Cattle producers in Virginia have endured repeated droughts and a shortage of cool season grass forage.
As a result, forage prices have been high due to the over-reliance on cool season grasses (fescue and
orchard grass). To make matters worse, feed prices for cattle are high due to the ethanol industry’s
demand for corn.
Farmers are looking for a productive and viable alternative that increases available forage, including
stabilizing forage availability throughout the year. Warm season grasses can help farmers reach these
needs due to their deep root systems and phenology. These attributes provide significant drought
tolerance and are capable of producing significant yields even during periods of extended drought.
Converting some acreage to warm season grass can provide high value forage during the summer months,
around the same time that cool season grass (e.g., fescue and bluegrass) reach summer dormancy (see
Figure 1, adapted from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources). In addition, warm season grass fields
typically yield double that of cool season grasses.
Rotating forage from fescue to warm season grass in the drier summer months leaves more of the
traditionally-used fescue for winter and early spring use. This allows the cool season grass pastures
time to rest and provide a better forage supply later in the growing season.
Warm season grasses and cool season grasses have similar nutritional and protein content. One advantage
to warm season grasses is they typically yield nearly double that of cool season grasses and have
relatively stable protein content.
Table adapted from the University of Tennessee Extension