Infestations of Italian ryegrass are problematic in both conventional and organic wheat production systems. The development of wheat cultivars with superior competitive ability against Italian ryegrass could play a role in maintaining acceptable yields and suppressing weed populations. Research was conducted in North Carolina to identify indirect methods of selection for Italian ryegrass suppressive ability (hereafter referred to as weed suppressive ability) of winter wheat cultivars that correlate well with Italian ryegrass-to-wheat biomass ratios. Two winter wheat cultivars (Dyna-Gro Baldwin and Dyna-Gro Dominion) and one experimental wheat line (NC05-19684) with differing morphological traits were overseeded with varying densities of Italian ryegrass. Wheat height measured throughout the growing season in weed-free plots was strongly associated with weed suppressive ability, but high wheat tillering capacity had no significant effect on weed suppressive ability in the lines tested in this study. Italian ryegrass seed head density during grain fill was strongly correlated (r = 0.94) with Italian ryegrass-to-wheat biomass ratio, the generally accepted measure of weed suppressive ability. Visual estimates of percent Italian ryegrass biomass relative to the plot with the highest level of Italian ryegrass infestation in each replicate were also strongly correlated with weed suppressive ability at all growth stages, especially during heading (r = 0.87) (Zadoks growth stage [GS] 55). Measurements from nonimaging spectrophotometers and overhead photographs taken from tillering (Zadoks 23 to 25) to early dough development (Zadoks 80) were unreliable estimates of end-of-season Italian ryegrass-to-wheat biomass ratios because they failed to account for wheat cultivar differences in biomass, color, and growth habit. Italian ryegrass seed head density and visual estimates of Italian ryegrass biomass during grain fill are appropriate indirect methods of selection for weed suppressive ability in breeding programs.
Nomenclature: Italian ryegrass, Lolium perenne L. ssp. multiflorum (Lam.) Husnot LOLMU; wheat, Triticum aestivum L.