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Seed Costs, Productivity & Return of Cool Season Annual Grasses

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September 10, 2019

Amy: As we approach the end of the summer, what should producer be considering for winter grazing and decreasing hay feeding?

Rocky: There is a diverse number of cool-season annual grasses that can be utilized for grazing in the southern USA when bahiagrass and bermudagrass pastures reach dormancy and become unproductive. These forages include annual ryegrass and small grains such as cereal rye, oat, triticale, and wheat.  They can have high nutritive value and extend the grazing season while decreasing dependency on stored hay and the use of commodity feeds. Small grains tend to have production in the fall and during the early winter months.  On the other hand, annual ryegrass’ forage growth is from mid-winter to late spring.

Amy: Are any of these forage species preferred over others?

Rocky: Annual ryegrass is the most popular in the southeast for the stocker cattle industry.  Other small grain species and clovers can also be incorporated as part of the program.  These cool-season annual grasses are high in crude protein, energy and low in fiber from late fall to mid-spring with a small decrease in nutritive value during the early winter.  One of the advantages of planting cereal rye, oat or triticale is that they can provide earlier forage biomass for grazing from late November to early April depending on weather conditions and establishment method. Sometimes it might be a good idea to incorporate a mix of annual ryegrass, a small grain, and an annual clover to extend the grazing season.

Amy: What are the alternative planting methods for these cool-season grasses?

Rocky: These forages can be established in the fall using different methods such drilling in a prepared seedbed, direct sod-seeding with a no-till drill into warm-season perennial grass pastures or broadcasting the seed.  It is important to note that planting with a drill will require lower seeding rates per acre than broadcasting. A two-year study conducted at Mississippi Stat indicated a delay of 4 to 6 weeks in grazing potential when annual ryegrass was drilled into a bermudagrass sod and a reduction in grazing days per acre.  Planting into a prepared seedbed from mid-September to early October could provide the best opportunity to achieve early grazing.  It is important to keep in mind that planting annual ryegrass too early can make it more susceptible to armyworm damage and gray leaf spot disease (commonly known blast).  This approach might be more feasible for planting small grains.

Amy: Once the grasses have germinated, what is the recommended fertility program?

Rocky: It is recommended to get a soil sample and obtain fertility recommendations for the target monoculture or mixed species.  Most cool-season grasses will have optimal growth at a soil pH of 6.0 or above, especially if annual clovers are incorporated in the grazing program.  Phosphorus (P) and (K) potassium can be applied at planting per soil testing recommendations.  In a prepared seedbed, the first nitrogen (N) application should occur when the grass has germinated and it is about two inches tall.  In a sod-seeded pasture, nitrogen application should be delated until the summer perennial grass (bermudagrass or bahiagrass) is dormant to avoid new growth and competition.  The second application in annual ryegrass should occur after the first grazing period and a third application should occur in late March or early April if necessary.  For small grains, the second N application should occur before they begin to joint.  Do not exceed more than 40 to 50 units of N per acre per fertilization cycle.

Amy: As we see a price increase in annual ryegrass seed, should producers be considering other alternatives?

Rocky: Annual ryegrass is the most common cool-season annual grass planted in Mississippi and we have seen a significant increase in seed cost compared to small grains. They should not make a purchase decision based on the cost of a 50-pound bag of seed.  Decisions should be based on several principles such as seed purity and germination, seeding rate, cost of seed per acre, and cost of seed per ton of forage produced.  Although small grains seed might be cheaper, keep in mind that they will require higher seeding rates than annual ryegrass.  An economic analysis indicated that even at higher cost per pound of seed, annual ryegrass can provide a cheaper cost per ton of dry matter produced.  When doing a cost analysis, it is important to keep in mind that seed cost vary among species and varieties based on location and seed availability.  It is the time to start making decisions for your winter grazing program and start inquiring about seed prices and seed availability.  Do not wait until last minute when you might experience a high a demand and short supply that could influence seed cost.

For more detailed information, they can read the August 2019 forage newsletter at

Department: Plant and Soil Sciences

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