Pinching pennies when buying ryegrass seed for winter grazing is a bad business decision, says a Texas AgriLife researcher who has developed a new, better yielding variety.

“Nelson” is a newly released ryegrass developed by Lloyd Nelson, AgriLife Research small grains breeder. It has a higher yield potential than "primo" ryegrasses such as TAM 90, Prine and Jumbo, he says.

"And in South Texas, it's higher than Marshall. In more northern areas, it’s not significantly higher than Marshall, but it's competitive," says Nelson, who also developed TAM 90 and TAMTBO, other high-yielding ryegrasses.

However, despite the yield advantages, the most commonly planted ryegrass variety for winter pastures is probably Gulf. Why? Probably because its seed is cheaper, he says. "Gulf costs about 34-36¢/lb., while newer varieties like Nelson, Prine and TAMTBO are about 45-48¢/lb."

Nelson says that at the recommended planting rates of 20-25 lbs./acre, farmers will save about $3/acre in seed costs. "But, for that $3 savings, they will typically give up about 2,000 lbs./acre of high-quality forage," he says.

That 2,000 lbs. is equivalent to at least two large round bales of hay per acre, which typically would be sell for $40 or more each, according to Nelson. "So it's not a good business decision, in my opinion, to scrimp on seed costs."

Nelson ryegrass' three-year average yields in East Texas at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Overton where the soils are sandy loams topped 9,500 lbs. Gulf produced 8,300 lbs. at the Overton site, while Prine and Passerel Plus ryegrasses produced 9,270 lbs. and 9,160 lbs, respectively, Nelson says.

He says there's still plenty of time to meet the ryegrass planting window for Texas, which is from mid-October through the first week of December. However, as with all ryegrasses, Nelson ryegrass needs adequate soil moisture to emerge. Ryegrass is typically overseeded over existing, dormant warm-season grass pastures after a light disking.

All ryegrasses, whether a new variety like Nelson or an older variety such as Gulf, must be fertilized to soil tests. Usually this means 100-150 lbs. of actual nitrogen during the season, Nelson says.

Because of high nitrogen costs, farmers may try to grow ryegrass for winter pastures at a reduced nitrogen rate or not fertilize at all. This is another bad business decision, Nelson says.

"If they're not going to fertilize, I wouldn't recommend them planting any ryegrass. Just buy the hay," he says.
-- Texas AgriLife Extension release