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Department of Agronomy

Kansas State University

1712 Claflin Rd.

2004 Throckmorton PSC

Manhatan, KS 66506

785-532-6101

agronomy@ksu.edu

Extension Agronomy

Fall planting of tall fescue pastures

Tall fescue is best seeded in the fall in Kansas. Where there is adequate soil moisture, this would be a good time to establish a tall fescue pasture or hay meadow. By starting now with soil tests, variety selection, and seedbed preparation, tall fescue can be a productive pasture for many years to come.

Both tall fescue and smooth brome make good cool-season permanent pasture in eastern Kansas. Tall fescue is more hardy and grazing tolerant that smooth brome. Tall fescue can be utilized for fall and winter grazing much better than smooth brome.

Be sure to use either endophyte-free or nontoxic (sometimes called novel or “friendly” endophyte-infected) varieties of tall fescue when establishing a new pasture, or renovating an old pasture.

Soil selection

Fescue will grow on almost any soil but produces best on fertile moist soils. The ability of fescue to withstand low fertility and wet soil is excellent. Tall fescue also can withstand submersion for a few days. It will produce on soils with pH of 5.2 to 8.0, but optimum growth occurs in the 5.8 to 7.0 pH range.

Varieties

Several new varieties are suitable for Kansas. New certified varieties are either free of the endophyte fungus or contain the “friendly” nontoxic endophyte that does not produce the ergovaline toxin detrimental to livestock. Endophyte-free seed of older varieties like Kentucky-31 are also available. Check the seed tag to be sure of the endophyte level and type. To avoid reduced animal performance resulting from toxic endophyte-infected grass that is fed or grazed, livestock producers should plant the seed free of live endophyte or the novel endophyte. Plants produced from fungus-free seed remain free of the endophyte.

The Southeast Agricultural Research Center tests tall fescue varieties every year. The table below is from the SEARC’s 2014 Agricultural Research report (K-State Research and Extension publication SRP1105). All varieties in this test are endophyte-free or nontoxic (“novel”) endophyte .

 

 

Forage yield of tall fescue varieties, Mound Valley Unit

Cultivar

3-year total forage yield

(tons/acre at 12% moisture)

2013 total forage yield

(tons/acre at 12% moisture)

Texoma MaxQ II

15.30

5.85

Martin 2 647

15.15

5.65

Jesup MaxQ

14.56

5.47

AGRFA 177

14.37

5.66

AU Triumph

14.26

5.44

BAR FA 80DH

14.17

5.72

Duramax GOLD

14.11

5.21

Ky 31 HE

14.10

5.35

BAR FA 70DH

13.98

5.39

Bardurum

13.95

5.70

Drover

13.94

5.30

Ky 31 LE

13.69

5.25

AGRFA 178

13.66

5.21

AGRFA 111

13.31

5.44

BarOptima PLUS E34

13.24

5.11

Bar Elite

13.19

5.18

AGRFA 179

12.99

4.99

Bariane

12.96

5.29

Average

13.94

5.40

LSD (0.050

1.25

0.75

Source: SEARC 2014 Agricultural Research report, K-State publication SRP1105: http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/bookstore/pubs/SRP1105.pdf

Kentucky-31 is the most popular variety in Kansas. It was released in the early 1940’s by Kentucky. This variety grows on a wide variety of soils types, is highly productive, but has lower palatability. It remains green well into winter.

Seedbed preparation

Fescue establishes best in a well-limed and fertilized seedbed that has been tilled 4 to 6 inches deep, leveled, and firmed before seeding. Several producers report successful stands by simply broadcasting or no-tilling the seed into existing overgrazed grass pastures in the fall. Even though the practice works, it is not recommended. A well-prepared seedbed improves chances of rapid stand establishment.

A soil test should be taken well ahead of planting to determine lime and fertilizer needs, and needed lime and phosphate should be incorporated into the seedbed before planting. About 30-40 pounds of N per acre should be applied at or before planting.

An existing tall fescue stand will tolerate pH as low as 5.0. On existing pastures with pH less than 6.0, 2 tons of agricultural lime per acre, topdressed, will increase life of the stand and growth of legumes if present.

Stand establishment

Figure 1 shows the recommended planting dates for tall fescue for each area in Kansas.

Figure 1

On droughty, claypan soils, only fall plantings are recommended because winter and spring plantings may not survive if summers become hot and dry. Deeper soils and/or good moisture supplies will result in successful winter or spring seedings. When planting in a well-prepared seedbed, 12-20 pounds per acre of pure live, high-germinating seed is adequate. When seed germination is not known or the seedbed is less than desirable, a rate of 20 to 25 pounds per acre may be required for a satisfactory stand. For no-till planting, use the lower end of that seeding rate range. For broadcast incorporation, use the higher end of the range.

For best results, seed should be covered with 1 ⁄4 to 3 ⁄8 inch of soil. Seeding fescue with winter wheat is often desirable. The wheat seeding rate should not be much higher than 60 lb/acre. Planting a cover crop like wheat can protect the soil from erosion and furnish additional grazing or grain production income in the seeding year. If wheat is grazed, avoid grazing in fall or spring when new grass seedlings could be injured by trampling during wet weather.

Converting endophyte infested pastures

Establishing a new tall fescue pasture on ground with existing endophyte-infected pasture requires some special care. The endophyte fungus that infects many tall fescue pastures in Kansas will survive in the seed up to 14 months. For that reason, you should prevent seed production on established endophyte pasture for 14 months before renovating with fresh seed. Otherwise, infected seed from the previous fescue may emerge along with the newly planted seed.

You can kill existing endophyte-infected fescue by applying glyphosate at the rate of 0.75 to 1.5 lb ae/acre when new growth is about 4 inches tall. It is easier to control fescue in the fall than in the spring however excellent spring control can be achieved. After the fescue has been killed, producers could grow an alternative crop for one year that will allow the use of herbicides to control any volunteer fescue that emerges.

After 14 months without seed production from the old fescue, replant the field with an endophyte-free variety or a nontoxic endophyte variety. There are several nontoxic endophyte varieties on the market including MaxQ, DuraMax Gold, and BarOptima Plus E34.

More information

For more information, see Tall Fescue Production and Utilization, K-State Research and Extension publication C729, at: http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/bookstore/pubs/c729.pdf.  In addition, fall vs. spring forage yields for Joe Moyer’s fescue trial can be located in the 2014 progress report at: http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/bookstore/pubs/SRP1105.pdf

Doug Shoup, Southeast Area Crops and Soils Specialist
dshoup@ksu.edu

Stu Duncan, Northeast Area Crops and Soils Specialist
sduncan@ksu.edu

Joe Moyer, Forage Agronomist, Southeast Agriculture Research Center
jmoyer@ksu.edu