USDA grants $3.8 million to AgriLife Research and Extension in Dallas for turf improvement

By: Mike Jackson, 972-952-9232  
Contact(s): Dr. Ambika Chandra, 972-231-5362, a-chandra@tamu.edu
Dr. Michael Gould, 972-231-5362, jmgould@ag.tamu.edut
Jennifer Martin, 202-720-8188, oc.news@usda.gov

DALLAS - The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded a $3.8 million grant to the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Dallas and others for developing, improving and commercializing drought and salinity tolerant turfgrasses.

The Dallas center, which is a part of the Texas A&M System, and four other universities will cay out a five-year study to improve drought and salinity tolerance in five species of grasses for the southern U.S., according to USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which awarded the grant.

The turfgrass grant was among 28 totaling $46 million awarded to programs in 19 states, according to USDA.

"The specialty crop industry plays an enormously important part in American agriculture and is valued at approximately $50 billion every year," said Roger Beachy, NIFA director. "These projects will be key to providing specialty crop producers with the information and tools they need to successfully grow, process, and market safe and high-quality products."

The grant will fund a five-year collaborative project led by Dr. Ambika Chandra, the principal investigator and associate professor of turfgrass breeding and molecular genetics at the Dallas center. Scientists from North Carolina State University, Oklahoma State University, University of Georgia and University of Florida will also participate in the study.

The project will include breeding and testing of Bermudagrass, ryegrass, zoysiagrass, St. Augustine grass and seashore paspalum grass, Chandra said. Participating universities will be involved in breeding turfgrass cultivars and developing advanced experimental lines that will be tested at multiple locations throughout the southern U.S.

Such work is important because these grasses are among those commonly used at parks, golf courses, home lawns, commercial landscape and other areas, Chandra said. In addition to breeding and testing, the project focuses on education and marketing as means to share what is learned with producers and consumers.

The underlying science can eventually be applied to other plant species, said Dr. Mike Gould, the Dallas center's director of research. Improving drought and salinity tolerance of food and feed crops would allow producers to expand production onto land where traditional crop varieties haven't been produced successfully.

Turfgrass breeders and Extension specialists from each university along with plant physiologists, social scientists and economists will work together toward achieving the goal, Chandra said.

"As an agricultural commodity, turfgrass is not a food, fiber or animal feed; however, it impacts the lives of millions of people in many different ways, including their physical and mental health and social well-being," the project's abstract states. The project "will significantly increase the productivity, sustainability and the economic gain of not only the individual state turfgrass programs, but the overall turfgrass industry."

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