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Grass Seed Production

Posted Jan. 1, 2001

Grass seed production is an important agricultural enterprise. This article examines some of its legal and technical aspects.

Currently, much of the world's supply of grass seed comes from the Pacific Northwest. For example, in 1997 Oregon producers harvested approximately 430,000 acres of grass seed valued at more than $320 million. The climate in this region, consisting in mild, wet winters followed by dry, warm summers, is ideal for production of cool-season grass seed. Virtually all of the annual ryegrass seed purchased in Oklahoma and Texas is produced in the Pacific Northwest. In the Southern Plains, grass seed production is on a much smaller scale and primarily involves warm-season species such as buffalograss, Old World bluestem, bermudagrass, and crabgrass.

Several legal aspects affect the grass seed production industry. Each state has specific seed laws governing such items as labeling and seed-marketer licensing. Contact your state's agriculture department for further details.

A variety can be classified according to ownership as either unprotected or protected. Unprotected grass varieties, often referred to as public varieties, can be produced and marketed without restrictions, within the guidelines of state seed laws. Examples include 'Red River' crabgrass, 'Jose' tall wheatgrass, 'Ky-31' tall fescue, and 'WW-B Dahl' Old World bluestem. Seed-propagated grass varieties can be owner-protected with either the Plant Variety Protection (PVP) Act or utility patents. Protected varieties can be sold only with the approval of the variety owner. The PVP Act allows farmers to produce seed of a protected variety solely for personal, on-farm use. Examples of varieties protected under the PVP Act include 'Guymon' bermudagrass, 'Marshall' annual ryegrass, and 'AU Triumph' tall fescue. Seed production from varieties protected by utility patents is prohibited, even for personal on-farm use, without the permission of the variety owner. An example of such a variety is 'MaxQ' tall fescue. Plant patents, intended specifically for vegetatively propagated varieties, work just like utility patents in that they prohibit propagation without permission of the variety owner. Examples include 'World Feeder' and 'Gordon's Gift' bermudagrass. Thus, it is illegal to produce seed of 'MaxQ' or sprigs of 'World Feeder' to sell to a neighbor or to replant on your farm. Incidentally, PVP, utility patents, and plant patents can and often do apply to other agronomic and horticultural crops such as wheat, corn, tomato, and ornamental roses.

Seed can be produced and marketed as a foundation, registered, certified, or noncertified class. Certain standards must be met for each classification. For instance, fields intended for production of certified seed must be established with foundation seed. The Oklahoma Crop Improvement Association and the Texas Department of Agriculture, the agencies that are responsible for seed certification programs in those states, can provide more information.

Optimum yields of high-quality grass seed may require practices that are not commonly applied to pastures, such as wide (e.g., 10-inch or wider) row spacings, irrigation, residue burning, and herbicide application. The Forage Biotech Group (FBG) is currently involved in research projects examining various management techniques for grass seed production in Oklahoma. Data from these research projects will furnish information for those involved in or considering seed production in the southern Great Plains.

Near Marshall, in north central Oklahoma, the FBG, in cooperation with colleagues from Oklahoma State University, has been investigating the effects of spring grazing on seed production from 'Paiute' orchardgrass, 'Lincoln' smooth brome, and 'Manska' pubescent wheatgrass. In wheat, seed yields normally decline dramatically if grazing is continued past the first hollow-stem stage of growth, which is detected by splitting open an ungrazed tiller and finding a small hollow area (1/8 to 1/2 inch long) beneath the growing point. We are determining whether this same phenomenon occurs in cool-season perennial grasses. Treatments consist of no spring grazing (NG), grazing until first hollow stem (FHS), and grazing approximately two weeks past first hollow stem (FHS+). The results, which are averaged over three years, 1998 through 2000, indicate that spring grazing decreases seed yield of these grasses and that there is a further decline by grazing past FHS. Seed yield in pounds per acre for NG, FHS, and FHS+ was, respectively, 223, 140, and 55 for 'Paiute'; 320, 254, and 109 for 'Lincoln'; and 77, 48, and 32 for 'Manska'. It appears that hay yields following seed harvest were also highest for the ungrazed treatment. The experiment will be continued in 2001.

A second seed production study, planted at the Noble Foundation's Red River Demonstration and Research Farm and also near El Reno, Oklahoma, is being conducted in collaboration with scientists from the USDA Grazinglands Research Lab. This research will examine the effects of row spacing, nitrogen rate, and residue removal on seed yield of 'Luna' pubescent wheatgrass. The Noble Foundation site is irrigated, while the El Reno location is dry-land.

You can obtain further information related to grass seed production from the following sources:
Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies, (208) 884-2493,

Oklahoma Crop Improvement Association, (405) 744-7108,

Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, (405) 521-3864,

Texas Department of Agriculture, (512) 463-7476,

USDA Plant Variety Protection Office, (301) 504-5518,