July 21, 2009
Contact: Michael E. Hunter, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County, 315-788-8450; and Cornell Cooperative Extension: Clinton County: 518-561-7450; Essex County: 518-962-4810 x409; Franklin County: 518-483-7403; Lewis County: 315-376-5270; St. Lawrence County: 315-379-9192

Can Teff Help Northern NY Farmers as Alternative Forage Crop?

Watertown, NY --- Can a grass native to Ethiopia be a useful or profitable crop for Northern New York farmers? The Northern New York Agricultural Development Program and Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program provided funds to learn the answer.

Agronomy and Field Crops Educator Michael E. Hunter of Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Jefferson County is part of a Cornell University-Cornell Cooperative Extension team that is evaluating the value of teff, a warm season annual grass.

Hunter co-authored a fact sheet with data on how teff might help farmers coping with conditions ranging from waterlogged soil to drought.

Research trials were conducted in New York State, including on farms in Northern New York. Otherwise, teff is grown in the United States on a limited number of acres in the Pacific Northwest and Midwest.

“In Ethiopia teff is predominantly grown as a cereal crop, not a forage crop. It can, however, be grown and harvested or as a pasture crop to feed livestock,” Hunter says.

“Recent research results from teff trials in Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Rensselaer counties indicate great promise for teff as a forage crop here,” Hunter says. “Teff has shown it will grow in both wet and dry conditions. Potential uses here in Northern New York include feeding teff as emergency hay, pasture or silage planted mid-summer.”

A factsheet titled “Teff as Emergency Forage,” coauthored by Hunter, Peter Barney (CCE St. Lawrence County), Tom Kilcer (CCE Rensselaer County), Jerry Cherney (Cornell University), Joe Lawrence (CCE Lewis County) and Quirine Ketterings (Cornell University Nutrient Management Spear Program) is posted online at www.nnyagdev.org.

Hunter says teff also has value as a summer annual cover crop to reduce erosion, as a green manure crop that returns nutrients to farm soils, as a stand-alone annual hay crop for market, and as a rotational break crop that helps renovate perennial grass or alfalfa stands or pasture.

“One advantage of teff is that it can be grown using seeding and harvesting equipment already available to farmers,” Hunter says.

He cautions that teff does not tolerate frost and does not establish well in cool soils, so planting is best delayed until soil and air temperatures warm up in June and July.

The fact sheet includes suggestions for seeding and fertilizing rates and methods and harvest management to obtain a high-quality, high-yield crop of teff.

“This research has shown us that properly grown and harvested teff can rival average New York grass hay dry matter yields and produce relatively high quality forage,” Hunter says.

Crop grower Elmer Dart of Redwood planted a 10-acre field trial for teff production evaluation in Northern New York in 2006. After harvesting, Dart said, “The trial yielded a lot more than I expected. It doesn’t look like there will be much feed until you mow it and put it in a windrow. I was impressed with the tonnage.”

Hunter cautions that proper establishment of the crop is the first step toward success with teff.

“First and foremost, I cannot stress enough how important the seedbed preparation is when growing teff. A firm seedbed is critical and no different than what we would expect from a grower when they seed alfalfa,” Hunter says. “I have seen a few mediocre or poor stands of teff that can be blamed for a fluffy seedbed. A fluffy seedbed is a recipe for disaster. It is imperative to have a firm seedbed when you plant teff.”

As part of his evaluation of the teff trial at his farm, Dart said, “The key to a successful establishment is very good seedbed preparation. This is so important because the seeds are extremely small. You can’t cut corners preparing the ground.”

Although a fine-stemmed grass, teff grows into a dense crop and Dart was concerned about how he would mow the teff for harvest, however, he used a conventional haybine and had no problems.

In the spring of 2009, dairyman Doug Shelmidine planted a small six-acre trial of teff at Sheland Farms in Belleville, NY.

“We want to see how teff will grow under our management system and evaluate it for use as an alternative forage,” Shelmidine says. He will harvest the teff later this year.

Learn more about growing teff in the Field Crops section at www.nnyagdev.org. #