Start working on your summer forage production program now. If you wait any longer, seed might not be available. We have learned that we can’t rely on tall fescue/orchardgrass pastures to provide enough forage production during the hot months of July and August. Don’t be too quick in forgetting about previous droughts. Consider planting some of your forage pasture with summer annuals that will provide protection during the summer months.
According to Dr. Gary Bates, UT Extension Forage Specialist, most of the warm season grasses were developed in other regions of the world and have characteristics that provide an advantage over cool season grasses during the summer. Warm season grasses can produce energy through photosynthesis faster, while having deep root systems to use water more efficiently. Another advantage of warm season grass is that their optimum temperature is about 90 degrees F, while cool season grasses perform best around 70 degrees.
When it comes to options for summer grasses, producers have many to choose from including bermudagrass, crabgrass, Teff grass, Sorghum Sudangrass Hybrids and Pearl Millet. There are also many Native Warm Season grasses like Switchgrass, Indiangrass, Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem, and Eastern Gamagrass. Most of these can be used for grazing or hay production. The seeding date for most of these runs from early May until mid-June.
Will warm season grasses work for you? They definitely have the potential to provide forage when tall fescue pastures are not productive. However, the growing season is shorter with these plants compared to tall fescue and there is considerably more risk to planting. If you decide to try one, be reasonable in the amount of land and resources you commit. Your goal should be to provide year-long forages and the addition of one of these will certainly help you in reaching that goal!
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