The Gamagrass Growers Guide
Are you managing your grassland acres for maximum profits? Don't overlook this tremendous forage grass. Study the graphs below to see the substantial improvements gamagrass can make in your operation.
NOTE the total gain of about 270 lb/acre from the rotation of grazing fescue in the spring, fescue in the summer, and fescue in the fall (see first bar of graph). Compare this to the spring/summer/fall rotation of fescue/gamagrass/ fescue with gains of over 450 lb/acre! The scientists used grazing animals to study palatability and rate of gain from pure stands of various grasses over what was considered to be a full season of grazing (212 days). They carefully clipped forages by hand in ungrazed cages to get more accurate statistics on forage tonnage. This prevents errors caused by damage to forage by trampling and manure. Actual gains will be a bit less than the predicted gain. Authors are Assoc. Professor of Agronomy, forage-crops specialist, C. J. Kaiser and Assoc. Professor of Animal Science, beef-cattle specialist, Daniel B. Faulkner, University of Illinois.
HAVE you ever estimated your livestock’s nutritional requirements or inventoried your pastures’ productivity potential on a per month basis? You may already know your current pasture composition doesn’t match the nutritional needs of your livestock. Are your livestock eating dry/mature cool-season grasses in July instead of lush, palatable eastern gamagrass? As you can observe from the chart above or from your personal experience, cool-season grasses can go dormant in the Summer. This drop in forage production, commonly known as Summer Slump can result in a shortage of nutrients that livestock need for optimal performance. Eastern gamagrass with its warm-season growth pattern naturally fills this void. University research as well as grazers personal experiences confirms impressive increases in livestock production when their nutritional needs are met for the entire grazing period.
We offer quality seed from several varieties of eastern gamagrass currently available - Pete, Iuka, and Nemaha.
PETE is a composite of seed collections made in 1958 by the Manhattan SCS Plant Materials Center from 70 natural stands of gamagrass in Kansas and Oklahoma. The strain was advanced through the third generation via combine harvesting and replanting of open-pollinated seed.
IUKA is based on a 500+ plant collection made by the Southern Plains Range Research Station, ARS, USDA, Woodward, Oklahoma. The plants were collected from Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, and Arkansas. In 1979 a 21 plant selection based on apparent forage value was made from the original collection. The original selections and their hybrids should be adapted over a large area.
NEMAHA is a blend of PETE and IUKA grown in the fertile Nemaha River Valley in southeast Nebraska.
Gamagrass seed is encased in a tough "capsule" made of stem-like material. This capsule protects and isolates the seed from the environment, contributing to the high degree of seed dormancy in gamagrass. Common seed characteristics are 4000 to 7000 seeds per pound, pure seed content of 95 to 99.9%, and total viability of 30 to 90%.
Gamagrass Seed Company sells seed based on the PLS % of the seed. Pure Live Seed % refers to the purity % multiplied by the viable seed %. The recommended planting rate is 8 PLS lbs/acre. For example, an order for 8 PLS lbs from a seed lot with a PLS % of 50% would require 16 bulk lbs of seed.
When establishing stands of gamagrass, two planting options are suggested: Spring or Dormant. it is important to note that native warm-season grasses possess significant levels of seed dormancy. Proven dormancy breaking techniques (Priming) are advised to maximize initial stands.
SPRING PLANTINGS: Plant primed seed when soil temperature is a minimum of 55 degrees F using conventional planting equipment. For correct soil temperature, readings should be taken around 9 AM at your planned seed planting depth.
PRE-CHILLING is one priming process used to break dormancy in seed for spring plantings. This process consists of keeping moist seed in cold storage for 6 to 8 weeks. Important: Moist pre-chilled seed needs to be kept moist to maximize germination. Plant only if adequate moisture is present. Because the seed is shipped moist, it is perishable and must be planted upon arrival or put back in cold storage (35-45 degrees F). DO NOT FREEZE.
GERMTEC II, developed by Gamagrass Seed Company, is an advanced dormancy breaking process with proven results. A major advantage over pre-chilling is a dry, shelf-stable product for shipping and storage (no refrigeration required.) Producers generally prefer the improved flowability of Germtec II seed. Ask about greater planting options with Germtec II seed.
DORMANT PLANTINGS: The concept behind dormant plantings is to turn the seed priming efforts back to nature. This is an option only where winters are cold enough to provide several months of soil temperatures below 50 degrees F. Plantings should be made after soil temperatures have dropped below 50 degrees F. in the late fall to prevent seed from germinating and to reduce mold activity. To improve viability in dormant plantings, we offer fungicide treated seed. Mid January to mid February plantings appear to be more effective than earlier or later plantings. Earlier plantings may increase seed mortality, while less seed breaks dormancy if planted later. A dormant planting may not be your best choice in heavy textured, poorly drained soils, since seed is more likely to deteriorate. Consider a spring planting on these sites.
Weed Control: Gamagrass, like many plants, can get off to a faster start when weed competition is minimized. Ask yourself, "Would I expect corn plants to thrive in this environment?" If not, take action to reduce weed competition to get your stand fully established and start utilizing it sooner. If gamagrass is planted in rows, cultivation can be used in early years of establishment. In various studies, gamagrass has shown excellent tolerance to potentially harmful carryover from some of today's commonly used corn herbicides (i.e. atrazine, Dual, Lasso, Harness, Bladex, Accent, 2,4-D, etc). Contact us for up-to-date information.
Planter Settings: With suitable equipment, gamagrass can be planted into a variety of seedbeds from conventional to no-till. Gamagrass Seed Company customers receive additional information concerning planting equipment and adjustments in the Planter Calibration sheet. The main objectives in the planting operation are uniform seed depth and good seed to soil contact. Seed should be planted 1 to 1&1/2" inches deep in medium textured soils or a little deeper in lighter textured soils that may dry out faster. The depth of seeding should be based on factors that affect soil moisture such as soil texture, residue cover, temperature, wind, etc. The goal is to place the seed just deep enough to stay in adequate moisture for a sufficient amount of time to allow germination to take place, typically 3-4 weeks.
Over seeding and no-till notes: Several potential problems should be addressed to insure successful stand establishment. In sod plantings, opener slots made by planting equipment provide a fracture line which can open up during dry weather. This can effectively reduce planting depth or even expose the seed, allowing it to dry out; compensate by increasing seed depth. When no-tilling into a killed sod the length of time since the complete kill of the sod was achieved is often critical. Waiting three to four weeks after sod has been killed is often needed to allow populations of damaging insects to decrease to insignificant levels. An alternative to waiting would be the use of an in-furrow insecticide. Consult your local extension office for information concerning potential insect damage and possible control measures. Fast stand establishment is more difficult when planting into a living sod. Competition from existing vegetation feeding insects will reduce plant development, vigor, and plant populations.
Row Spacing: Since gamagrass is a bunchgrass, established plants can have substantial bases. These can be rough to drive over with equipment. If haying is likely, consider planting in rows wide enough to minimize tire traffic over plants. Gamagrass stores a significant portion of its food reserves in the above ground portion of the plant base. Reduction of traffic on the plant crowns will result in less plant damage and faster regrowth.
Early Management Years
Initially, 25-40 pounds of nitrogen fertilizer can be used in the planting year to promote seedling development. Native grasses normally require several years to become fully established. You will be rewarded in the long term by allowing your stand to fully develop its extensive root system. This likely means there should be no forage harvest in the first year, one forage harvest late in the second year, and full production the third year.
DOUBLE CROPPING: During the first year some producers wish to continue growing an income producing crop such as corn or sorghum in tandem with the establishment of gamagrass. While this sounds like a feasible idea, a couple of precautions should be noted. Like weeds, any double crop will compete with gamagrass seedlings for moisture and light. After careful study, if you choose to double crop consider a thin stand of a low shade producing crop, such as sorghum, sweet corn, or popcorn.
BURNING: Fields may be burned to control woody plants, reduce foliar diseases, improve grazing distribution, and stimulate new growth. Burn fields in spring when new growth is about 1" long. Consult your local fire department before doing a prescribed burn.
FERTILIZATION: Gamagrass is an efficient user of existing nutrient supplies. It can continue to respond with increased production to higher levels of applied fertilizer if moisture and other growth factors are adequate. After gamagrass is established, soil test and use the fertilizer recommendation for corn as your guideline. Gamagrass tolerates a wide range of soil pH, typically from 4.5-9.0.
HAYING: Normal cutting dates in the midwest are June 1, July 15, and Sept. 1. Gamagrass produces excellent quality hay when harvested in the early boot stage. Do not cut lower than 6 to 8 inches since the plant stores much of its food reserves here.
GRAZING: Because gamagrass is often favored over other grasses by grazing animals, it is easier to manage as a pure stand. It thrives under short duration, high intensity rotational grazing programs with adequate rest periods. Managers can realize maximum production and stand longevity by gazing no lower than 6 to 8 inches. To maintain longterm vigor of gamagrass stands, stop usage 30 to 45 days before average fall frost date. If you wish to use gamagrass as a winter stockpiled feed, stop usage earlier in the growing season to allow adequate regrowth before frost. Graze only after a hard freeze.
COMPANION CROPS: Our advice is "first become familiar with the characteristics of gamagrass and ways to optimize its production potential." Only then consider a companion crop for nitrogen fixation and/or improved forage quality. It is very difficult to make specific recommendations for suitable legume companions for individual situations. A satisfactory legume choice takes into consideration a long list of factors including: soil pH, type and fertility; climate (moisture availability and temperature); frequency and duration of grazing or haying; etc.