Research in Perugia has been focussed on collecting and assessing the genetic resources of central Italy for various forage species (agronomic value, genetic structure of the populations, floral biology). Priority was given to research on birdsfoot trefoil, white clover, sainfoin, yellow trefoil and, to a lesser degree, annual medicks and clovers. Research at Montpellier was focussed on annual lucernes and on finding a grazing lucerne tolerant to summer drought, with secondary research programmes for tree medick, subterranean clover and sainfoin. The research involved analysing the genetic resources to be found in the south of France and other regions, their use in breeding, prospection methods and the biological characteristics of plant populations.
Plant productivity varied considerably in these regions. Valuable populations have been located and breeding work has been started. Research has been carried out on the interspecific and intraspecific correlation between growth characteristics and sexual reproduction in different annual and perennial species of medicago, and on the influence of the environment of these correlations, particularly the influence of drought on the architecture of lucerne. Grazing tolerance was observed (collections were systematically grazed) as was winter growth (by means of scoring). A perennial grazing lucerne with improved winter growth has been selected as well as suitable medicks (resistence to cold, in particular) and, to a lesser extent, sainfoin, subterranean clover and tree medick. Research has been carried out on the value of the various species of forage trees and shrubs, how to make best use of the existing resources, and crop husbandry. Seed production has also been undertaken.
Cultivated fodder trees and shrubs can grow in dry and marginal areas of the Mediterranean region and produce abundant and high quality feed for direct browsing by livestock during the long and dry summer period and mid winter when herbaceous plants are dormant. This study is of the genetic potential of highly productive, mainly leguminous species, their adaptation and performance in different ecological environments and production systems, and the application of modern techniques for their establishment and grazing management.
24 trials of fodder trees and shrubs were set up covering a total area of 12 hectares (ha). The species planted were mostly leguminous, but a few nonleguminous species with a high productive potential were also included. In total 17 species and 35 cultivars were planted. Most of these species are indigenous in the Mediterranean region. Collections of seeds from a number of populations of exotic and indigenous species were exchanged among participants for planting and evaluation of their performance in various environments. Agronomic and ecological evaluations of established species were initiated to estimate biomass production in different experimental trials. Results were obtained from such trials in Italy, France, Greece and Spain. Considerable differences were found among species within populations of the same species and between sites. Methods to elevate germination capacity of seeds were tested as well as techniques for seeding, transplanting and grazing management. Experiments carried out in France and Greece, concerned with supplementation of sheep and goat diet with deciduous fodder shrubs, determined animal preferences which seem to be quite different between the 2 species.
Cultivated fodder trees and shrubs can grow in dry and marginal areas of the Mediterranean region and produce abundant and high quality feed for direct browsing by livestock during the long and dry summer period mid winter when herbaceous plants are dormant. As a result, the purchases of expensive protein-rich supplements which increase the cost of production and make production systems very fragile can be avoided, relieving at the same time the Community from paying any subsidies to maintain the income of the farmers.
The project will study the genetic potential of highly productive species, mainly leguminous, their adaptation and performance in different ecological environments and production systems, as well as the application of modern techniques for their establishment and grazing management. More than 15 species will be tested but main emphasis will be given on Medicago arborea, Robinia pseudoacacia, Gleditsia triacanthos and Morus alba.
In total 24 trials will be established with spacing ranging from 0.0524 m. Biomass, nutritive value and resistance to extreme weather conditions will be measured while actual grazing experiments with sheep and goats will be also run.