Making plantain (even) better – breeders on target for next advances

Captain CSP (cool season plantain) reduces N leaching and raised the bar for winter growth when it was released two years ago.


But the team behind it is already well on its way to creating something even better.


Farming doesn’t stand still, and neither does plant breeding.


We currently have several advanced new plantain crosses under careful scrutiny, bred for the ideal mix of plant characteristics to reduce N leaching.


They’ve also been bred for more winter growth than Captain, as well as higher overall yield, and increased persistence.


As Barenbrug pasture systems agronomist Mark Shand explains, winter growth is one key objective because winter is when the risk of nitrate leaching is highest.


The more dry matter a plantain grows in winter, the more soil nitrogen it utilises, reducing N loss to waterways and improving environmental outcomes.


Captain has more winter growth than other plantains available, so it also provides extra feed when it is most needed on farm.


“But we know there is plenty of room for improved performance with plantain, not least because it is such a variable species,” Mark says.


“Variability is good when you’re a plant breeder! It gives you more opportunities to single out key characteristics of plant performance that are measurably better than what has already been achieved.”


Plantain’s season growth patterns are a good example of this variability. Warm season growth is reasonably consistent between different plantain varieties.


But cool season growth is highly variable, ranging from complete winter dormancy to higher DM growth than Captain, so we’ve been able to select aggressively for this trait.


Persistence is another key trait for many pasture species, and plantain is no exception – typically it is recognised as a short-lived crop, although well-managed Captain CSP will thrive for up to three years.


“But we are going to improve that, combined with targeting higher overall DM yield, because this will really help with fitting plantain into farm systems,” Mark says.


We have also increased our focus on certain properties specific to plantain that industry scientists have identified as driving changes in N leaching compared with ryegrass/white clover pasture.


Chief among these are plantain’s lower dry matter percentage than ryegrass; higher ratio of water soluble carbohydrate (WSC) to crude protein (CP), and less soluble and degradeable N fractions.


For now, Captain remains ideal for both red meat and dairy producers who want a plantain with good cool season yield as well as other benefits.


In terms of animal performance, it’s palatable, easily digested and rich in essential minerals and trace elements. Grazing utilisation is good, because Captain remains obviously upright in the pasture year-round.


Dairy farmers can sow it as a specialist three year pasture, mixed with hybrid ryegrass and white clover; or include it with new spring-sown perennial ryegrass pastures.


In red meat systems, mixed with red and white clovers, Captain offers a high liveweight gain finishing crop. Alternatively it can be part of a perennial pasture mix.