When it comes to finding for-age to graze in late fall, it's often pretty slim pickings for ranchers in the southern Great Plains. But a new type of tall fescue looks like it might fill that feed gap.

Grasslands Flecha MaxQ is a Mediterranean-type, summer-dormant, cool-season perennial that's been grown in New Zealand for several years.

“In a typical season, this grass goes dormant in mid- to late May and doesn't green up again until September, provided we get a little rain,” says plant physiologist and forage researcher Dariusz Malinowski.

“From there it usually grows all winter, unless we get temperatures down into the low 20s for an extended time,” says Malinowski, who, with fellow researchers at Texas A&M's Vernon Ag Experiment Station and researchers in Israel, has been examining what makes these grasses go dormant.

“With most traditional summer-active, cool-season perennial grasses, summer dormancy is triggered by lack of moisture,” he says. “But in the case of a grass such as Flecha, increasing day length, temperature or a combination of both, but not decreasing soil moisture, seem to be the primary triggers.”

Flecha can be grazed from November through winter, says Malinowski. “The quality is good until the crop starts to bloom in late April to early May, and within a month of blooming, it goes dormant again.”

Forage quality of Flecha is similar to that of wheat, he notes.

“It provides enough to support the needs of the animal, and cattle eat it. We did graze the crop for two years and think it's really the best fit for this region, and complements forage from dual-use wheat pastures here in fall and spring.”

Malinowski is also testing another variety of summer-dormant tall fescue, called Prosper. “It has all the same basic characteristic as Flecha MaxQ, in terms of yield potential and forage quality, but is endophyte-free.”

Flecha MaxQ is pest- and drought-resistant but has a “friendly” endophyte that doesn't cause toxicity concerns that native endophytes do.

Managing a summer-dormant fescue requires some different tactics than working with a summer-active fescue, says Malinowski.

“The seedlings are much less competitive early on, so you need to start with a very clean seedbed. They can't compete with bromegrass or wild oats, so you don't want to plant Flecha MaxQ in fields where they could be a problem.”

You also need to plant this fescue before the end of October, he adds. “The best planting time is between mid-September and mid-October. This gives the crop enough time to get established before winter.

“We also don't recommend grazing it in the first growing season,” says Malinowski. “The crop usually looks good and it may be tempting to graze it, but if you have a dry fall or winter, it could die if it's grazed too early.”

Outside of that, he says the grass has no real drawbacks.

“I've been very impressed with Flecha MaxQ, as well as Prosper. These grasses offer a nice grazing option for ranchers in this part of the country for late fall, and are a fairly flexible, hardy crop to work with.

“The stand we first planted here in 2000 is still viable,” he says. “And considering the dry years we've had here since then, that's pretty amazing.”

He and his colleagues are also breeding new summer-dormant varieties of both tall fescue and orchardgrass for the southern Great Plains, based on similar Mediterranean plant material. Bu the says any new grasses are several years from commercialization.

Flecha MaxQ is now available from Pennington Seed (903-649-0328). Prosper is expected to be available in a year from Barenbrug USA.