If perennial ryegrass were more persistent, Mike Casler might recommend it to every grazier.

“It's unbelievably nutritious in terms of milk production and weight gains,” says this University of Wisconsin grass breeder. “Dairy producers see an immediate jump in milk production when they move their cows from an ordinary pasture to a perennial ryegrass pasture.”

The grass persists reasonably well in the country's midsection. But the South's hot summers and the North's cold winters usually bring a quick end to ryegrass stands, says Casler.

Enter festulolium, and specifically, Spring Green, a new variety that Casler helped develop. Festulolium is a little-known hybrid cross between perennial ryegrass and meadow or tall fescue. It's almost as nutritious as ryegrass, with better drought tolerance and winter survival. And Spring Green is more persistent than other festulolium varieties, says Casler.

“It doesn't represent a quantum leap,” he states. “We haven't turned ryegrass into bromegrass in terms of winterhardiness. But we've documented a few percentage points increase in persistence.”

Casler developed the variety with Peter G. Pitts, a Spring Green, WI, beef grazier and agronomist for Midwestern Bio-Ag. Pitts had planted festulolium in his own pasture, and some of the plants were still alive several years later.

Casler was impressed, and collected samples of those plants. He used them, along with long-lived festulolium plants from University of Wisconsin plots, to develop Spring Green.

Casler and Pitts figure the variety will survive for several years in Wisconsin — especially if seeded where protected from winter winds that dessicate the plants. In research, it has yielded up to 8 tons/acre of hay. But Spring Green is best-suited for grazing and should be seeded as part of a pasture mix.

“We usually recommend that it go into a mixture with tall fescue, meadow fescue or orchardgrass — something that doesn't grow very tall,” says Casler. “Or with a legume like clover or trefoil.”

Overgrazing isn't a concern.

“Ryegrass and festulolium want to be grazed heavily,” says Casler. “Most people don't graze them heavy enough.”

The variety, introduced in 2001 by Turf-Seed, Inc., Hubbard, OR, is available from several Midwestern distributors. For the one nearest you, call 503-651-2130 or log on to www.turf-seed.com.

Meadow Fescue Is Tops For Grazing

Meadow fescue may be the best grass for Upper Midwestern pastures, says Mike Casler, University of Wisconsin grass breeder.

He says meadow fescue is almost as nutritious as ryegrass. And, like ryegrass, it tillers all summer, producing new shoots.

“Also, it's very winterhardy,” says Casler. “You combine those things, and it's an absolutely great grass for grazing.”