Summer 2016 Forages
Teff, Italian ryegrass, and a sorghum-sudangrass hybrid were seeded in the first two weeks of June 2016. Teff and sudangrass are warm season C4 plants, meaning they thrive in hot summer months. Having alternative forages come on when C3 cool-season grasses are going into their summer slump would extend grazing options and even provide some forage for haying. Also, these annual grasses would provide another option for crop rotation systems. Teff is gaining popularity as horse hay due to its low nonstructural carbohydrate (sugar) content, which is highly desired by some horse owners, so this crop could become its own profit center for farms capable of making small bales. Teff is also being used as an income-producing crop as ground is transitioning from one crop use to another.
Teff established and grew well in the demonstration plot but was hampered by extreme weed pressure. It was planted elsewhere at the NWREC as a cover crop and soil stabilizer and has done well. The plot was mowed in mid-August and has responded well with regrowth; we hope for a second cutting. Hay from the first cutting was too weedy to feed; chemical analysis is pending.
A sorghum-sudangrass hybrid grew very poorly in the demonstration site, but very well elsewhere at the NWREC as a cover crop. Sudangrass must be fed carefully due to the possibility of prussic acid (cyanide) poisoning. The precursor compound is present in higher levels in young plants and plants affected by drought, wilting, freezing, trampling, and/or high fertilization rates. If grazing or feeding sudangrass greenchop, plants should be over 18” tall to reduce the risk of poisoning. Risk is greatly lower in sudangrass hay and silage. Sudangrasses are also often plowed under as a green manure.
The Italian ryegrass plot was very successful (Photo 3). It established quickly and shaded out weeds, so it had much less weed pressure than the other forage plots. It grew back very well after mowing. The plant was extremely palatable to cattle as both fresh forage and hay. This biennial cool season grass will not go to seed unless it goes through a winter, meaning it stays vegetative the entire first year of planting, producing an impressive quantity of high-quality forage. It can be planted in the spring for multiple harvests that year (winterkill likely) or planted in late summer for fall and spring grazing or harvest (winterkill less likely). Italian ryegrass dries poorly so is difficult to make into hay. It is best suited to grazing, greenchop, haylage, or baleage. It can fit into a farm’s forage plans as a rotational crop (not after corn, though) or emergency feed. It has the potential to become an invasive weedy species in some areas.
Photo 3. Five-week-old Italian ryegrass stand. Teff is on the left.
Photo 4. Blue River Hybrids corn silage variety trial at NWREC in Mount Vernon, 8/22/16.
Future Forage Work
Additional forages to be studied in the future at the NWREC include sainfoin and festolium. Sainfoin is another non-bloating legume with high condensed tannin content; it is also naturally somewhat resistant to the herbicide glyphosate. It is better suited to dryland production and may not do well in western Washington’s wet clay soils. Plots will also be established in Centerville and San Juan County; it will be interesting to compare performance among these various soil types and precipitation zones. Festolium (a fescue-ryegrass hybrid) is purported to have more of the best traits and fewer of the undesirable traits of both ryegrass and fescue, meaning higher palatability, good persistence, good regrowth, better disease resistance, and higher winter hardiness.
We need to control weeds more aggressively in the variety trial and demonstration plots because weed growth is confounding some of the results. We also need to continue to build our haying capacity at the NWREC so we can harvest when needed and be independent of haying contractors’ schedules. Donations of haying equipment that fit into our long-term Research and Extension plans would be greatly appreciated.