1996 Winter Forager

Volume 20, Number 4, December 31, 1996

Greetings and welcome to another issue of The Forager. Here’s hoping your winter is passing easily. As usual we have variation in winter conditions around the state. Some areas have good snow cover while other have little and even some ice sheeting. It’s always hard to predict how stands will fair when spring comes. Just remember that winter damaged stands take a little longer to green up so don’t be too hasty to tear them up. More about this in our March issue.

Hay prices are in the news as some prime hay has hit $170.00/Ton. As expected, there is abundant supplies of lower quality hay in much of the state but higher quality is not as plentiful. Remember to purchase the right grade of hay for you needs and to buy hay according to quality. Physical appearance of a hay package does not always correlate well with quality. Look at the hay test and base your offer on that.

The Wisconsin Forage Council Annual Symposium is being held Jan. 28 and 29 in Wisconsin Dells. A copy of the program is included here. You should have already received a brochure with details and registration information. If not, contact the WFC office at 608-846-1825. This is a new number. With Jean Digney’s retirement, we have someone new handling much of the work of the WFC. Her name is Shelly Minick and her office is in Madison. In any case, we have a good program lined up and hope to see you there.


 Page 2 Ryegrass Types for Pasture and Hay
Page 4 Does Palatability of a Pasture Change Over Time?
Page 4 Potato Leaf Hopper Resistant Alfalfa Varieties
Page 6 New Forage Publications Available
Page 7 WFC Forage Expo Survey



Jan. 19-21 Wisconsin Grazing Conference. Holiday Inn, Stevens Point, WI

Jan. 28 & 29 WFC Annual Symposium. Holiday Inn, Wisconsin Dells, WI

March 13-15 AFGC Annual Symposium. Fort Worth, Texas

June 25 &26 WFC Forage Expo. Manawa, WI



Along with a renewed interest in grazing in the upper Midwest has come an increased awareness of ryegrass as a potential forage. Several ryegrass types exist and species within the ryegrass genus (Lolium) readily cross with one another, resulting in a wide variety of plant types. This may cause some confusion when trying to determine the best choice for planting. Below is a brief review of the types of ryegrass which have potential in the Midwest.


Annual (Italian) Ryegrass

The U.S. has nearly 1.2 million acres of annual ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum Lam.); 90% of which is in the southeastern U.S. Also called Italian ryegrass, it is native to southern Europe. However, annual ryegrass is not a true annual and may behave as a biennial or even a short-lived perennial depending on environmental conditions. In areas of the northern US and southern Canada with reliable snow cover, it can survive for 5 or more years in mixture with perennial legumes. Its primary use in the southeast is as a winter pasture where it is planted in fall, it is grazed during winter, and then dies the following summer.


Annual ryegrass has very little cold tolerance and therefore would behave like an annual in the Midwest except in mild winters or with excellent snow cover. It has potential, as an annual forage crop, to provide high quality grazing for dairy cattle. It will produce high yields and maintains productivity through the mid-summer slump better than most other cool season grasses.


It is easy to establish and grows rapidly. Plants will produce heads in the seeding year. This characteristic reduces quality unless plants are grazed prior to seed head emergence. Planting later maturing varieties will make it easier to graze plants before heading occurs.


Annual ryegrass is the grass of choice for frost seeding to improve pasture quality because it establishes rapidly, yields better than other ryegrass types through summer, and has the highest yields in the seeding year. It is also recommended for use as a cover crop when establishing new seedings of pasture. Adding it to a seed mixture with a legume and a more permanent cool season grass, like bromegrass, timothy or orchardgrass, will provide rapid growth and high quality forage in the seeding year. The ryegrass will die in 1 to 3 years leaving behind the other grasses and legumes.


Both forage and turf types of annual ryegrass are available. Turf types are low growing and have poor yield. Turf types are also infected with a fungal endophyte that lives inside the plant, protecting it from insect attack, but producing a toxin reducing performance of grazing animals. Plant only forage type cultivars for grazing or mechanically harvested forage.



Perennial Ryegrass

Perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) is native to Europe, Asia and North Africa. The U.S. has about 250,000 acres, most of which are in the northeast and on the pacific coast in Oregon and Washington. It is best adapted to mild-temperate climates. It is one of the highest quality forage grasses. The primary use of perennial ryegrass is for pasturing cattle and sheep cows.


Perennial ryegrass is more persistent than annual ryegrass but less persistent in the Midwest than other cool season grass species. It tillers more profusely but is lower growing than annual ryegrass and will not form a seed head in the seeding year. It is more susceptible to a summer slump than annual ryegrass. Perennial ryegrass will head early under dry conditions after the seeding year.


There are both diploid (two sets of chromosomes) and tetraploid (four sets of chromosomes) cultivars of perennial ryegrass. Tetraploids have larger tillers and seed heads and wider leaves. They are usually more disease resistant and may be higher yielding than diploid types. Few diploid varieties perform well in Wisconsin as they go dormant during mid-summer. Currently available tetraploid varieties are Bastion, Citadel, Condesa and Fantoom.


Perennial ryegrass should be grazed closely and frequently. It recovers rapidly and tillers extensively. Plants will not stockpile well and must have good snow cover to survive the winter.


Ryegrass is susceptible to crown rust. This disease can seriously defoliate the plant. Plant only rust resistant varieties if possible.


Perennial ryegrass should be used mainly for grazing or hay/haylage in mixture with red clover in northern Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin where snow cover makes 3-year stands likely. Perennial ryegrass, like other ryegrass types, can also be frost seeded in early spring to help maintain it as a component of a permanent pasture. Both forage and turf types of annual ryegrass are available, as with annual ryegrass, but plant only forage type should be planted cultivars for grazing or cut forage.


Intermediate (Short Rotation) Ryegrass

Intermediate, or short rotation ryegrass (Lolium hybridum, Hausska.), is the result of a cross between annual and perennial ryegrass. As such, it is intermediate in many of the above mentioned traits. It is less winter hardy but higher yielding than perennial ryegrass. Its uses would be similar to perennial ryegrass. Bison is the only currently available variety. Its recommended use would be for grazing or hay/haylage production in northern Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.



Festuloliums (Festulolium braunii, K.A.) are derived from a cross between annual ryegrass and meadow fescue. The name is a combination of Lolium, the genus of ryegrass, and Festuca, the genus of fescue.


Meadow fescue is a close relative of the more commonly grown tall fescue grown in the mid-south region of the U.S. and used for pasturing beef cattle. Meadow fescue is persistent, easily established and managed and exhibits rapid regrowth and good disease resistance. It has not been widely used however due to poor palatability resulting in animal consumption inadequate to support high milk production in lactating dairy cows.


As festuloliums are crosses of meadow fescue and annual ryegrass, they have the persistence, disease resistance and winter hardiness of meadow fescue combined with the high season-long productivity and high quality of Italian ryegrass. Tandem II is the only currently available cultivar.


Dennis Cosgrove, UW-River Falls

Michael Casler and Dan Undersander,


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Forage varieties are not all genetically identical plants as in a soybean or oat variety but are populations of several genotypes to broaden the survivability and yield potential of the forage. Knowing this, can you expect a pasture to keep the same genetic mixture as seeded or does it change over time?


Lori Falkner, a graduate student with Mike Casler, recently completed her thesis research where she examined the question of change in pasture palatability over time. She selected some plants from a bromegrass pasture that had been seeded 9 years previous and grazed rotationally with sheep in the intervening years. She also established plants from some of the remaining original seed used to establish the pasture. The grazed and new plants were randomly planted or transplanted into a field on 3 foot centers and allowed to become established. Plots were grazed by sheep three times each year. Length of each grazing period was adjusted so that approximately half of the forage was grazed. Palatability was defined as the amount grazed expressed as a percent of the original amount present.


Lori found that the selections from the grazed pasture were generally less palatable than plants established from the original seed source. This means that sheep were grazing the most palatable bromegrass plants more continuously and severely so that these plants died out. Thus, the pasture changed over time from the bromegrass types planted to those types with less palatability.


These palatability changes could be significant where high rates of pasture intake are desired such as in dairying or stocker production. Animals may simply eat less of the less palatable types and therefore perform less well than on pastures with more palatable forage types.


Dan Undersander, UW-Madison

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One of the most significant advances is alfalfa is the introduction of potato leaf hopper resistant varieties this year. This is the first true insect resistance that has been developed in alfalfa. Several new varieties are available on the market with this resistance in limited quantities for planting this coming spring.


Potato leaf hopper is an insect that does not over winter in Wisconsin; it comes up from the south each spring and causes losses during June, July and early August. The insect causes damage to alfalfa by sucking juices from the leaves and inserting a toxin that kills plant cells (and causes the yellowing associated with this insect). The amount of alfalfa yield loss varies with cutting and year depending on whether or not favorable conditions exist for potato leaf hopper infestation (strong winds from the south) and reproduction (dry, warm temperature). Losses are also generally greater in southern Wisconsin than in central Wisconsin though all areas can have significant losses in some years.


Potato leaf hopper losses to alfalfa can occur four ways:


1) stand thinning to new seedings

2) yield of established stands

3) forage quality of harvested alfalfa

4) stand persistence


While significant losses occur and effective spray measures exist to control potato leaf hopper, less than 5% of the alfalfa in Wisconsin is sprayed for this insect. Very few farmers scout fields and spray fields. By the time the typical yellowing occurs, yield and quality have been lost and it is too late to spray. Even fewer farmers scout new alfalfa seedings, especially those under oats. Established alfalfa stands that are drought stressed are frequently potato leaf hopper infected and these levels can affect stand persistence, but few farmers are willing to spray to control this insect when it will result in little or no yield because of drought conditions. Thus, while effective spray programs exist to control this insect, they are seldom used and many farmers suffer significant losses each year to this insect.


Potato leaf hopper resistance comes from glandular hairs. This trait was found on an alfalfa introduction and incorporated into good agronomic types. Glandular hairs cause a physical barrier to the insect and may have additional antibiotic properties.

This trait is so new that much still has to be learned about it. One major question is whether or not the environment affects growth of the glandular hairs. In other words will a glandular hair alfalfa always produce the same amount of glandular hairs? Another question is what percentage of the plants need this trait for the alfalfa variety to show resistance to this insect.


We have participated in a four-state study of the potato leaf hopper resistant alfalfa varieties along with Minnesota, Indiana and Ohio. Unfortunately, the test sites in Minnesota and Wisconsin did not have adequate potato leaf hopper infestations to really test the varieties in 1996. The data in Table 1. shows results from Ohio where significant potato leaf hopper infestation occurred to really test the varieties. The data show that the resistant varieties yielded approximately 0.7 t/a more forage in the seeding year than susceptible varieties and they tended to be 2 to 3 inches taller at harvest. This data is from the seeding year and we expect to see greater differences next year.



Note that spraying increased the yield of the resistant varieties. This is likely due to the fact that less that 100% of the plants in each variety are actually resistant.


In summary, the glandular hair alfalfa varieties did give resistance to potato leaf hopper which results in superior yield in the presence of potato leaf hopper. When sprayed to control potato leaf hopper, the resistant varieties gave equal to slightly lower yield than the susceptible checks. It does not appear that the glandular hair trait affects other characteristics of alfalfa such as drying time or digestibility. Most varieties currently available will have only a percentage of plants with the glandular hair resistance trait but it is not known what percentage of plants within a variety must exhibit the trait for the variety to be considered resistant and avoid yield and stand reductions.


Dan Undersander, UW-Madison

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Two new extension publications are available relating to forages and more specifically to grazing management. They are:


Identifying Pasture Grasses (Coop. Ext. Publ. A3637) is a pocket sized guide to identifying all of the common forage grasses found in Wisconsin pastures and hayfields. The guide even includes some weedy grasses so we can better learn to tell them apart from our forage species. The book has full color photos of seedling and mature grasses and grass seeds. In addition there are descriptions of each grass and identifying characteristics are provided. The book also includes growth characteristics and management recommendations for each species. ($6.00)


Determining Pasture Condition (Coop. Ext. Publ. A3667) is aimed at providing grazers and those working with them an easy way to evaluate pasture condition. The publication focuses on ten categories which are important to consider when evaluating pastures. There are descriptions of each category along with tips on how to rate them. A work sheet is then provided. The use of which results in a score which indicates pasture condition. This is a valuable tool in evaluating the impact of past management practices and determining weakness in a grazing system and how to eliminate them. ($0.50)


In addition to these extension publications, two new Fact Sheets are available which also relate to grazing. The first is entitled Weed Control in Pastures Without Chemicals and provides tips on avoiding and managing weed problems in pastures when chemical control is undesirable. The second is entitled The Ryegrass Types for Pasture and Hay provides descriptions of many common ryegrass and related species.


All of these publications are available through your County Extension office or by phoning the UW Extension Bulletin office at 608-262-3346.

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The WFC Forage Expo has always been one of the most important and successful WFC events. The Board of Directors along with local councils have been discussing ways we can keep this event valuable to our members. We could use your help! Our members are the best judges as to how this event can be improved. Please take a couple of minutes and complete the enclosed survey and return to the address shown. Thanks for your time and assistance.

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Many Thanks ... To our friends at Brown Seed Farms, Inc. for covering the printing and mailing costs of this issue of The Forager.


Brown Seed Farms, Inc. is a family owned company that has been in business for 85 years. "Our mission is to deliver quality seed at a reasonable price with service second to none. Brown Seed Farms, Inc. produces and markets a full line of Value Plus tm High Oil Corn, Normal Dent Corn, Alfalfa and Soybeans. We offer a full line of forages from Pasture Mix to high yielding multileaf alfalfa for all your forage needs. For more information call toll free 1-800-944-2561."


The Wisconsin Forage Council greatly appreciates Brown Seed Farms, Inc.'s generous contribution.


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