The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, Inc.

Divisional faculty

Twain Butler, Ph.D.,

Xuefeng Ma, Ph.D.,
Assistant Professor

Maria Monteros, Ph.D.,
Associate Professor

Malay Saha, Ph.D.,

Zengyu Wang, Ph.D.,
Senior Vice President & Division Director

Carolyn Young, Ph.D.,
Associate Professor




Formed in 1997, the Forage Improvement Division translates basic plant science research into tangible plant varieties that can be used by agricultural producers in Oklahoma, North Texas and similar climate regions worldwide.

The division focuses on the development and improvement of grazeable and harvestable forages, including legumes and grasses. Forage Improvement researchers use a broad range of techniques to accomplish plant improvement, from conventional breeding to the use of emerging biotechnologies, such as genomics and transgenics.

Once improved varieties are successfully created, their performance is analyzed through extensive evaluations. The group also designs crop management plans to capitalize on the plant's value-added traits and performs animal grazing trials to assess the impact and safety of new traits. All evaluations and assessments of new varieties are conducted in accordance with state and federal laws and regulations.

While the focus of this group remains the improvement of a wide range of forages to support livestock production, its work will also positively impact the dairy industry and the emerging field of bioenergy. Research into sustainable and renewable feedstocks, mainly switchgrass, will contribute to the energy needs of this nation and offer new production opportunities for America's agricultural producers.

Together, these activities accomplish the division's mission to develop better forages through variety development and, in the process, advance the science of plant improvement.

During the past year, the Forage Improvement Division:

  • maintained seven primary Noble Foundation laboratories;
  • implemented a genome-wide single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) discovery project for use in developing a SNP genotyping platform for use in molecular breeding of alfalfa;
  • produced transgenic switchgrass plants with significant increases in their capability to produce bioethanol;
  • developed Rhizobia inoculants for annual medics suitable for the southern Great Plains;
  • continued research projects based on previously received extramural grant funding of $1.3 million per annum for both 2009 and 2010 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Energy, the state of Oklahoma (Consortium for Legume Research and Oklahoma Bioenergy Center), Ceres, Inc., and Forage Genetics International;
  • published 26 papers in international, peer-reviewed journals; and
  • produced breeder seed of NF27 grazing oat, NF95134A grazing wheat, NF96210 grazing triticale, Bates RS4 grazing rye, EG2101 switchgrass and two annual medics for future licensing as new cultivars.