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Eragrostis tef - Is it a Viable Forage Alternative?

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Eragrostis tef is a warm-season annual grass from Ethiopia related to lovegrass. It has historically been grown in northern Africa for the seed, which is used to make bread. In the United States, teff is being promoted for forage and grain. The use of teff for forage is more practical since teff grain is a niche market. We investigated a variety of teff for forage several years ago, but it performed so poorly at the time that we never reported our findings. However, it is still drawing attention for forage and grain, so perhaps this article will shed some light on it.

Teff is reported to be adapted to drought, hot weather, poor soil, low fertility, etc. Additionally, the planting rate is 3 pounds per acre so it is relatively cheap to establish. It can be planted anytime from spring until fall since it has a short time to maturity. The leaves are long and slender, and make pretty "horse" hay.

The table illustrates the results we obtained. Our plots were planted during April, May and June. Yield for Ardmore was taken from replicated small plot summer annual variety trials. Other sites were calculated by randomly harvesting three quadrats 2 square feet in size from 1-acre plots, except for Konawa which had to be visually estimated and Earlsboro where dense weeds made it impossible to obtain yield data.

The Ardmore site was a fertile soil with 70 pounds per acre of additional nitrogen fertilizer applied. Tecumseh was a newly tilled native prairie in a fertile bottom. The other sites would be considered low productivity soils. Even though teff had meager performance under poor conditions, it did not seem to perform much better under better conditions.

As a matter of reference, German Strain R foxtail millet produced an average of 4,368 pounds per acre dry matter forage with 11.1 percent CP and 59 percent TDN and Browntop millet produced 3,942 pounds per acre dry matter forage with 10.9 percent CP and 60.4 percent TDN during the same growing seasons at Ardmore in the summer annual variety trials.

Other summer annual forages such as forage sorghum, sorghum sudan, sudan and pearl millet typically produce 4,000 to 10,000 pounds per acre dry matter forage. Annual legumes such as cowpeas or soybeans typically produce about 2,000 pounds per acre dry matter, but have much higher quality with CP in the range of 10 percent to 20 percent and TDN in the range of 60 percent to 70 percent.

So if you are interested in growing teff strictly for forage, there are probably better alternatives for southern Oklahoma and surrounding areas.