Breeding and production of creeping bentgrass
Behind the scenes of the breeding, selection, and production of grass seed.
The European golf industry has an increasing demand for new and improved cultivars to meet environmental and management challenges. In recent times, there has been a flux of many new cultivars, but what are the challenges in bringing these new innovations to end users?
Bentgrass plots at Rutgers Center for Turfgrass Science.
Creeping bentgrass breeding
Traditional plant breeding strategies take wild selections and hybridize them with elite cultivars to widen the genetic diversity, avoid the narrowing of the gene pool, and capitalize on desirable traits. This has been the common process for many turfgrass breeding programs. Plant breeders have made significant improvements in turfgrass cultivar performance over the last 30 years adopting these methods.
Improving creeping bent grasses in this way is more problematic. Due to the complexity and differences in ploidy compared with other turfgrass species, the number of chromosomes found in bentgrasses means that the introduction of wild types could in fact be a retrograde step, due to the transfer of undesirable traits for turf use.
Creeping bentgrass is one of the main species used in golf for putting greens, fairways, and tees.
It is a highly adaptable species that spreads by stolons and colonizes voids quickly. However, this species is vulnerable to a range of fungal diseases including dollar spot, brown patch, anthracnose, copper spot, and others. Selecting for disease tolerance has been a primary focus of breeders for this species. Over the years, significant improvements in disease tolerance have been made through these breeding efforts to greatly reduce the need for fungicide treatments.
Additional traits being targeted by breeders are increased shoot densities and upright growth characteristics to help create an ultra-dense, uniform playing surface. Continued efforts to increase tolerance to heat, drought, and wear are also part of the breeding criteria. This wide adaption approach produces cultivars that can cope with a wide range of environmental growing conditions.
Creeping bentgrass putting green.
Creeping bentgrass seed production
To breed a high-performance cultivar is one challenge, but to produce clean seed is equally important. Almost all seed production of creeping bentgrass takes place in the USA in Willamette Valley, Oregon. This production is carried out by a very limited number of exceptional farmers that can consistently produce 0 crop 0 weed seed lots, meeting the extremely high quality requirements demanded by golf course turf managers.
Creeping bentgrass is a very challenging crop to produce. With approximately 13,000,000 seeds per kg, the extremely small seed size makes it difficult to remove weed seeds from the creeping bentgrass crop once harvested. Very few chemicals are registered for weed control in creeping bentgrass seed production as well. With limited chemical programs available and difficulty to remove weeds from the crop after harvest, growers rely heavily on manual labor to remove weed contaminants within production fields. Growers employ spot spraying or hoeing crews to go across production fields five to ten times throughout the growing season, weeding the fields till just prior to harvest to meet necessary quality requirements.