Preparing for the ultimate drought test in grasses

Ever seen your lawn turning yellow as a severe summer drought progresses? Well, there may be hope for a change. Right now breeders and scientists are preparing the most advanced screening for drought tolerant, deep rooting varieties.

Drought is a very unfriendly guest to all plant growth. It dries up your lawn, it reduces the farmer’s yield, and it drains fresh water resources in areas, where irrigation is needed. What can we do about it?

If you ask breeders and scientists in the RadiMax Consortium, the answer is: “deeper roots”. The RadiMax consortium consists of four Danish breeding companies and three universities, which have established a one-of-its-kind root screening facility at Copenhagen University, Denmark. The facility is made up of four V-shaped graves 3 meters deep that have been filled with potato, barley, wheat, and grasses.

Plants are only irrigated from the bottom, which means that plants standing in the middle will have to produce almost 3 meter deep roots to take up water. The system has capacity for 600 plant lines and below each line, root growth will be monitored with cameras through a 5 m Plexiglass tube. These recordings will allow scientists to not only select for varieties with the deepest roots, but also those that respond quickly to a stress situation.

At the moment, DLF is testing 60 different turf and 60 different forage varieties in RadiMax. The varieties were sown autumn 2015 and are now ready for the ultimate drought test. “The outcome of this first experiment will tell us, which varieties are the most drought tolerant”, says Christian Sig Jensen, DLF, who is coordinating the project. “It will probably also guide us on how to make the next experiments, which will include the next varieties in the pipeline.”

The project runs until 2018 and has received funding from the Danish Innovation Fund and private funds.