Willows and Energy Grass Collection

Lead Research Organisation: Rothamsted Research
Department Name: Unlisted


Short rotation coppice willow is already being grown as an energy crop in parts of the UK but crop breeding has the potential to greatly improve yields, making it economically viable for a much wider range of growers. Rothamsted's research on bio energy is aimed at helping to bring about these improvements. Central to this work is a unique resource; the National Willows Collection. This is a repository for willow germplasm, set up in the 1920s as a way of conserving varieties which were being lost when rural crafts such as basket and hurdle-making declined. Today it is maintained on the Rothamsted farm and contains around 1,300 accessions. It forms the basic resource for the Defra funded 'Begin' programme (Improving short rotation coppice through breeding and genomics) and a significant resource for the EraNet project (Targeted breeding of a European SRC willow crop for diverse environments and future climates) and the BBSRC Crop Science Initiative project 'Accelerating breeding for biomass yield in short rotation coppice willow by exploiting knowledge of shoot development in Arabidopsis'.

Research on perennial grasses at Rothamsted began in 1992 and has identified two grass species with good potential for biomass production in the UK: miscanthus and switchgrass, neither of which has any serious pest or disease problems identified yet. Using these grass experiments, research is looking into 2 key areas:

1) How long can a grass stand maintain productivity?
Rothamsted's long term miscanthus plots (planted 1993 and 1997) and switchgrass plots (planted 1998) are now some of the oldest in Europe and show annual productivity remaining on the asymptote.

2) What are the changes that occur in the soils beneath such novel crops?
This is being investigated in a new project, 'Assessment of the impact of Bio fuel Crops on the physical distribution of Soil Organic'.
Description These resources have been used for mapping genes and traits studies in a number of BBSRC-funded projects.
Exploitation Route The Resources have successfully enabled researchers to phenotype, genotype, map QTLs and identify genes. They have also been used for studies on soil carbon.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Energy,Environment

Description These grass and willow trials provide an unique resource that has enabled Rothamsted, and those who have worked in collaboration with us, to identify traits and map genes. They have been used in BSBEC-BioMASS (BBG0162161/1) and projects no. BB/E006883/1) for example.
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Energy,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Economic