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Dairy-quality grass forage research update

Dairy-Quality Grass Forage Research Update

Paul Peterson, Extension Forage Agronomist

August 8, 2009

Well-managed perennial grasses can provide good agronomic, economic, and nutritive complements to alfalfa on Minnesota dairy farms. This article provides an overview of some of the research we are conducting throughout the state on grass forage options and management and some results and implications to date. The research includes essential collaborators and funders to whom I am most grateful.

Alfalfa-Grass Mixtures: Grass Species, Nitrogen Fertilization, and Seeding Ratio Effects. This research has been conducted at two UMN research stations, Grand Rapids (trial is finished) and Rosemount (in its third and final harvest year). The primary grass species in these trials were perennial ryegrass and tall fescue, seeded in several different seeding ratios with alfalfa, with or without ~30 lb N/ac applied per harvest. Check plots of alfalfa alone, grasses alone, and binary mixtures of alfalfa with reed canarygrass, orchardgrass, and meadow fescue were also included. For binary mixtures, alfalfa and grasses were seeded in alternate rows ~3” apart to attempt to minimize potential within-row competition between the two species.

Some findings to date:

On-Farm Evaluation of Alfalfa-Grass Mixtures. This research was initiated in August 2008 and includes three on-farm sites; near Underwood (seeded August 25), Hutchinson (seeded August 29), and Avon (seeded May 4, 2009). Treatments include three different alfalfa varieties: Rebound 5.0 (standard type), 4S419 (hybrid), and Spredor IV (persistent); each mixed with 2 different varieties of 9 different cool-season perennial grasses. The grasses include smooth bromegrass, meadow bromegrass, orchardgrass, tall fescue, meadow fescue, festulolium, reed canarygrass, perennial ryegrass, and timothy. Alfalfa and grasses were seeded together in the same rows. Plots of the alfalfa varieties alone were also seeded.

Preliminary results are all over the map (in more ways than one):

Tall Fescue, Meadow Fescue, and Timothy Varietal Evaluations. These trials are collaborative with Barenbrug USA. We are conducting meadow fescue varietal trials at both Grand Rapids and the St. Paul Campus. Timothy trials are at Grand Rapids, and a tall fescue trial at St. Paul. The Grand Rapids trial plots were drilled in early September 2006; the St. Paul plots were broadcast seeded in late August 2007. To date, persistence of most entries has been excellent. All trials have suffered periodic yield suppression due to droughts. The St. Paul plots have been harvested twice in 2009, and are regrowing well now thanks to recent rains.

Look for results of these trials in future Extension outlets. You may want to experiment with grasses on a small scale on your own farm to see what species and management work best for you.

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