USGA Research Pays Dividends

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Researchers and staff recently met at the University of Florida in Gainesville to discuss progress on their cooperative U.S. Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) grant. The five southern universities received the $3.8 million SCRI grant in 2010 to develop more drought- and salt-tolerant grasses, as well as consumer attitudes about water conservation (Photo by Staci Sanders, University of Florida)

One of the positive outcomes of the USGA Turfgrass and Environmental Research Program has been the successful development of breeding programs for southern turfgrasses. In 2010, Texas A&M University, University of Georgia, Oklahoma State University, North Carolina State University, and University of Florida received a five-year, $3.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI). The focus of this extensive breeding program is the development of grasses with better drought and salinity tolerance. Used as a financial match to secure the SCRI grant, the USGA funds $120,000 per year to a few of these universities. 

With the fourth year of this research nearing completion, hundreds of new bermuda, zoysia, seashore paspalum and St. Augustine grasses tested throughout the Southeast United States for drought and salinity tolerance will provide promising new cultivars. The tests for drought tolerance were very successful in Oklahoma and Texas where severe droughts have occurred during the 2011 and 2012 summers. The unusually cold 2013-2014 winter also provided an excellent test of the freeze tolerance of these warm-season grasses. Tests for tolerance to salty or brackish water are being conducted in Georgia and Texas. All of the universities are conducting cultivar trials of the grasses that have survived the best over the last three years. Three promising bermudagrasses and more than 10 zoysiagrasses from this cooperative breeding program were entered into the 2013 National Turfgrass Evaluation Trials.

Graduate students Bishow Poudel (left) and Jing Zhang (right) discuss their research on how the leaves and roots of different warm-season grasses respond to severe periods of drought. Thousands of pictures taken with a special camera inserted in the soil help monitor grass rooting during drought.  

Seven graduate students are earning their degrees while conducting research on how warm-season grasses respond to severe drought and salinity stress. The differences in the drought response and rooting, developing genetic markers, as well as evaluating consumer attitudes are some of the graduate research projects underway. The USGA’s investment in developing new grasses that can survive drought and salinity is paying dividends through this large, cooperative SCRI research effort by five outstanding university turfgrass programs.


Additional Information:

Breeding and evaluation of turf bermudagrass varieties

Analyses of bermudagrass hybrids

Development of shade tolerant bermudagrass

Seeded zoysiagrass cultivars

Zoysiagrass cultivars with cold tolerance and large patch resistance


Source:  Mike Kenna (

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