For the second straight year, we're going to be experimenting with teff on our home farm in northwest Missouri.
We were introduced to this small-seeded annual grass last year, when some sheep-producer friends in Oregon suggested it as a source of emergency forage. We were running short on forage and had little prospects for getting any alfalfa seeded, due to the late, wet spring of 2008.
We learned some lessons in growing about 12 acres of the crop last year, and are excited enough about the potential that we seeded 20 acres this year. Now, about those lessons.
Due to the late season in 2008, we took a no-till approach. We sprayed our weed patch that had sprouted up following a soybean crop, and then rented our local Soil and Water Conservation District's Haybuster drill to plant the crop. The folks at Producer's Choice Seed, who distribute the Tiffany teff variety that we planted, had warned us that a firm seedbed was a requirement for a good stand. In places where the drill went in too deep, we found that to be the truth. Those small seeds just can't handle deep planting.
So, for our 2009 effort, we took a different approach. Our teff went into a field that had grown a winter crop of cereal rye, both as a cover crop and a spring forage source for spring-calving cows. We grazed it down tight, and disked it lightly just to take out the cow tracks and to destroy any remaining rye.
We then rented a Phillips rotary harrow from one of our good neighbors, and ran over the field a couple of times. That helped firm the seedbed, and set it up in ideal condition for seeding with a Brillion seeder.
As is the case with most small-seeded crops, the Brillion is the ideal tool for getting a good stand. We invested some time in calibrating the seeder, and then discovered that Producer's Choice offers a chart of Brillion settings on its Web site (www.producerschoiceseed.com). Our calibrations matched exactly with the company's suggested settings.
We also loosened up our pocketbook and planted 10 pounds of seed per acre, as opposed to 8 pounds last year. Tiffany teff comes with a blue clay coating to help make seeding easier. At 1.3 million seeds per pound, it's tiny. We believe a 10-pound rate will give us the best chance for a uniform stand.
Last year, our teff field yielded two cuttings, estimated at 3 tons of dry hay per acre. Much to our surprise, the teff field managed to make regrowth in late September, so we turned fall-calving cows in for flash grazing. The cows harvested it uniformly and seemed to like the taste of the grass.
Our teff hay was well accepted by horses, sheep, and all classes of cows and calves. While we are using it for a hay crop again this year, it's interesting to ponder the possibilities of teff in a rotational grazing system. Seems like a natural to help fight the summer slump. Aside from the seed cost, nearly $4 per pound, it's a relatively low-input annual forage.
We'll let you know how we get along in 2009.
Editor's note: Check out the June issue of Missouri Ruralist for more stories and information on grazing and forage and hay production.