OVERTON — Pinching pennies when buying ryegrass seed for winter grazing is a bad business decision, said a Texas AgriLife Researchscientist.
“Nelson” is a newly released ryegrass developed by Dr. Lloyd Nelson, AgriLife Research small grains breeder. It has a higher yield potential than “primo” ryegrasses such as TAM90, Prine and Jumbo, he said.
“And in South Texas, it’s higher than Marshall. In more northern areas, it not significantly higher than Marshall, but it’s competitive,” said Nelson, who also developed TAM 90 and TAMTBO, other high-yielding ryegrasses.
However, despite the yield advantages, the most commonly planted ryegrass variety for winter pastures is probably Gulf. Why? Probably because its seed is cheaper, he said.
“Gulf costs about 34 to 36 cents a pound, while newer varieties like Nelson, Prine and TAMTBO are about 45 to 48 cents per pound,” he said.
Nelson said at the recommended planting rates of 20 to 25 pounds per acre, farmers will save about $3 per acre in seed costs.
“But, for that $3 savings, they will typically give up about 2,000 pounds of high-quality forage per acre,” he said.
That 2,000 pounds is the equivalent of at least two large round bales of hay per acre, which typically would be sell for $40 or more each, according to Nelson.
“So it’s not a good business decision, in my opinion, to scrimp on seed costs.”
Nelson ryegrass has been 10 years in development, Nelson said. Where it was tested in heavy gumbo soils near College Station and in the Beaumont area, it averaged about 7,000 pounds of forage per acre. In comparison, Prine ryegrass averaged about 6,000 pounds; TAM 90 about 5,900 pounds; and Gulf about 5,500 pounds.
In 2009-2010 at the College Station site alone, Nelson ryegrass produced 12,500 pounds. Neslon noted the new variety still out-performed Gulf by nearly 2,500 pounds.
Nelson ryegrass’ three-year average yields in East Texas at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Overton where the soils are sandy loams topped 9,500 pounds. Gulf produced 8,300 pounds at the Overton site, while Prine and Passerel Plus ryegrasses produced 9,270 pounds and 9,160 pounds, respectively, Nelson said.
Nelson ryegrass is a tetraploid, which means it has double the number of chromosomes as many ryegrasses. TAM 90 and Marshall ryegrasses have 14 chromosomes. Nelson, TAMTBO and Prine, all tetraploids, have 28, Nelson said.
Being a tetraploid means a plant’s cells must be larger to accommodate the increased number of chromosomes. Tetraploids have bigger leaves and larger seeds, but not necessarily higher yields, according to Nelson.
Larger seeds means a fewer number of seeds are planted per acre per pound of seed, but in the case of Nelson ryegrass, the increased plant and leaf size compensates, he said.
“I ran seedling rate tests and found no advantage to planting Nelson at a higher rate,” Nelson said.
He said there’s still plenty of time to meet the ryegrass planting window for Texas, which is from mid-October through the first week of December. However, as with all ryegrasses, Nelson ryegrass will need adequate soil moisture to emerge. Ryegrass is typically overseeded over existing, dormant warm-season grass pastures after a light disking.
All ryegrasses, whether a new variety like Nelson or an older variety such as Gulf, will need to be fertilized to soil tests. Usually this means 100 to 150 pounds of actual nitrogen during the season, Nelson said.
Because of high nitrogen costs, farmers may try to grow ryegrass for winter pastures at a reduced nitrogen rate or not fertilize at all. This is another bad business decision, Nelson said.
“If they’re not going to fertilize, I wouldn’t recommend them planting any ryegrass. Just buy the hay,” he said.
Nelson ryegrass is marketed by BWI Companies. Sales representatives may be reached at 800-752-6632 or 800-442-8443, Nelson said.
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