A Texas A&M University forage agronomist has been searching for forage options that will serve as an alternative to winter wheat pastures as the climate becomes warmer and drier. Dariusz Malinowski, based in Vernon, TX, has been investigating summer-dormant tall fescues from the Mediterranean Basin of southern Europe and northern Africa. He says the climate in Texas has been changing since the mid-1990s, making wheat grasses and wheat pasture a less viable option. Summer-dormant cool-season perennial grasses that start growing with the first rains in September are showing promise.

The grasses grow under conditions of mild winters and hot, dry and long summers, he says. At one time, the southern Great Plains had peak rainfalls in May and September, but that precipitation pattern doesn't currently exist, according to Malinowski. "This year is one of the many examples," he points out. "Wheat is not growing because there has been no moisture. So we think these perennial summer-dormant grasses are a viable option." His team has been working in partnership with AgResearch Grasslands of New Zealand and has introduced two varieties of summer-dormant tall fescue to the U.S. market: Grasslands Flecha MaxQ and Prosper.

A second part of the pasture improvement option is mixing annual legumes with summer-dormant tall fescue. The legumes are used to fix nitrogen and may reduce fertilizer requirements. Preliminary results show that annual medics are the best companion species for the new fescues. The best new medic varieties will be released in the next few years.

With the new combination of summer-dormant tall fescues and annual medics, producers should be able to put cattle on pastures for grazing in October, and keep them there until summer if moisture conditions are right, according to Malinowski.

Learn more at agnews.tamu.edu/showstory.php?id=199.