An Ethiopian summer-annual grass called teff could be a valuable asset to Pennsylvania growers, says Marvin Hall, Penn State extension forage specialist.
He’s optimistic that teff can be grown in the state as successfully as other summer-annual grasses. “I must admit I was skeptical at first,” he says. “However, after seeing how well teff performed against other summer annuals in our trials, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the results.”
The bonus is that it can also be made into hay. “Teff can be used for grazing, taken in as hay or chopped into silage,” he says. “This is important because other summer annuals, such as sorghum, cannot be made into hay.”
Teff can help Pennsylvania farmers avoid some of the pest problems they face with the perennial grass timothy, Hall believes. “We grow a lot of timothy in Pennsylvania, commonly as hay for horses, and it’s had a lot of success in the horse-racing market. However, mites recently have been reducing yields by attacking timothy in the spring when it is most productive. I believe that teff, due to its suitability for hay, can serve as a replacement for timothy and can help the timothy producers who are struggling with crop destruction.”
Although teff grows very rapidly, it can produce slightly smaller yields than other summer annuals, such as sudan and sorghum-sudan. Hall’s recent trials, however, have shown that teff yields well in the state. “We grew teff alongside many other summer- annual grasses, including sorghum and a sorghum-sudan hybrid,” Hall says. “In trials done at other universities, teff has reached a yield about one-half or two-thirds as large as other summer annuals. However, in our trial, teff reached a yield of 80% of these crops. That is a major difference from some of the past trials and gives us a reason to feel optimistic.”
It takes a few special management practices to grow teff. Being a warm-season summer annual, it can’t be planted until late May or early June. Also, nitrogen inputs are needed to maximize teff yields.
Hall hopes that teff can be a unique asset to Keystone State producers. “Teff has been around for a while, but it has not been used much for commercial purposes in the United States,” he says. “However, I believe that teff can have a future in Pennsylvania.”