Salt-tolerant grasses tested for pasture potential

As part of the HSAD initiative in Iraq, ICARDA plant scientists recently set up field trials to identify sustainable sources of livestock feed. By comparing the performance of four species of grass, ICARDA and Iraqi scientists hope to identify long-term forage options that can withstand conditions of drought as well as salinity. The aim then is to encourage widespread uptake of the resilient species, thereby increasing food security and farmer incomes in the country.

Currently, crop production in Iraq is severely limited by two factors: drought and the salinity of arable land. This means that growing forage crops and maintaining healthy pasture land are not easy. As a result, farmers can only keep a limited number of livestock and produce a restricted quantity of meat, milk, and other animal products.

Through its field trials, ICARDA’s HSAD initiative aims to identify forage crops to address this problem. Having selected a saline site at Al-Nassariya, fed by saline irrigation water from the Al-Garraf River, the research team prepared 16 experimental plots and planted four grass species: Cynadon dactylon (indigenous to Iraq), and Paspalum vaginatum, Sporobolus arabicus, and Panicum turgidum (received from the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture as vegetative cuttings).

The ICARDA scientists will compare the performance of the four grass species with respect to two main factors: yield and nutritional quality. The project team will then disseminate to farmers seed of the best performing grass in order to encourage best practice in crop–livestock systems. This best practice should enable farmers to obtain the highest sustainable yield of feed and livestock products per unit area and per drop of water without degrading the environment.