Extension Forage Specialist
Southern Piedmont AREC
Extension Forage Specialist
Annual ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum) is a cool-season annual bunchgrass that originated in Southern Europe. It is widely adapted and can be found throughout the world. In the United States, annual ryegrass is grown on close to 3 million acres. The majority of this acreage is found in the southeastern United States where annual ryegrass is utilized for winter pasture. Most annual ryegrass is sodseeded into permanently established warm-season grasses in order to extend the grazing season.
Annual ryegrass is both highly digestible and extremely palatable making it a desirable species to include in forage systems. In addition, annual ryegrass has high seedling vigor making it well adapted to either conventional or no-till establishment. Under good growing conditions, annual ryegrass can produce grazable forage in as little as 45 days after establishment. Annual ryegrass also possesses excellent yield potential. Many of you may prefer to stay with cereal rye for an annual cool season pasture, but annual ryegrass provides a new, high quality option.
A recent variety trial conducted at Virginia Tech's Southern Piedmont Agricultural Research and Extension Center showed that annual ryegrass is capable of producing more than 7500 lb DM/ A when no-till seeded into a bermudagrass sod (Table 1). Although these results were taken from only one year, they represent the potential forage production and quality of annual ryegrass. The crude protein concentration at the first harvest ranged from 15.7 to 16.4% and did not differ between varieties (Table 2). The acid detergent fiber ranged from 21.7 to 25.0% and was significantly lower for Tetraplus (Table 2). The first harvest accounted for 40-45% of the total yield.
Table 1. 2000-2001 dry matter yields for annual ryegrass variety trial located at the Southern Piedmont Center, Blackstone, VA.
|Variety||Company||Dry Matter Yield|
|TAM90||Texas A & M||3940||1543||924||1323||7730|
|Big Daddy||Southern States||3294||1799||940||1345||7377|
Table 2. 2000-2001 crude protein, neutral detergent fiber, and acid detergent fiber for annual ryegrass variety trial located at the Southern Piedmont Center, Blackstone, VA.
|Variety||Crude Protein||Neutral Detergent Fiber||Acid Detergent Fiber|
These data indicate that annual ryegrass yields well and produces high quality forage in Virginia, but where does it fit into our pasture systems? The most logical fit is utilizing annual ryegrass to overseed permanent warm-season pastures. This increases land use efficiency and total forage production. Bermudagrass is well adapted to the Southern Piedmont and Coastal Plains Regions of Virginia and provides an ideal sod for overseeding with annual ryegrass.
Annual ryegrass may also be used to interseed weak cool-season grass sods. Although this use of annual ryegrass provides high quality forage quickly, it does not replace the need for pasture renovation and sound management practices. A third use of annual ryegrass may be planting in rotation with a summer annual crop such as crabgrass, millet or sorghum. This option has a significant cost associated with the establishment of two annual crops. In addition, a significant risk of stand failures due to inconsistent rainfall in late spring exists for the summer annual crop.
At seeding, apply phosphorus and potassium according to soil test and nitrogen at a rate of 20 to 50 lb/A depending on the seeding date. Earlier seeding dates allow for increased fall growth and therefore require higher nitrogen rates. Later seeding dates use less nitrogen in the fall. When seeding into a bermudagrass sod, there may be significant competition for starter nitrogen if the sod has not gone completely dormant. In this case an additional application of 20 to 30 lb/A may be required in the fall.
When annual ryegrass is utilized as a short-lived annual, close and frequent grazing can be a better fit for most forage systems. This is especially true when annual ryegrass is sodseeded into a warm-season perennial pasture. In this situation close grazing in late spring is needed to reduce competition and allow the warm-season species to initiate growth.
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