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Best pick: perennial ryegrass

In 2013, a major study showed that perennial ryegrass, used for ornamental lawns and football fields, was significantly improved by selection processes carried out over 50 years.

Lawn at the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris. © INRA, MAITRE Christophe
By Pascale Mollier, translated by Inge laino
Updated on 06/09/2017
Published on 06/10/2016

A major stride when it comes to aesthetic quality and resistance to wear and tear

The "wear tester" piloted by Rémi Dupuis, the technician in charge of turf at Lusignan.. © INRA, Stéphane Fourtier
The "wear tester" piloted by Rémi Dupuis, the technician in charge of turf at Lusignan. © INRA, Stéphane Fourtier

A sturdy, good-looking lawn: that is what is expected of perennial ryegrass when it is used for turf. A study published in 2013 showed that this goal has been obtained thanks to rigorous selection processes carried out over 50 years, resulting in significant improvements in aesthetic quality and resistance to trampling underfoot. Plant breeders gave priority to those criteria, although they may seem incompatible with the more immediate goal at hand. Indeed, they require that breeders select varieties that grow more slowly and produce fewer seeds. These encouraging results testify to the benefits of criteria set out by VATE (1) and required by the CTPS (2) in order for turf varieties to be registered in the French National Catalogue.

Evaluate selection over the long-term: a tall task rarely tackled

A study of this kind requires considerable means. Jean-Paul Sampoux (3), the leading author of the publication, explains: “We tested different criteria related to the aesthetic aspect of turf (thickness, finesse, colour, resistance to disease) for three years in five different places in France. Those criteria were rated visually by experts at different times of the year”. A special machine was designed to test how well the different varieties stood up to wear and tear. This “wear tester” reproduces the friction of cleats on turf. “The study mobilised a network of plant breeders (4) who co-authored the publication”, continues Jean-Paul Sampoux. “They brought their experience to the table, and some who are close to retirement also shared what they know of older varieties. We then had to find those varieties and harvest their grains for three years”.

A winning publication

Cover of the journal Grass and Forage Science. © INRA
Cover of the journal Grass and Forage Science © INRA

The article by Jean-Paul Sampoux and his colleagues was the third most downloaded article on the Grass and Forage Science website. Such a high impact may be explained by the fact that analyses carried out over a long period of time bring key information to optimise selection schemes and rise to new challenges. A similar study was carried out to assess the genetic progress of perennial ryegrass for use as fodder. Going forward, varieties adapted to mixed-species crops must be developed, since they have significant agricultural advantages for both fodder and turf usage.  Simultaneously, adapting to climate change must remain a priority.

(1) VATE: Valeur Agronomique, Technologique et Environnementale, Agricultural, Technological and Environmental Value: the value established for a set of traits which must meet minimum requirements for a plant to be registered in the French National Catalogue.
(2) CTPS: Comité Technique Permanent de la Sélection, Permanent Technical Selection Committee: consultative committee serving the Ministry of Agriculture for decisions regarding the registration of new plant varieties in the French National Catalogue.
(3) Multidisciplinary Research Unit for Grasslands and Forage Crops, URP3F, INRA in Lusignan
(4) ACVF: Association des Créateurs de Variétés Fourragères, Association of the creators of forage varieties; FNAMS: Fédération Nationale des Agriculteurs Multiplicateurs de Semences, French national association of seed producers.

Lusignan, centre of genetic resources

Located in the Poitou-Charentes region of France, INRA’s Lusignan site is home to a genetic resource centre for forage and turf plants. The centre has both natural plant populations and older varieties, including perennial ryegrass varieties selected for use as fodder and turf. It is reputed for its work in the genetic improvement of grass varieties and leguminous plants used for livestock feed and turf for sports fields. That is why the sports industry called upon INRA’s multidisciplinary research unit for grasslands and forage crops (URP3F) to gain a better understanding and curb the deterioration of playing fields. Read the article.  

Un outil d’aide à la gestion a été développé et baptisé Logiciel d’analyse du microclimat (Lami). A ce jour le tout récent stade Pierre Mauroy de Lille (qui accueillera plusieurs rencontres de l’Euro 2016 dont un match de l’équipe de France et un quart de finale) a déjà été équipé. © DR

Rolling out the green carpet for Euro 2016

The new Pierre Mauroy sports stadium in Lille, which will host several 2016 Euro matches, plays a leading role when it comes to turf quality. In collaboration with INRA researchers in Lusignan, the stadium received special treatment to maintain the quality of its turf, which takes a real beating from trampling players and the shadows cast by the stands. This pilot project will help determine the best position for lighting rigs and how long they should be used, so as to maintain the growth and development of the turf.