Goldcrop, the seed and crop protection specialist based in Cork and Louth, has signed a new 15-year agreement with Teagasc for the rights to market and propagate all the grass, clover and herb varieties bred from the Teagasc plant breeding centre in Oak Park, Co Carlow.

The agreement was announced at the Teagasc Moorepark open day and follows on from a previous 10-year relationship. Goldcrop secured the partnership after a tendering process and, according to Teagasc, the deal can be extended after the end of the 15-year period.

The new partnership is called Pasture Innovations, and gives Teagasc additional resources to focus on breeding perennial ryegrass and red and white clover, that will serve farmers best in the years ahead. Speaking at the signing of the agreement, Professor Frank O’Mara, Teagasc director said: “This is a really important vote of confidence and commitment by Goldcrop in the very successful Teagasc breeding programme at Oak Park. It gives the programme more scope to progress in the years ahead, to continue to produce grasses, clovers and herbs, for Irish grassland farmers.”

Teagasc team

The Teagasc pasture breeding team is headed up by Dr Patrick Conaghan in Oak Park, and is part of the wider Teagasc grassland science department headed up by Dr Michael O’Donovan at Moorepark. Their objective is to breed grasses and clovers that are suited to Irish conditions and management, in order to ensure the competitiveness of pasture based systems.

The breeding team makes crosses and conducts evaluations with a specific emphasis on the sub-indices of the Irish Pasture Profit Index for grasses and a similar focus for white clover, red clover and herbs. This allows for an emphasis on breeding for grazing, and new varieties that address the challenges facing Irish farmers.

In the past months, the Oak Park programme has delivered two clover varieties achieving recommendation on the UK NIAB list, Clodagh (white clover) and Fearga (red clover) both have achieved outstanding performance rankings for a number of traits on the list.

Speaking at the launch, John Murphy, managing director of Goldcrop, said: “Goldcrop prides itself in supporting the entire agri-food sector by bringing advanced genetic material that meets the challenges facing Irish farmers. The long-term extensive collaboration, Pasture Innovations, paves the way to drive a better next generation of improved Pasture varieties”.

Goldcrop is ranked as Ireland’s largest seed wholesaler, with over 80 people employed across its depots in Cork and Louth. In this agreement, seed production, marketing and sales of the Teagasc bred varieties will be the responsibility of Goldcrop. Most commercial grass seed is grown in countries like Denmark and New Zealand, because they are more suitable climates for seed production.

Animals grazing grass and white clover swards, as part of variety evaluation.

Breeding process

Grass breeding is by its nature a very slow process. The biggest constraint is having enough seed. When you cross-pollinate two grass plants you get a tiny bundle of seeds at the end of the first year. These seeds are then sown the following year, but they won’t produce viable seeds themselves until they are vernalised, so they have to go through a full winter.

After sowing and harvest, the bundle of seeds is a little bigger, so a slightly bigger plot can be sown down. The new variety has to go through a number of these stages before it can even be considered a variety.

At all stages of the process, the breeders are looking to identify strains that exhibit desirable traits and get rid of strains that exhibit inferior ones. The process is called recombination.

Varieties that look promising are put forward for seed multiplication and further evaluation. The breeders measure growth patterns, disease resistance and the physical properties of the grass. In recent years, the grass breeding team at Oak Park have been using grazing animals to assess grazing utilisation, which is a key component of the Pasture Profit Index.

The following varieties have been produced as part of the existing arrangement between Teagasc and Goldcrop: OakPark, Glenfield, Chatsworth, GlenRock, GlenEagle, Bandon, Clonakilty, Clodagh, Hollywood and Fearga. These are in widespread circulation across Ireland and the UK.