Productivity and quality of tall fescue and switchgrass under two harvest managements and different harvest intensities

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Virginia Tech

Tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea Schreb.) often becomes dormant in the hot summer months. Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) has potential to supplement the limited carrying capacity of tall fescue in mid-summer. The objective of this study was to determine the seasonal dry matter distribution and quality of tall fescue and switchgrass as influenced by different harvest managements. Switchgrass and tall fescue were studied on a fine-loamy, mixed, mesic Ultic Hapludalf of the Duffield soil series at Blacksburg, VA during 1987 and 1988. Normal harvest management included harvests taken from the first growth in spring until mid to late August. Delayed management included harvests taken from regrowth after a hay crop in mid-May for tall fescue and early June for switchgrass until mid to late August. Three and four harvest intensities were imposed on tall fescue and switchgrass, respectively. Plots were harvested in 1989 to determine the accumulative influence of treatments. Yield, crude protein, neutral detergent fiber, and invitro dry matter digestibility were measured for each harvest of both species. Digestible yield and protein were calculated for each harvest. Clipping either switchgrass or tall fescue at any harvest intensity reduced potential yield compared to forage not clipped. Accumulated forage resulted in high yields but unsatisfactory quality. Delayed harvest management resulted in higher total yield than normal harvest management because of high hay yields. This study indicated that considerable overlap of forage production of tall fescue and switch grass occurred in late spring but abundant high quality switchgrass was available in midsummer when available tall fescue was low. Switchgrass warrants consideration in southwest Virginia as a solution to the problem of limited cool-season forage in midsummer.