement between Bladerunner Farms and the turfgrass breeding program in Tifton which allows access to their “world” zoysiagrass germplasm collection should make this endeavor more feasible. Currently, our program encompasses bermudagrass, centipedegrass and zoysiagrass breeding material from the seedling stage to advanced experimental hybrids which have persisted through rigorous testing for over a decade. Over 81 laboratory, greenhouse, and field evaluations are underway to maintain the pipeline that has provided leading turfgrass cultivars for over a half century.
Collaboration with other institutions has been important during the past few years and has included work with Purdue University, the University of Tennessee, and the University of Arizona to test advanced turfgrasses for stresses not found in Tifton, GA. In 2015, the turfgrass breeding programs at UGA were awarded a four year, $4.4 million USDA-NIFA grant to evaluate hybrids we developed for persistence, survival, and recovery under limited irrigation and long-term drought in a partnership with the University of Florida, Texas A&M University, Oklahoma State University, and NC State University.
Dissemination of turfgrass breeding and management research progress at the Tifton Campus is carried out at the annual Southeastern Turfgrass Conference in April. There were 212 individuals from the turf and landscape industry that participated in presentations, tours, and continuing education during 2017. This event offers a centralized location for peer networking and information exchange. Most important is the communication of practical application of findings during face-to-face interaction between researcher and end-user.
Sustainability, Conservation, and the Environment