Pasture varieties and their potential in SA
Farmer's Weekly|October 22, 2021
Summer-planted pastures can boost a farmer’s profits by keeping animal production high. Renowned grazing specialist Prof Chris Dannhauser says there is a variety of these crops to choose from and, as Susan Marais found out, many can also be used in winter in the form of hay, foggage and silage.
Prof Chris Dannhauser

FAST FACTS

Australian scientists recently developed two types of grass indigenous to South Africa, namely small buffalo grass and bushveld signal grass, into planted pastures.

On average, Molopo, a blue buffalo grass cultivar, produces more feed, but tests show that sheep gain more weight on the Gayndah variety.

The lifespan of Rhodes grass is shortened when overgrazed.

Veld remains the cheapest source of grazing roughage, but to get the most out of it, you need to do your homework. Put simply, you can lower productivity and rangeland area if you don’t pick the right type of pasture.

Veld and grazing consultant Prof Chris Dannhauser says that many improvements to popular cultivars can help farmers produce higher yields with improved quality.

SMUTS FINGER AND WEEPING LOVEGRASS

“Smuts finger grass [Digitaria eriantha] is very popular in medium- to high-rainfall areas and is adapted to a wide range of soil types,” says Dannhauser. “It grows in most parts of North West, the Free State, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal [KZN] and Limpopo, in areas with more than 500mm rain per year.

“It can be planted from October to December or in February and can be used for green grazing, hay and foggage [also called standing hay] production. Foggage is [also the practice of] grazing a summer growing crop in winter, in the dry stage.”

The potential hay production of Smuts finger grass is 3t/ha to 12t/ha, with a carrying capacity of 0,5 to 2 LSU/ha.

Newer Smuts finger cultivars include Irene and Tip Top. According to Dannhauser, these have a seeding rate of 6kg/ha in low-rainfall areas and 8kg/ha in high-rainfall areas, and farmers following these guidelines can expect hay production of between 6t/ha and 12t/ ha, and a carrying capacity of 0,5 to 2 LSU/ha.

Agpal and PUK 436 are two newer varieties of weeping lovegrass (Eragrostis curvula), which is especially popular on the Highveld of Gauteng, Mpumalanga, the Free State, and KZN, says Dannhauser. These areas have an average annual rainfall of around 600mm.

“[Weeping lovegrass] establishes itself relatively easily when planted from October to December or in February, and can also be used for green gazing and hay production. It needs a medium to high [level of] fertilization, and becomes less palatable if not fertilized correctly.”

A seeding rate of 3kg/ha to 4kg/ha should be maintained when planting in rows. “When broadcasting, farmers should maintain a seeding rate of 6kg/ha to 8kg/ha. For the quick establishment, farmers can seed [a mixture of] weeping lovegrass at 3kg/ha and teff at 5kg/ha.”

The hay production potential of weeping lovegrass is 6t/ha to 13t/ha, with a carrying capacity of between 1 and 2,5 LSU/ha.

BUFFALO AND RHODES GRASS

White buffalo grass (Panicum maximum) is best in medium- to high-rainfall areas (over 500mm per annum), especially when planted in fertile soil. It is sensitive to severe frost but can survive a light frost.

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