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April 30, 2014

Management required to tap fescue seed potential

Parsons, Kansas — High fescue seed yields depend on two management practices — clipping soon after the seed stalks are mature, or a seed crop has been removed, and applying nitrogen during the very late fall or winter.

“Stubble should be clipped to a height of three to four inches as soon as possible after harvesting. Failure to clip the stubble can decrease next year’s seed crop up to 30 percent,” says Jill Scheidt, agronomy specialist with University of Missouri Extension.

Removing the residue is necessary for new tiller development. New tillers initiate during late summer and fall and require direct sunlight. Tillers that survive the winter produce seed while tillers that initiate in the spring — but do not go through the winter — will not.

While summer clipping determines the number of tillers and seed stalks for the next seed crop, proper nitrogen fertilization determines the number of seeds in the seed heads.

“If used only for seed, fescue should be top-dressed with 70 to 100 pounds of nitrogen during December or January,” says Scheidt.

Calculating the proper amount of nitrogen for a seed crop is often complicated by using late summer — about August 1 — nitrogen to encourage fall growth for winter grazing. Additional nitrogen should be applied in December or January for seed production, but the amount will 2depend on how much was applied in the late summer or early fall (August and September), amount of vegetative fall growth, grazing intensity, amount of clover present, rainfall before freezing, etc.

If no nitrogen was applied in the fall, 70 to 100 pounds should be top-dressed during the winter; if 50 to 60 pounds was applied in the fall, use 40 to 60 pounds in the winter; if 80 to 100 pounds was applied in the fall, then an additional 30 to 40 pounds put on in the winter may be sufficient. No more than 120 pounds of nitrogen should be applied per year.

Grazing cattle during the fall and winter can be difficult for seed production because new tillers are developing. Grazing should be light in August, September, and October. Grazing pressure can be increased in November; all growth should be removed by January 15, to allow regrowth. Remove livestock before March 15 in southern Missouri and April 1 in north Missouri.

Fescue seed may be harvested by direct combining or wind-rowed and then combined. If the acreage of fescue seed to be harvested is small (combined in 1 or 2 days) and a combine is available without delay, then direct combining is a feasible method of harvesting.

“Combining should begin when 5 to 15 percent of the seeds are immature. Many of the late heads will still be immature at this time,” Scheidt explains.

Harvesting with more than 20 percent immature seed usually results in low yields, excessive seed moisture which will cause heating in storing, weak seed vigor and low germination.

“If the amount of seed acreage is large or delays are expected in obtaining harvesting equipment, the best method is windrowing and curing the seed then combining,” she adds.

Windrowing should be started when the straw in the head is yellowing. Occasionally a seed will shatter from the earliest maturing heads in the field when the stem is tapped below the head.

The fescue should be combined when the windrows are thoroughly dry, three to 10 days depending on weather conditions.

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