The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, Inc.

Crabgrass for Forage: Management from the 1990s: 'Red River' Crabgrass: Why and How it Happened (cont.)

There Is More to a Grass Than Yield
We certainly wanted the new variety to be a top-yielding selection, but we wanted other desirable traits, too.

'Red River' crabgrass has produced up to 12,582 pounds (dry weight per acre) of wheat-pasture-quality forage. We think it can do better, but that is still a lot of summer grass (figure 2). Stocker cattle convert good crabgrass pasture to high-quality beef at 5 to 10 pounds of grass per pound of beef, depending on the cattle's size and quality.

The variety's height can exceed 3 feet, but that is exceptional. Very tall crabgrass usually lodges because of its heaviness from water content and the fact that high quality equals weak stems. Usual haying height is 1.5 to 2.0 feet. Grazing heights usually fall between 8 and 18 inches (figure 3).

'Red River' crabgrass can have very high quality. Dr. Herb Huneycutt's work in Arkansas showed the grass was 73 percent digestible, while 'Midland' bermudagrass was 64 percent digestible, which is a 14 percent increase in digestibility quality. That's a big difference (figure 4).

The grass develops stands early when the seed is aged enough to allow early germination. Very young crabgrass seed may be more dormant.

The 'Red River' crabgrass cycles for reuse faster than any selection we studied. 'Red River' crabgrass has a full summer season of green forage if managed properly (figure 5). Some selections die in July and August even under good management. By the way — Dad's crabgrass was one of the poor ones: it died in August.

Leafiness (leaf : stem ratio) and leaf and stem size of 'Red River' crabgrass are rated medium and very acceptable. The stem is tender and pliable. Production of leafier, larger-leaved, and smaller-stemmed types generally was inferior to that of 'Red River' crabgrass.

'Red River' crabgrass produces enough seed to start ample planned volunteer stands, which is necessary.

Growth habit of the variety is prostrate when stands are too thin and remain unused too long and erect when stands, production techniques, moisture, and nutrition are good. It forms a good sod.

The grass has very good stoloniferous (runner) growth characteristics; one regrowth period yielded stolons over 4 feet long. Stolons can root at each node (joint) to produce more stems, which makes crabgrass not only superb for thickening stands that may be too thin, but also a better soil conservation grass.

'Red River' crabgrass is medium to dark green under good production practices, indicating good forage quality. Light green to yellow indicates nutrient deficiencies. Seed hull color is usually light to medium green to tan.

The grass is relatively insect and disease free and does not have any unique insect problems. Although it can have some leaf and stem fungal spots, I have yet to see any serious infestations. We have seen occasional seedhead fungus, but not to a deleterious degree.

All of these desirable traits together led to the naming and public release of the variety in 1988 after the equivalent of eleven years of research. It was named 'Red River' because the single parent plant was found on the upland loamy fine-sand soil north of the Red River in southern Oklahoma. The variety has been grown on private lands since 1990.

Area of Use
'Red River' crabgrass is adapted primarily to mild and temperate areas throughout the world. The southeastern one-third of the United States is the major production area. The major adaptation and use areas are hardiness zones 6 to 10; minor, zones 5 and below. The grass likes warm weather and soils, moisture, proper soil fertility, and rotational grazing.

In recent times, we hear of excellent, but short-season, yields of good crabgrasses in northeastern Colorado, the Dakota states, and Pennsylvania, among other areas, which indicates that 'Red River' crabgrass's habitat may extend farther north than originally expected.

More Information Is Available
If you wish to receive a packet of crabgrass management information, please feel free to contact me. We have researched the forage since the 1970s and will be pleased to share our findings with you.

Official Seed Release Summary
There was never any doubt that the top quality, production, and nontoxic attributes of 'Red River' crabgrass made it a useful forage plant. Only people's resistance was the barrier, and that primarily because they were taught to think the plant was bad.

Because of the stigma associated with crabgrass, several avenues of public release were considered: plant variety protection, proprietary licensing and marketing, and private release strictly through the Noble Foundation. None of those considerations was consistent with prior Noble Foundation philosophy and guidelines of public variety release, nor were we likely to police them.

'Red River' crabgrass's official naming and release were accomplished via the Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies (P.O. Box 9812, Mississippi State, MS 39762) and published in their Varietal Publication No. CXXX, July 1988. Any state, national crop improvement association, organization, or individual now has the opportunity to discover the release of the variety as a real and certifiable forage crop. A perpetual seed source is stored in the seed bank at Fort Collins, Colorado.
To higher-quality forage.

figure 2
Figure 2. Upper level accumulative yield possibility of ‘Red River’ crabgrass, the general yield of "good" types of native crabgrass, and the very low yield of poor, low-growing types.
figure 3
Figure 3. Six-foot-five-inch-tall Sean in a tall block of ‘Red River’ crabgrass that is leaning over.
figure 4
Figure 4. Replacement heifers grazing one of the very best ‘Red River’ crabgrass pastures I have produced. We estimate (based on past experience) that this pasture was about 75 percent digestible.
figure 5
Figure 5. Forage types of crabgrass as top quality summer hay.

Crabgrass for Forage: Management from the 1990s - Table of Contents

Crabgrass for Forage: Management from the 1990s
R.L. Dalrmyple (retired)
The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, Ardmore, Oklahoma