Wheat is increasingly used as a dual-purpose crop (for forage and grain production) worldwide. Plants encounter low temperatures in winter, which commonly results in sugar accumulation. High sugar levels might have a positive impact on forage digestibility, but may also lead to an increased risk of bloat. We hypothesized that cultivars with a lower capacity to accumulate sugars when grown under cold conditions may have a lower bloat risk than higher sugar-accumulating genotypes, without showing significantly lower forage digestibility. This possibility was studied using two wheat cultivars with contrasting sugar accumulation at low temperature. A series of experiments with contrasting temperatures were performed in controlled-temperature field enclosures (three experiments) and growth chambers (two experiments). Plants were grown at either cool (8.1 °C–9.3 °C) or warm (15.7 °C–16.5 °C) conditions in field enclosures, and at either 5 °C or 25 °C in growth chambers. An additional treatment consisted of transferring plants from cool to warm conditions in the field enclosures and from 5 °C to 25 °C in the growth chambers. The plants in the field enclosure experiments were exposed to higher irradiances (i.e.
, 30%–100%) than those in the growth chambers. Our results show that (i) low temperatures led to an increased hemicellulose content, in parallel with sugar accumulation; (ii) low temperatures produced negligible changes in in vitro
dry matter digestibility while leading to a higher in vitro
rumen gas production, especially in the higher sugar-accumulating cultivar; (iii) transferring plants from cool to warm conditions led to a sharp decrease in in vitro
rumen gas production in both cultivars; and (iv) light intensity (in contrast to temperature) appeared to have a lower impact on forage quality.
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