Texas A&M AgriLife Research has released a new white clover, named Neches after the Texas river, that promises higher yields and much earlier flowering and seed production than any heretofore variety adapted to East Texas and the southeastern U.S.
The clover was developed by Dr. Gerald Smith, AgriLife Research plant breeder at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center, Overton.
“We’re very excited about this clover because it combines a lot of traits that just fit for our area,” Smith said.
Like other white clovers, Neches does well on the wet, loamy bottomland soils of East Texas, he said. However, other white clovers do not flower profusely — and therefore do not produce much seed — until at least early to midsummer. In East Texas, midsummers are usually hot and dry, and white clover stands are likely to die out before they can produce seed.
This means, Smith said, white clovers in bottomlands must be reseeded every year to reestablish the stand, which can be an expensive proposition.
With this limitation of existing white clovers in mind, Smith’s goal was to develop a variety at least as highly productive and had as much disease and pest resistance as existing varieties, but that would flower and produce seed before the stand was lost in summer.
Early this June it was obvious Neches fits the bill perfectly, he said. In side-by-side demonstration fields of Neches and a ladino white clover, the difference in flowering was obvious. While Barblanca, the ladino clover, had one or two flowering seed heads per square foot, Neches had 20 to 30 seed heads per square foot.
Smith also selected for larger leaves, which means high forage yields, another obvious advantage he said.
Neches’ advantages didn’t come easily, a fact Smith tends to understate. They are the result of years of meticulous crossings and selection of the right plant parent lines that began in 2000.
“The parent lines of Neches are highly diverse, including plant introduction lines from Uruguay and Israel, an East Texas ecotype collection and two pest-resistant lines from USDA at Mississippi State University,” Smith said.
During the years 2000 through 2004, Smith screened each of these five breeding populations at Overton for early and profuse flowering, large leaf size and high forage production potential, he said.
“Plants not selected were removed from the field planting,” Smith said. “All field nurseries were isolated from other white clover plants and natural bee pollination was used for seed production.”
In 2005, Smith grew 200 plants from each of the five advanced populations in a combined nursery and selected once again for the same traits, he said. Seed harvested from these final selections was used as breeder seed for Neches.
Barenbrug USA was granted an exclusive license to market Neches in 2011, and has been increasing the seed at sites in Oregon and California, Smith said.
According to its website, Barenbrug is a “world leading developer of proprietary turf and forage grass varieties and legume species. The company has been in turfgrass plant breeding, seed production and marketing since 1904.”
“Neches should be available this fall anywhere Barenbrug seed is sold,” Smith said.