Water is often in short supply. And just about everywhere in the world, turf managers are under pressure to reduce consumption. So we've developed a range of turf grasses that are much less thirsty.
Through large-scale field observations conducted over many years, we've identified grass varieties that stay green long after the rains have ceased to fall. During the past three years, we've intensified our efforts in response to predictions about global climate change.
Several factors determine the drought-tolerance of grass. Some grasses have a waxy outer layer that prevents water loss; others combat drought damage osmotically by increasing the concentration of compounds such as amino acids and sugars.
Together with the University of Aberystwyth in the UK, we're looking to see which compounds and genes improve drought-tolerance. We're focusing on perennial ryegrass and the grass model species, Brachypodium, both of which are being tested at Aberystwyth's National Plant Phenomics Centre. The study helps us develop genetic markers that will advance our breeding efforts for drought-tolerance. And at our breeding station in Philomath, Oregon, we put new varieties through an intensive drought test every summer.
Another way of combating drought is to grow roots that extract water from deeper in the soil. So we're working with three other breeding companies and three Danish universities to set up a root-screening programme. We want to find and develop varieties with the deepest root systems. In the field, we're already measuring root depth by inserting plexiglass tubes diagonally into the soil.