New Forages Suited to Northern Illinois
by Jim Morrison, Extension Educator Crop Systems
Two grass species that may find a “fit” in northern Illinois managed grazing operations are meadow fescue and festulolium. Dr. Mike Casler, USDA-ARS Dairy Forage Research Center, Madison, Wisconsin shared some observations about these two species at pasture workshops last week.
Meadow fescue, a cool-season bunch grass and native of northern Europe, has been little used in North America. Unlike its relative tall fescue, meadow fescue has “softer” leaves and greater palatability. Research in Wisconsin has shown meadow fescue typically was lower in yield and slightly less drought tolerant than tall fescue. However, due to its greater palatability, it gave similar animal intake despite lower forage availability.
Researchers in Wisconsin are identifying meadow fescue varieties that have high forage yield and intake as well as lower incidence of crown rust. Three other characteristics of meadow fescue that favor its use in grazing are ease of establishment, good tolerance to close grazing, and rapid regrowth.
Festulolium, a hybrid cross between meadow fescue and perennial ryegrass, was the second grass mentioned having potential in northern Illinois. Drought, heat, and cold tolerance have been transferred from fescue and ease of establishment and high forage quality comes from ryegrass. Commercial varieties have shiny leaves, a ryegrass-type seed head, and overall ryegrass appearance. Casler indicated that commercial festuloliums look like ryegrass because they are mostly ryegrass due to the backcrossing with that species.
Casler advised growers that when selecting forage species and varieties, find out where the variety was developed, evaluated, and under what environmental conditions and management systems was it tested. All forage species have advantages and disadvantages. There is no one “best” specie or no “silver bullet”.