New alfalfa variety resists ravenous local pest

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ITHACA, N.Y. – Cornell University plant breeders have released a new alfalfa variety with some resistance against the alfalfa snout beetle, which has ravaged alfalfa fields in nine northern New York counties and across the St. Lawrence River in Canada.

There are no other known alfalfa snout beetle infestations in North America, but the pesky beetle has been spreading. The snout beetle’s larvae feed on and damage the alfalfa plant’s roots, limiting yields for this major livestock feed.

“We are the only ones who can work on [this pest], because it is so regional,” said Don Viands, professor of plant breeding and genetics and director of the Forage Breeding Project.

The new resistant cultivar, called Seedway 9558 SBR, has been in development since 2003, along with six other populations. But Seedway 9558 SBR has provided the most resistance while also maintaining the highest yields.

On a scale of one to five, where one represents little to no root-feeding damage and five is severe root-feeding damage, Seedway 9558 SBR scored a 2.9.

“This initial variety is better than anything else, but we feel we can still do better,” Viands said. “We are trying to get a variety that is at least twice as good as this one.”

For effective control, the resistant alfalfa should be planted with a larvae-killing nematode that has been studied and released by Elson Shields, professor of entomology, said Viands.

“We are making significant progress in developing resistance, but it has been very slow,” Viands said. The first-year base crop for Seedway 9558 SBR was 13 percent resistant, compared with 38 percent after seven cycles. “Normally it takes four to five cycles to develop resistance, but this [alfalfa snout beetle resistance] may have multiple genes, so it is taking time,” Viands added, noting that it is still unknown exactly what mechanism allows the plant to deter the beetles.

 

Cornell University has television, ISDN and dedicated Skype/Google+ Hangout studios available for media interviews. For additional information, see this Cornell Chronicle story.

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