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How Does Tifton 85 Measure Up?

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In 1996, the Noble Research Institute's Dr. Jerry Baker established a bermudagrass variety trial near Ardmore, Okla. Since then, Baker has been producing annual reports presenting forage yields for bermudagrass varieties in the test. As producers begin considering sprigging options, variety trial information is often discussed. Tifton 85 is one variety that receives much interest because it is always one of the highest-yielding varieties.

Noble Research Institute forage specialists have been cautious about recommending producers establish Tifton 85 because of its noted lack of cold tolerance. However, after nine years of testing in our trial, Tifton 85 is still ranked as the highest-yielding bermudagrass variety, having a nine-year average of 9,144 pounds of dry matter 6 percent greater than Coastal, 12 percent greater than Midland 99 and 46 percent greater than Midland over the entire period. Results are even more dramatic in forage tests conducted at Texas A&M Experiment Stations, where Tifton 85 yielded 42 percent more than Coastal averaged across three locations in east Texas (Texas Cooperative Extension publication E-179). To heighten the intrigue, trials with grazing cattle at the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station at Overton, Texas, have shown improved average daily gains by as much as 70 percent over Coastal (AgNews, January 10, 2003).

What does this mean to a producer? Take a look at Table 1.

We can assess the relative differences in establishment cost and production revenue per acre for each of the above-mentioned varieties. We can determine it would take 7.5 years ($90/acre difference in establishment cost divided by $12/acre difference in production revenue) for Tifton 85 to pay for itself over Coastal. Likewise, it would take 1.9 years and 1.1 years for Tifton 85 to pay for itself over Midland 99 and Midland, respectively.

If we also assume a 70 percent increase in average daily gain on stocker cattle during the summer over a 120-day growing season and assume 1.0 pound ADG per head can be achieved on Coastal, we can calculate that an additional 84 pounds of gain can be achieved on Tifton 85 (120 days X 1.0 ADG X 70%). If the value of the gain is $45/cwt, then this increased gain means an additional $37/head (84 lbs X $0.45), and at $55/cwt, this gain means $46/head (84 lbs X $0.45) increased revenue over calves on Coastal. At a $90 per acre difference in establishment cost (from Table 1), it would take less than three years of increased ADG for the stocker cattle to pay for the difference in establishment cost ($90/ac divided by $37 = 2.4 years, divided by $46 = 2.0 years).

So, is the establishment of Tifton 85 a good value over other bermudagrass varieties, even at the increased establishment cost? Now, I am not an economist you may want to consult with one for a true economic analysis but it appears so (assuming a good fertility program), if you have the environment, soils, infrastructure and management abilities to take advantage of the increased production. I will be more prone to recommend Tifton 85 on good sandy or sandy loam soils south of the Red River and east of I-35 rather than to the north and west. There is no doubt in my mind there will be some severe winters that will force re-establishment of Tifton 85 in many locations, and the farther north one's location, the greater the probability of that occurring. Baker has noted that, in the growing seasons of 2001 and 2002 (following colder winters), Tifton 85 was slower to recover in the spring. But, should winter damage be severe and re-sprigging become necessary, the increased production has the possibility of paying for itself in a reasonable time period. I would recommend visiting with a forage specialist in your region to discuss varieties and management before attempting establishment of any bermudagrass variety. We would be glad to provide the NF bermudagrass variety trial information upon request; call (580) 224-6500 or check the Foundation's Web site at www.noble.org/Ag. The Web is an excellent source of additional information on Tifton 85, so conduct a search if you have Internet access.