Grasses have been getting more attention from forage breeders in recent years, and the newest varieties provide proof of their success.

Although all types of forage grasses are being developed, the focus has been on breeding varieties specifically for grazing, says Jonathan Rupert, former national sales manager for Ampac Seed, Tangent, OR.

“The trend in the U.S. is to concentrate, not just on the tonnage, but on the quality of these grasses,” says Rupert. “There is definitely more work being done to try and better measure animal performance from different grazing forages, as well as trying to improve stand life.”

Here are some of the latest varieties, most of which are new this year:

Ryegrass

Two annual ryegrasses from Ampac were bred primarily for grazing. Feast II is a tetraploid Italian ryegrass that is short-lived but very productive, with profuse tillering, fast regrowth and almost no reheading. It's also less sensitive to drought and heat than many diploid varieties.

Ampac's Winterstar is a tetraploid annual that can also be used for stored feed. It has fast regrowth and typically doesn't produce seed heads until it goes through a winter.

Respect, a new perennial ryegrass from Cebeco International Seeds, is dark green and semi-erect with intermediate flowering. A diploid, it was developed for improved regrowth, crown rust resistance, persistence and yield.

Ampac's Aries HD is an early maturing diploid perennial bred for high digestibility, providing improved intake and animal performance. It's a dense, fine-leafed grass that persists under grazing, and exhibits low aftermath heading, which means a leafier pasture through the summer months.

A hybrid ryegrass, Ampac's Maverick Gold is an early maturing, diploid, intermediate variety bred for managed grazing. It yields more than perennial ryegrass and can be expected to persist three to five years under normal conditions. The dense, fine-leafed golden green grass exhibits low aftermath heading.

A tetraploid perennial variety, Ampac's Quartet is a late-maturing ryegrass bred for grazing. In addition to being highly digestible, it's a profuse tillering, quick-growing variety with practically no reheading.

The company claims that Quartet produces high milk yields and animal gains, whether grazed or machine-harvested.

Orchardgrass

Two orchardgrasses with different maturity ranges are new from Forage Genetics. Hayday is an early maturing variety that provides quality forage early in the season. Improved green color and leaf disease resistance are other key characteristics.

Century has a medium early maturity and high forage yields and quality. Its tall, leafy plants also have improved green color and leaf disease resistance.

Tall Fescue

Barolex and Bariane are new soft-leafed tall fescues from Barenbrug USA. Both have finer, softer leaves than most varieties, a trait that improves palatability and digestibility. They're endophyte-free and have bred-in resistance to crown rust, a fungus disease that also affects palatability as well as yield.

Both are late-maturing, especially Bariane, which produces seed heads more than 10 days later than most other varieties. Late-maturing varieties are easier to manage because they produce fewer and later seed heads in spring, allowing for a longer grazing or harvest window. They also show less reheading during the growing season.

Cebeco International's endophyte-free Martin 2 is an early flowering forage fescue best suited for managed grazing and stockpiling of tall fescue hay. It's deep-rooted, tolerates acid and high-bulk-density soils and poor drainage, and is relatively tolerant of drought.

Tuscany II, from Forage Genetics International, is a tall, leafy, endophyte-free variety with exceptional spring vigor. It falls into the medium early maturity range, so it provides early forage production for grazing or machine harvesting.

Timothy

Forage Genetics' Treasure has an early maturity range, similar to Clair, and is proving itself for high-quality hay production. It consistently outyields popular timothy varieties such as Clair and Climax.

Bromegrass

Developed at Montana State University, Forage Genetics' Montana Meadow brome was selected for its high forage yields. It has excellent seed yield. But the variety won't be available until fall.

A prairie brome especially adapted to the northern U.S., Lakota was produced by selecting Matua-type plants that exhibited better winter tolerance and resistance to powdery mildew. This broad-leafed variety from Ampac shows exceptional growth during late summer, autumn and winter. It's more drought-tolerant than many other cool-season grasses, and very palatable.

The company's southern prairie brome version is Dixon. Specially adapted for warmer climates, its high-yielding, very palatable crop has good disease resistance and drought tolerance. It's a tough, resilient variety that grows well all year.

Native grass

Browning Seed is offering a limited supply of a native grass variety released from New Mexico research. Viva Galleta is intended for use in range seedings and to prevent erosion. It'll be a good fit in states like Texas, California, Nevada and Wyoming, according to the company. It's cold-, drought- and salt-tolerant and is a slight spreader that establishes quickly.

For more information, contact the following companies:

Ampac Seed, P.O. Box 318, Tangent, OR 97389, phone 541-928-1651, www.ampacseed.com.

Barenbrug USA, P.O. Box 239, Tangent, OR 97389, phone 800-547-4101, www.barusa.com.

Browning Seed, Inc., P.O. Box 1836, Plainview, TX 79073, phone 800-243-5271, www.gameseed.com.

Cebeco International Seeds, P.O. Box 229, Halsey, OR 97348-0229, phone 800-445-2251, www.intlseed.com.

Forage Genetics International, Div. of Seed Research of Oregon, 27630 Llewellyn Rd., Corvallis, OR 97333, phone 800-253-5766, www.sroseed.com.