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First-Ever Evaluation of European Meadow Fescue Varieties
New York Ag Connection - 06/30/2020

Alfalfa-grass quality trials in northern New York State are evaluating European meadow fescue varieties never before tested in North America and the first modern variety of meadow fescue developed in the U.S. from plants isolated in southwestern Wisconsin. These trials support New York's dairy industry by examining a forage crop grown to feed milking dairy cows.

The Northern New York Agricultural Development Program (NNYADP) is funding the research that is being conducted by the Cornell University research team of Debbie J.R. Cherney, Ph.D., and Jerry H. Cherney, Ph.D. The latest results report of trials on farms in NNY is posted under the Research: Field Crops: Grasses tab at www.nnyagdev.org.

The NNYADP trials are evaluating the opportunity to add European varieties of meadow fescue, a winter-tolerant perennial grass, to alfalfa plantings. The goal is to successfully grow meadow fescue as 20-30 percent of a mix with alfalfa under northern New York conditions. The spring harvest may account for up to half of the total forage yield of a crop grown to feed milking dairy cows.

"These regional trials are providing insight into alfalfa-grass combinations that can increase forage fiber digestibility enough to significantly increase milk income using balanced rations," Debbie J.R. Cherney said.

"Many of the European meadow fescue varieties we are evaluating were developed in harsher environments than those in northern New York, so they should overwinter successfully here, but we need to evaluate the opportunity for yield and quality and their competitiveness with alfalfa," Jerry Cherney explained.

The U.S.-bred meadow fescue in the NNYADP trial showed the highest neutral detergent fiber digestibility of the 19 varieties trialed in 2019. The seed supply of the variety known as Hidden Valley for the farm from which the variety has originated sold out almost immediately after it became available. The NNYADP trial data indicated that the Hidden Valley meadow fescue grew at the desired grass percentage in tandem with alfalfa.

Six farms in northern New York are participating in these forage research trials. In 2019, one farm harvested the trial plots twice, another farm harvested three times, and another participant harvested four times. A fourth farm successfully established a new seeding in 2019. Two additional farms joined the project in 2020, seeding trials with three new meadow fescue varieties released by a German seed company.

Harvested samples are assayed for alfalfa-grass percentage and alfalfa and grass quality in terms of crude protein, lignin, and fiber; dry matter yield; and evaluated for the influence of soil type, drainage, fertilization, seeding rate, and harvesting schedule on crop quality.

Funding for NNYADP is supported by the New York State Legislature and administered by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets. Learn more at www.nnyagdev.org.

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