By Dr. Bill Anderson, Research Geneticist, USDA-ARS
When I started as perennial forage grass breeder for ARS sixteen years ago, the primary goal was to develop a cold-tolerant seeded bermudagrass since Tifton 85 seemed to satisfy the sprigged market. The battle was to develop a seeded forage that had high biomass but also high seed production. The reason that very few seeded bermudagrass lines have made it to market is that it is extremely difficult to have both, and though we (ARS) have had a couple promising lines, a new pest (BSM) showed up and these lines have turned out to be susceptible to the insect. In recent years, resistance or tolerance to the bermudagrass stem maggot (BSM) has been the new focus. Though Tifton 85 has some tolerance, we have searched for germplasm that has greater tolerance with as high or higher yield and high quality. From screening of hundreds of lines present in our nursery, we have found five or six lines with very good potential to meet these goals. However, these lines are still being tested at multiple locations and we will narrow the number to one or two to continue to increase and evaluate. Another three to five years of testing will be needed before we could safely release a new line from this group.