Tall fescue is an exciting grass species that has proven itself to be an answer to pasture persistence and performance in hot summer environments or on some difficult soils. like all species some small changes need to be made to establishment and management practices to get the best out of it.
Tall fescue grows well throughout New Zealand, but advantages over regrass are greatest in environments with hot summer, soils that often dry out, and where insects are common. The optimum temperature for growth in perennial ryegrass is 20C, with production declining above 24C. The optimum for tall fescue is 26C, with active growth continuing into the mid 30C range. This explains the large and consistent advantage to tall fescue in Northland, but a small and variable advantage in Southland. It also explains why tall fescue grows more in summer in Canterbury and North Otago, even when irrigated, making it a more water-efficient grass than ryegrass in regions with warm-hot summers.
In dryland conditions, tall fescue will grow more feed and recover better from droughts due to its deeper root system, and ability to restrict moisture loss when stressed.
MaxP® is a novel endophyte selected by AgResearch for tall fescue. It provides the plant resistance to black beetle, root aphid, pasture mealy bug and Argentine stem weevil. This results in large improvements to persistence and drymatter production, with no negative effects on animal health or production. It is therefore recommended for most regions.
Tall fescue as a species has greater tolerance to grass grub than perennial ryegrass due to the larger root system and plant growth habit.
Most soil types are suitable for tall fescue, but soil fertility (especially Nitrogen) needs to be good for reliable production and persistence.
As tall fescue is a poor competitor with weeds when establishing, and sensitive to seeding depth, it is not recommended where paddock preparation is poor. Unless farmers are very experienced with tall fescue, it should only be planted on country that can be mown with a tractor. Management of tall fescue will also be difficult on farms with a low stocking rate (especially in spring), or poor sub-division.
Tall fescue is recommended for most stock types. Dairy farmers use it because it has been shown to increase milk production and pasture persistence compared with perennial ryegrass. Sheep and beef farmers use it for most stock classes, but it is often used for stock with the highest need for liveweight gain due to the higher clover content in tall fescue pastures leading to improved animal performance in summer.
Tall fescue is suitable for silage and hay production but this is not recommended in the first spring.