Many growers have come to Pasture Genetics, detailing difficulties in the persistence of their perennial ryegrass based pastures. It appears all too often, perennial ryegrasses have been bred for yield in a trial situation, rather than persistence in a paddock. Varieties are losing the ability to produce a highly tillered plant with a low growing point, leading to decreased persistence unless carefully managed.
Upon its release in 2014, Pasture Genetics Tower Tall Fescue has shown promise in the higher rainfall zones of southern Australia, for its ability to alleviate the shortfalls surrounding perennial ryegrass. We are now seeing the different attributes of Tower Tall Fescue come to light in both newly sown and established paddocks.
Tower Tall Fescue is a Continental species that grows all year round and has the latest flowering date of all tall fescue varieties on the market. Characterised by its soft and palatable leaf, it is a variety gaining momentum with graziers wanting high quality, long-term pastures. It is this late heading date that allows for greater flexibility with grazing management, as it provides a longer window before pasture quality declines as the grass approaches flowering. Growers around Northern Victoria have found that even when going to head, an established Tower Tall Fescue plant will hold its quality, retaining the softness and palatability in the leaf. Livestock find Tower Tall Fescue palatable even at late growth stages as it is not as susceptible to declining quality as much as earlier flowering types. This means that if pastures get too rank in the spring, it is not difficult to bring them back under control with intense grazing and produce high quality pasture over summer.
Tower Tall Fescue has a very prostrate growth habit and low growing point. Four-year old paddocks in the Western Districts are displaying the dense tillering nature of Tower Tall Fescue, making it a very grazing tolerant variety while providing excellent ground cover and increased competition against weeds. These are characteristics previously not seen in high quality tall fescue types. A feature of Tower Tall Fescue that results in improved persistence is its rhizomatous nature, whereby it will send a tiller below the soil surface a short distance, which then emerges to start a new plant. This also helps control weed populations as the plant is constantly spreading to fill any gaps in the pasture, making it difficult for weeds to establish any foothold.
Tower Tall Fescue, like all fescues is deep rooted, allowing it to tap into stored moisture deep within the soil profile, particularly when compared with other pasture grasses. It is also available with Protek™ endophyte, giving it further added benefits. Protek™ is a novel endophyte that has undergone rigorous testing with sheep and cattle, and was found to have no ill effects. It is not recommended to use a grass with Protek™ endophyte for horse pastures. It produces lolines which increase the plants ability to tolerate insect pests above and below the ground. This is particularly evident in higher rainfall zones where insect pressure is greater, giving Tower Tall Fescue an increased level of persistence, which growers in the Gippsland region have been taking full advantage of.
Grazing management of Tower Tall Fescue is similar to that of most perennial pasture species. A key difference between it and perennial ryegrass is a shorter rotation during key production times. It has good heat tolerance, producing greater yields during hot months when compared to perennial ryegrass. Before first grazing check the plants cannot be pulled out; typically, this should occur when the plant has reached around 15 centimetres in height. Tower Tall Fescue is particularly leafy and highly palatable, and care should be taken to ensure there is residual left in the paddock to allow for quick and strong regeneration. Overgrazing is most likely to occur during the first year of establishment, and it is important to aim to leave a residual 1,600 kilograms of dry matter per hectare.
As with any perennial pastures, preparation is the key to successful establishment. Planting into clean, weed-free paddocks is critical. Pasture Genetics varieties, Renegade Red Clover and Riesling White Clover, make an excellent companion species, as does Balance Chicory. It is best planted when soil temperatures are around 14 degrees Celsius, during the autumn months. Sow at shallow depth, in the top 10-20 millimetres, aiming for no more than 10 per cent seed above ground.
A successfully established Tower Tall Fescue stand will ensure elite levels of pasture performance in years to come.
Image: Pasture Genetics Territory Manager Hugh Graham.