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Success of Reed Canary Grass Seedings With and Without Companion Crops

By   /  April 10, 2017  /  4 Comments

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Dan Hudson has been running test plots to share information on establishment of reed canary grass with and without companion or nurse crops. His results, shown in this video of his plots one year after planting, can give you some idea of what to expect in your own pastures and plantings and how these kinds of planting might work for you.

Dan includes these observations with the video:

Companion crops can increase forage and quality in the establishment year when seeding forage with low seedling vigor like reed canary grass. However, it is likely that using companion crops will reduce your yield for the first cut of the second year or at least delay the date of the first and subsequent harvests of the second year. Because reed canary grass spreads by rhizomes, it is likely to fill in the gaps in the third year, depending on management.

While red clover is not typically thought of as a ‘companion crop,’ the 6 lb/ac seeding rate seemed to provide everything one would want of a companion crop in our conditions: increased yield and quality, very competitive against weeds, did not seem to out-compete the reed canary grass. Further, it was still present in the second year as the reed canary grass continued to fill in.

A moderate rate of spring triticale or an oat/pea combination will also improve first year yields, but seems likely reduce your reed canary grass yield in the second year. The extent will vary with conditions and management, and the effects my be mitigated by better soil fertility management after the triticale or oat/pea crops are harvested.

Italian ryegrass should increase your yield and quality in the first year, but could be so ‘successful’ that it results in the reed canary grass not getting established at all.

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About the author

editor and contributor

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she's not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.

4 Comments

  1. Katie Howisey says:

    Call this a dumb question…but reed canarygrass is the bane our our riparian systems around here, and not very palatable when it matures. Why would you want to get it established?

    • Great question, Katie. Reed canary grass was a bane on our seed production farm when I was growing up. We had/have silty clay loam soils that were poorly drained, and it LOVED those conditions. Even if we were beef producers, we would not have wanted it, because it was a feral type with high alkaloid levels, which reduce palatability and intake. Newer varieties are ‘low alkaloid’ and do not have those palatability or intake problems. Like all grasses, the fiber levels of reed canary grass increase as it matures. Given the nature of it’s stem, it is probably a bigger problem with this species. That being the case, the quality and yield can be very good if it is harvested on time. I do not recommend this grass for extremely wet fields. This is because the reed canary grass can often be excessively mature (and fibrous) by the time the field is dry enough to take the first cut. In most other common conditions in our area, reed could be a good choice. It is not my first choice, but it is notable that quite a few farmers grow it and are happy with it.

      If you want dairy-quality reed canary grass forage, it needs to be harvested at or before early-boot stage. Reed canary grass at mid-boot stage tends to have lower forage quality than grasses at the same physiological stage.

  2. Curt Gesch says:

    Was the reed canary a low-alkaloid variety (very expensive)? Would it make any difference to the results of this trial, do you think? I found this a very helpful report. Thank you.

    • Good point, Curt. Yes, it was a low-alkaloid variety. It was “Bellevue” variety. Other low-alkaloid varieties include Chiefton, Palaton, Venture, and Marathon. There are probably others too. Yes, they are kind of expensive, but, in the end, the seed cost is a minor consideration if the stand is a success. If the stand fails entirely, the seed cost stings more — which is why I wrote the article.

      Would high-alkaloid varieties be more vigorous? I don’t think so, but cannot say for sure, since I did not include any in the demonstration. Reed canary grass is famous for having ‘low seedling vigor,’ which is just another way of saying that it has a different survival strategy than other species. It seems to put a lot of resources toward initiating rhizome development in the first two years – compared to top-growth.

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