New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Doug Fisher visited the Rutgers Plant Biology Research and Extension Farm in Adelphia on September 16. Faculty from the Turfgrass Breeding Project at the Rutgers Center for Turfgrass Science gave Fisher a tour of research plots and discussed types of grasses being evaluated and studied for breeding. Faculty on hand for the tour were William Meyer, director of the Turfgrass Breeding Project; Stacy Bonos (GSNB’97), assistant professor and turfgrass breeder; Bruce B. Clarke, director of the Center for Turfgrass Science; Brad Hillman, director of research for NJAES; and Rutgers Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources Bob Goodman.
The team toured research plots involving turfgrass breeding projects for drought tolerance in tall fescue, salinity tolerance in perennial ryegrass and for sustainable, low-maintenance use. According to Bonos, conducting these extensive evaluation trials in New Jersey provides the industry with information on which cultivars perform well in New Jersey. Additionally, research has demonstrated that turf performance in New Jersey is a good predictor for performance throughout the northern half of the U.S.
The Turfgrass Breeding Project research involves evaluating nearly 20,000 selections of turfgrasses each month throughout the growing season. Meyer and Bonos, assisted by graduate students and staff members, maintain research plots at Adelphia and Horticultural Research Farm II in North Brunswick. The farms typically have over 50,000 grass plots allocated for turfgrass breeding.
Fisher also discussed with the research team improvements in turfgrass quality that have been made over the course of 50 cycles of selection since the program’s inception in 1961. New cultivars developed at Rutgers exhibit improved disease, stress and pest tolerance, reducing pesticide and water inputs; bright dark green color; and lower growth habit, which reduces mowing requirements.
The grasses evaluated at Adelphia are not just for use as turf. Fisher also toured and discussed Rutgers breeding efforts in developing perennial grasses for biofuel. Research is focusing on switchgrass with improved disease resistance and biomass yield on marginal land. The Turfgrass Breeding Project is also evaluating the biomass yield potential of Miscanthus as a biofuel.
Images of the Secretary Fisher’s tour of the Rutgers Plant Biology Research and Extension Farm can be seen on the New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s Facebook site.