Is festulolium a cool-season forage grass you should consider?

Festulolium, a cross of perennial (or Italian) ryegrass and meadow fescue, has benefits for grazing operations.

The name “Festulolium” is a combination of Lolium, the genus of ryegrass, and Festuca, the genus of fescue. That makes sense, because this cool-season forage grass combines good qualities from each.

A few points to consider about the background genetic characteristics that result in festulolium:

  • Meadow fescue is related to the more common tall fescue and is persistent, easily established and managed, has good disease resistance, and regrows rapidly following mowing or grazing. On the other hand, it has relatively poor palatability and won’t support high milk production in lactating dairy cows.
  • Perennial (or Italian) ryegrass has higher forage quality and season-long productivity, but less persistence, disease resistance and winter hardiness than meadow fescue.

Some varieties of festulolium are more like meadow fescue, and others are more like perennial ryegrass, depending on plant breeding efforts following the initial cross. Fourteen varieties from seven different seed companies are included in the University of Wisconsin’s list of commercially released cool-season grass varieties included in their tests in recent years.

Festulolium is best utilized in grazing environments. Along with perennial ryegrass, it is well-suited to heavy grazing. Festulolium seeds should be planted at 30 to 35 lbs. per acre alone, or at 5 to 15 lbs. per acre if included in a combination with other species. These other species could include clovers, birdsfoot trefoil or grasses like tall fescue, meadow fescue or orchardgrass. Taller species in the seeding mix should be avoided.

Spring Green is a festulolium variety of note that resulted from collaboration between a Wisconsin beef producer and a University of Wisconsin (UW) forage grass breeder. This variety has improved cold-hardiness. However, all festulolium varieties included in UW tests rated only an “average” in winter hardiness, compared to “superior” and “good” ratings for nearly all orchardgrass, tall fescue and timothy varieties. Where winter snow cover is dependable, festulolium should have better winter survival. However, it should not be considered a “permanent” forage grass species.

Now, back to the original question, is this a cool-season forage grass you should consider? The answer is yes, especially if you’re primarily a grazing operation. Improvement of forage quality could improve livestock performance. Is there a risk it won’t pay off? Of course there is. That’s a good reason to try it on limited acreage in a mixture or alone and see how you like it.

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