Expert View: Novel grasses to help combat soil compaction

Published 20 July 18

Novel Festulolium grasses are more resistant to compaction than traditional grass varieties due to their ability to develop roots in compacted soils.


This is the key take home message from a study carried out at the Institute of Biology, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS), Aberystwyth University, by Nuwan Muhandiram (PhD student). Nuwan explained: “We have been evaluating the performance and root production of three new Festulolium grasses against a ryegrass and fescue grass under compaction from farm machinery.”



Soil compaction can result from livestock trampling and/or farm traffic. AHDB research reported 70 per cent of grassland soils in England and Wales show signs of compaction. The impact can have a negative effect on water and air infiltration through the soil, the growth and penetration of roots and delay emergence of plants. All of these lead to a reduction in forage yield.

In an attempt to maintain crop productivity where soil compaction is an issue, IBERS have developed a new grass variety which has a higher resilience to stress e.g soil compaction. Festulolium grasses are a cross of ryegrass and fescue grass species and aims to combine the stress tolerance of the fescue grass (helped by their deep rooting systems) with the high quality forage production seen from ryegrass.

Nuwan explained: “We compared three Festulolium grasses which had a closely related perennial ryegrass genome but a different fescue species genome under both non-compacted and compacted soil.


Figure 1: The three Festulolium grasses (Prior, Bx514, Bx511) tested had a different fescue gene

To test their resilience under compaction, a 2,040kg ring roller was used six times over half of each grass plot which was randomly selected.”


Key take home messages:

  • Under compaction, ryegrass grass was the most negatively affected
  • Across four cuts, fescue grass had a higher crop production in both compacted and non-compacted soils
  • In compacted soils, the Festulolium grasses had similar crop production to ryegrass
  • One of the Festulolium grasses (Bx514) was the grass with the greatest amount of roots while ryegrass was the lowest
  • One of the other Festulolium grasses (Prior) and the fescue grass had an increased root size in compacted soils and acted similarly in response to stress




“With the same dry matter yield as ryegrass, the Festulolium grasses have shown potential additional benefits in soil because of their larger root systems” Nuwan explained. 

Further work is being undertaken at IBRES to identify the contribution of Festulolium grasses to improving soil water infiltration caused by compaction and will be reported on the AHDB Dairy website.