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Persistence and Productivity of Orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata L.) in Hay Stands
Jones, Gordon B.
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Persistence of perennial grass crops is essential to their profitable management. Recently, orchardgrass producers in the Mid-Atlantic have reported a reduction in the persistence and regrowth vigor of their swards. The overall objective was to evaluate which factors play a major role in controlling the persistence of orchardgrass harvested for hay in the Mid-Atlantic. A survey of orchardgrass fields, growth chamber experiment, and field experiment were conducted to that end. The objectives were to: (1) assess soil fertility, management practices, disease status, and climate in relation to producer perceived stand persistence rating, orchardgrass biomass, and soil test thresholds in orchardgrass hayfields in 4 states, (2) examine the interactions of high temperature and low cutting height on the physiology and regrowth of orchardgrass in controlled environments, and (3) evaluate yield, composition, and size/density compensation-corrected productivity of orchardgrass and orchardgrass/alfalfa mixtures harvested to four cutting heights over three years. The survey of hayfields indicated that the sward age, soil organic matter, grazing, manure application, and historical average high temperature were main determinants of stand persistence score. In the growth chamber experiment, regrowth was significantly reduced by the 35°C treatment as compared to 20°C. Low cutting height significantly reduced regrowth in the cool temperature treatment, but no effect of cutting height was detected under heat stress. In the field experiment, yields were highest from plots cut to 5 cm, but orchardgrass cover in these plots thinned through the experiment. Tiller size and density measurements indicated that cutting heights of 10 cm or greater were able to achieve and maintain optimal leaf area while productivity was reduced for the 5 cm treatment. Overall, it is apparent that excessively low cutting heights are a major cause of reduced persistence in orchardgrass swards and that high temperature stress will limit regrowth. These factors likely interact with fertility and disease status, and together cause the premature loss of orchardgrass stands. Efforts should be made to communicate the importance of increased cutting height to producers. Breeding of orchardgrass resistant to fungal pathogens and heat stress may be required to sustain an orchardgrass hay industry in the Mid-Atlantic.
- Doctoral Dissertations