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National white clover improvement programme - the plant improvement process

J.F. Ayres, R.D. FitzGerald, M.Z.Z. Jahufer and M.R. Norton

NSW Agriculture, Agricultural Research and Advisory Station, Glen Innes NSW 2370

White clover, Trifolium repens, is Australia's most important temperate perennial legume in terms of range of adaptation and contribution to revenue from grazing production. Over 40% of Australia's wool clip is produced in regions suited to white clover and white clover is a valuable component of sheep-meat, beef and dairy pastures. At least 80% of Australian dairy production is derived from white clover pastures. White clover in Australia occupies a wide range of environments across major climatic diversity, substantial variation in biotic and edaphic influences and a wide range of grazing enterprises. Industry requirements of white clover based pastures are correspondingly diverse. Despite the importance of white clover, a lack of adapted cultivars imposes limitations. Botanical presence and yield are unreliable, persistence is limited by poor adaptation to summer moisture stress and susceptibility to pests and diseases, and low winter activity limits feed supply. Plant improvement offers excellent potential for sustainable gains and is of proven feasibility.


Guidelines for the National White Clover Improvement Programme (NWCIP) were developed at the Australian Wool Corporation sponsored Specialist Workshop (1) in 1987 and NWCIP commenced activities in 1988 with establishment of the White Clover Resource Centre at Glen Innes. The guidelines specify that NWCIP develop a broad germplasm base, exploit opportunities from selection first, place emphasis on a comprehensive characterisation and national field testing, and provide a focus for collaborative research. The broad charter of NWCIP is to develop white clover cultivars with improved adaptation and persistence for existing white clover areas, and to extend the zone of adaptation to marginal regions. Component activities of NWCIP include; (a) development of a world-sourced germplasm collection, (b) quarantine screening/seed conservation, (c) field characterisation (d) national field testing, and (e) support research. Characterisation results will be used in conjunction with results from the initial phase of national field testing to facilitate selection of cohorts for testing in target environments and will also provide critical data for future breeding. Support research is identifying plant characteristics that confer persistence and successful performance in grazed pasture. Research in collaboration with other groups includes; germplasm development, national field testing, pathogen and insect screening, genetic analysis and genetic engineering. NWCIP activities are integrated to achieve (i) determination of the plant type appropriate to each region and evaluation of previously untested cultivars by 1994, and (ii) identification of pre-release cultivars for commercialisation from 1997.


NWCIP is funded by the Wool Research and Development Corporation and the Dairy Research and Development Corporation. NSW Agriculture is host organisation.


Curll, M.L. 1987. Proceedings of a Specialist Workshop on White Clover Improvement, (University of New England, Armidale). 108 pp.

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