However, a three-year research agreement between the Grassland Farming and Forage Seed Association in Tochigi, Japan, and the Agricultural Research Service has allowed ARS scientists to give the ryegrass new life in America's Southern Plains. ARS scientists at the Grazing Lands Research Laboratory in El Reno, Okla., and the South Central Agricultural Research Laboratory in Lane, Okla., learned of this unique ryegrass through interactions with the Forage Seed Panel of the United States-Japanese Cooperative Program in National Resources.

Shiwasuaoba, whose name means "December flower" in Japanese, is a leafy, annual ryegrass that produces early spring yields comparable to those of other ryegrass cultivars. What makes it unique is that it matures extremely early, allowing its use for livestock grazing or haying up to three weeks sooner than annual ryegrass cultivars currently in use. As a result, farmers have use of a cool-season forage grass that can be quickly rotated with no-till summer crops such as vegetables and melons.

"Shiwa," as the cultivar is called by ARS researchers, was subjected to three years of forage performance evaluations under the supervision of plant geneticist Bryan Kindiger at El Reno and plant physiologist Vincent Russo at Lane. Additional evaluations are under way to identify its optimal agronomic conditions and potential rotation crops that would complement it.

Japanese researchers have applied for U.S. Plant Variety Protection for Shiwasuaoba. If it is approved, it will mark the first time Japan has released a forage grass in the United States. The Japanese Grassland Farming and Forage Seed Association maintains and licenses certified seed of the ryegrass.

ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.