Teff may be a Midwest forage option

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PRINCETON, Ky. – The heat of summer often leaves pastures and hayfields floundering and farmers looking for other options for livestock forages.
Teff, an African grass, could hold some promise.
What is it? Teff is a warm season annual grass native to Ethiopia and utilized as a grain crop in Africa.
It is adapted to environments ranging from drought-stressed to waterlogged soil conditions.
It can grow more than 4 feet tall and produce more than 6 tons per acre per year.
It is a very small, seeded grass relatively easy to establish. Teff also is known as summer love grass or annual love grass.
Pasture perfect. In addition, the teff plant is used as a livestock forage or pasture crop. Recent research from the Oregon State University Klamath Experiment Station and the Cornell Cooperative Extension Associations of Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Rensselaer Counties indicate great promise for teff as a forage crop.
Potential uses for teff include emergency hay, pasture or silage from a crop that can be planted in mid-summer; summer annual cover crop for erosion control; a green manure crop; or a stand-alone annual hay crop for market.
Teff may also be used to break rotation when renovating a perennial grass or alfalfa stand or pasture. The crop can reduce forage production losses due to “summer slump” when used as an annual pasture.
It could follow winter cereal forage, straw or grain crop or spring cereal forage crop in the rotation and an additional advantage is that teff can be grown with conventional forage seeding and harvesting equipment.
Worthiness. Tim Phillips, a fescue breeder for the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, first used it in rotations to suppress weeds where he’d later be planting fescue in the fall.
“The seeds are really, really small, about 1.3 million per pound. It makes timothy and white clover look big,” he said.
For next year. Teff can be seeded from June through late July.
A major threat to the grass is frost, Phillips said. Seeds must be planted after the risk of frost has passed.
It is recommended that about six pounds of seed per acre be planted into a firm seedbed at a depth of one-eighth to one-quarter of an inch.
Sixty pounds of nitrogen should be applied at seeding.
The grass does not reseed itself. With good rainfall, seed distribution, and if it’s not seeded too deep, farmers can expect a good stand. However, if the seed sits there waiting to germinate for too long, weeds may begin to grow reducing the quality of the stand. A good stand will suppress weed growth.
The grass needs to be cut to a 3- to 4-inch stubble height before it develops seed heads for the best quality. It has good regrowth and typically, it can be cut again within five to seven weeks.
Feed value. Tests have shown the leaf to contain 20 percent protein and have a 107 relative feed value. The other nutrients elements are similar to timothy, Phillips said.
“You can get multiple cuttings if you don’t wait too long and let it head out. It’s much better than what you see in typical summer annual grasses such as sorghum and sudan, which are much taller, coarser and thick stemmed,” he said.
“A lot of them are much bigger and take longer to dry. Plus they take more nitrogen and the forage quality is not as good.”
Typically, a farmer can expect to get 2-3 tons per acre per cutting if they get 3 inches of rain per month, fertilize it and keep the weeds under control.
That could mean 5 to 7 tons of hay per acre from the annual grass.
Problem-free. So far, there have been few disease or insect problems.
There are several seed varieties available. Last summer, they grazed some of it after first cutting it for hay. Phillips said it is important to have a firm seedbed otherwise the cattle can pull it out of the ground. On this trial, heifers grazed it down to stems before moving to a fescue plot, he said.

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