Tall Fescue : what are the advantages ?
Tall fescue is a popular choice among livestock producers in southern Europe and the USA, thanks to its outstanding ability to cope with hot and dry conditions.
It has yet to make serious inroads in the UK, a market dominated by ryegrass-based mixtures which are well suited to this country’s more moderate climate.
Plant breeder RAGT Seeds believes tall fescue has real potential in the UK and northern Europe, as demonstrated by its latest varieties which are now entering commercial production.
Cécile Hébrard, RAGT’s forage, cover crops and turf product management lead, says: “Due to climate change, every European country is going to experience more extreme conditions in the future, including the UK.
“We think it is time to start introducing tall fescue to help growers prepare for more adverse conditions. This species can adapt to dry situations, thanks to its extensive root system, and is also tolerant of heat and frost, and of wet and acid soils.”
Unfortunately, tall fescue has been slower to establish than ryegrass in cooler climates and has been hindered by poorer forage quality. But RAGT’s plant breeding programme is now delivering significant improvements on both fronts.
“Our tall fescues are much quicker to establish, which is crucial for UK farmers who are used to growing ryegrass species,” says Cécile. “But the most important development is the softness of the leaves. We have achieved a market-leading standard that offers better palatability and improved consumption, leading to more effective grazing management.
“In one study in France, dairy cows continuously grazed on soft-leaved tall fescue produced an extra 1.6 litres/cow/day compared with standard fescues.”
RGT Nouga is the company’s most popular variety as it has the softest leaves of any tall fescue on the market, topping the lists in France and Switzerland, the most influential in Europe.
“Our soft-leaved tall fescues are currently grown commercially in both these countries and Germany, as well as overseas,” says Cécile.
“We originally developed them many years ago in Australia and New Zealand where the market is perennial ryegrass oriented, like the UK. We are going to start trialling it this year in the UK and hope to make it commercially available in the near future.”
Tall fescue is well suited to be grown in mixtures but it can also be grown alone. In the UK, RAGT recommends growing it with perennial ryegrass.
“Perennial ryegrass will cover the ground quickly to limit weed pressure, while tall fescue will ensure persistence in any conditions,” says Cécile. “Adding white clover to the mix is also possible to provide nitrogen to the sward and improve forage protein content.
“For cutting management, it is important to know that tall fescue generally heads earlier than perennial ryegrass, so choose a late-maturing type such as RGT Nouga.
“Pastures should be regularly grazed, typically every three weeks, to ensure good palatability. Tall fescue grows earlier in the spring so it suits early grazing.”
Tall fescue could find a place on any farm, says Cécile. “It would be a great choice on more difficult fields in terms of aspect or soil, and/or where farmers want the sward to last for many years.”