New Forage Varieties

Plant breeders continue to bring you more and better forage choices.

By Becky Mills

Later Maturing Orchardgrass

Orchardgrass is well-suited for grazing. The fast-growing cool season perennial tillers early in the spring and re-grows rapidly. But that early maturity makes it a challenge for hay producers in the north, especially when it is grown in a mix with alfalfa.

“Up here, in May, it is difficult to make dry hay. After that, the quality declines rapidly,” explains Joel Bagg, Forage Specialist, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. For that reason, he says there is quite a bit of interest in later maturing orchardgrass varieties.

As a result, University of Guelph plant breeder Steve Bowley developed a later maturing variety, Dividend VL, with funding from the Ontario Forage Council. It has a southern Ontario yield index of 87% compared to the check variety [or control], OKAY, which has a northern yield index of 100%.

While Bagg says the earlier maturing varieties of orchardgrass may have a yield advantage over the later maturing varieties, the heading dates and relative maturities may be even more important than the yield index. He says, “Dividend heads [or begins to lose nutritional value] 26 days later than the earliest orchardgrass variety and later than most timothy varieties.”

For more information on orchard grass, and to see the chart with variety comparisons, go to:

Nontoxic Endophyte-Infected Tall Fescue

When MaxQ tall fescue, a cool season perennial, was released in 2000 it appeared to be the best of both worlds. Most of Kentucky 31 tall fescue is infected with an endophyte that causes fescue toxicosis, responsible for lower animal gains and a variety of health problems, including rough hair coats and lack of heat tolerance. However, that same endophyte gives Kentucky 31 its hardiness and persistence.

MaxQ contains a novel endophyte that does not cause health problems in livestock, but is also more persistent than many of the low-endophyte varieties developed earlier. However, ranchers and researchers still found it could not handle the heat in the Southern Great Plains.

Enter the Noble Foundation, Ardmore, Oklahoma, and collaborator AgResearch of New Zealand. By combining a novel endophyte from New Zealand with tall fescue at the Noble Foundation, researchers developed Texoma MaxQ II.

While it was bred specifically for the Southern Plains and performs well there, Clemson University Extension Forage Specialist John Andrae says it is also working well in South Carolina.

“We have 20 acres at Clemson and it appears to be more productive than MaxQ. We did some grazing work with it, and our bulls had excellent weight gains, higher than Kentucky 31 tall fescue. The bulls also showed no signs of fescue toxicosis.”

He adds, “It is a typical fescue, relatively easy to establish. Plant in the fall, hay in the spring. In a pure hay situation, you should be able to get two to three cuttings a year.”

Andrae says, “Texoma MaxQ II and the other recently released nontoxic endophyte infected tall fescues, including Estancia with Arkshield, Martin 2 Protek, BarOptima Plus E34 and Jesup MaxQ, are real game changers in the Southern U.S.”

For more information see:
The Noble Foundation

Roundup Ready® Alfalfa

“Roundup Ready® is the most recent trait added to the alfalfa grower’s tool box,” says University of Kentucky Extension Forage Specialist Garry Lacefield. “For farmers who choose to use this technology, it gives them another weed control option that is convenient, consistent and economical.”

Lacefield adds. “Most companies have a good selection of both Roundup Ready® and non-Roundup Ready® alfalfa varieties. There are varieties that will grow from the heat in Arizona to Canada with its short growing season.”

For more information see:
University of Kentucky alfalfa variety trials

Coexistence plan for alfalfa hay in Eastern Canada

Brown Midrib Sorghum

“The brown midrib varieties in the sorghum family normally have higher digestibility than traditional varieties,” says Texas A & M Extension Beef Cattle Specialist Jason Banta. “It is usually due to a combination of less lignin production and less binding of lignin to the fiber fraction.”

He adds, “Potentially, the brown midrib varieties are more palatable with grazing or hay, and there is less wastage of stems.”

When it comes to baling high quality hay from the warm season annual, Banta says, “Because of the stems, harvest before heading and use a roller type mower-conditioner to break up the stems.” He also says to bale at no higher than 15% moisture.

Banta says there is a good bit of variety in quality in the brown midrib sorghums. “If possible, look at the university data from your area. Some varieties aren’t available anymore, though.”

He adds,  “You could also plant more than one variety. Then you won’t have all your eggs in one basket.”

For more information see:
Texas A & M variety trials