How deep root mass can help fight drought

Changing environmental and climatic conditions means changed condition for forage and turf grass management. To meet these changing needs, we have screened grass varieties to see which can grow better under difficult conditions like spring and summer drought, and use nutrients more efficiently to improve the strength and health of the plant. The secret is in the roots of the plants.

With changing climate conditions, spring- and early summer drought occurs more and more frequently. In many cases, it will severely affect forage crops and turf performance. 2020 was no exception. For the sixth time in a row, northern- and central parts of Europe were, to various degrees, hit by spring- and summer drought. In all those years drought had economic consequences for forage grass producers and turf grass managers. Crops that were exposed to the drought were set back in the middle of an exponential growth period. On the turf swards the consequences were poor visual appearance, more repairs, and less playing hours.

When drought hits in spring, the soil dries out from the top, and gradually the lack of moisture will expand deeper down. Plants are dependent on deep and efficient root architecture to take up soil moisture in this situation.

Some species are inherent drought tolerant by having above-ground drought coping mechanisms, such as the ability to go dormant.​ The situation now and in the future will include spring drought occurring at increasing frequency. For this type of drought above-ground mechanisms are enough. To cope with the spring drought conditions, root performance is key. Deep root mass is very important under drought situations where there is still water at deeper soil layers.

Breeding for drought tolerance

Plant breeding for improved root architecture is very complicated. It is neither easy to get a good look at what’s going on below soil surface nor to do it in the high number of breeding lines required to make improvements. At least until now. Together with Copenhagen University, DLF is heavily engaged in screening different grass species for deep root mass using the world’s most advanced root screening facility, RadiMax.

This facility enables imaging of roots down to 3 m depth, and by screening varieties and breeding material, DLF breeders are getting unique information about root architecture and are able to identify and select candidates with the fastest root growth, the deepest roots and the biggest root mass. Combining the data from RadiMax with what we already know from our other R&D activities, we can develop new breeding lines to further improve drought tolerance in our new varieties.

Verified by RadiMax

Our two festulolium types Ryegrass PLUS and Tall Fescue PLUS are excellent options in drought conditions. Ryegrass PLUS has the same quick root growth as ryegrass, but has a deeper root mass than ryegrass, which makes it more drought tolerant. Tall fescue PLUS has the same root mass as Tall Fescue but with better forage quality during the spring and summer.

For professional turf we offer six varieties that are proven to be drought tolerant and have better growth during spring and early summer drought:

Currently, deep root mass and root architecture are not rewarded by any official value tests in the European evaluation system. But we believe that it is essential to pursue the target nonetheless to bring tolerant varieties to the market for the benefit of farmers and turf grass managers.

To hear more about our drought tolerant grasses, reach out to normal DLF contact or find your local DLF contact here.