COLLEGE STATION – Dr. Lloyd Nelson, Texas A&M AgriLife Research ryegrass and turfgrass breeder, will be awarded the 2015 Breeders Cup by the Turfgrass Breeders Association during their meeting Feb. 10 in San Diego, California.
Nelson is being recognized for his development of the Panterra ryegrass variety, a turf-type annual ryegrass that was developed specifically for winter overseeding of warm-season grasses on athletic fields and home lawns.
Nelson said receiving the selective award was certainly an honor, especially for someone who started with AgriLife Research almost 40 years ago as a small-grains breeder in Overton. It wasn’t until halfway through his career that he began selecting for turfgrass in his ryegrass breeding program.
Nelson, a Texas A&M Regents Fellow and a Fellow in both the Crop Science Society of America and the American Society of Agronomy, is a native of Cumberland, Wisconsin. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Wisconsin State University at River Falls, Wisconsin; his master’s degree at North Dakota State University in Fargo, North Dakota; and his doctorate at Mississippi State University.
He began working with AgriLife Research in Overton in 1976 as the wheat and forage breeder. He moved to College Station about five years ago, shortly before retiring in 2011 and becoming a professor emeritus.
“Over the years, as we made crosses of ryegrass forage varieties, I saw the small plants and always discarded them. But one year I decided to select some of the smallest and cross-pollinate them,” Nelson said. “I planted them in a forage trial, and it was much smaller and dwarfier than the forages.”
After visiting with AgriLife Research’s turfgrass breeder at the time, Dr. Milt Engelke, they decided it had potential as a turfgrass. From 1995 to 2000, Nelson made selections of these dwarf ryegrasses and finally released Axcella, a turfgrass that had all the benefits of traditional winter ryegrasses but none of the disadvantages.
He continued to cross and reselect for dwarf characteristics, darker green color and high turf qualities over the years until Panterra was released by AgriLife Research in 2003.
Nelson said Panterra’s major advantages were its dwarf growth habit, rapid germination, good green color and ability to transition out as an annual or in mid-May in Texas.
“It provides green turf all winter while the warm-season grasses go dormant, but then finishes its life cycle as the warm-season grass begins to green up again,” he said. “That was one of its major advantages, it dying out and not having to be chemically treated to kill it off and prevent damage to the emerging warm-season turfs.”
Panterra’s rapid germination was demonstrated on an Alaskan football field where a high quality turf was useable in only 14 days after seeding, Nelson said. It has been used on Kyle Field at Texas A&M University, as well as on St. Louis Cardinal and Pittsburgh Steeler practice fields, and at the World Cup Soccer Games in South Africa and Brazil.
Panterra was licensed by Barenbrug, USA, with its major marketing effort in the early 2000s. Depending on the year, Nelson said about 5 million pounds of seed are still produced annually in the Willamette Valley in Oregon and sold worldwide.
Nelson said Panterra is grown primarily in the Southern U.S., as well as around the world. The time to seed it in the south is late October to early November, but in the north it can be planted in the summer. Panterra can be overseeded onto existing sods; however, it must be watered every day the first week after planting to ensure seeds do not dry out.