Tall fescue, a cool-season species, needs adequate rainfall to be productive and persist. Where conditions are typically hot and dry, it is not well adapted.
For states such as Oklahoma and Texas, tall fescue is a staple forage in the eastern half but is not well suited for the western portions of those states where summer conditions are harsh. It’s in these drier regions where thousands of acres of winter annuals, such as wheat or rye, are planted each year to fill grazing gaps during fall and spring.
Mike Trammell, a senior plant breeder at the Noble Research Institute, notes that a perennial cool-season forage that allows for grazing from fall through spring could reduce hay feeding and the need to plant winter annuals. With that goal in mind, he developed and recently released a new summer-dormant, endophyte-free tall fescue variety called Chisholm.
“Some types of tall fescue possess a unique trait where the plant enters a period of dormancy to avoid the harsh summer conditions common to the Southern Great Plains,” Trammell writes in a recent Noble News and Views newsletter. “These types of tall fescue originate from the Mediterranean region of southern Europe and North Africa and are often referred to as Mediterranean or summer-dormant types. Summer-dormant types stop growth during summer in response to long days, high temperatures, and dry conditions,” he adds.
Because this type of tall fescue goes dormant during the summer, it is capable of producing high-quality forage from fall through spring.
“After four years of grazing Chisholm pastures on our research farms, cattle had similar average daily and total live-weight gains compared to cattle on graze-out wheat pastures,” Trammell reports. “The net return per acre on Chisholm was also similar to the graze-out wheat system.”
With the option of establishing a perennial species, Trammell notes that additional potential benefits come in the form of reduced soil erosion and improved soil health.
Chisholm summer-dormant tall fescue is commercially available at Warner Brothers Seed Company in Lawton, Okla.