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.