Tall fescue is a high-quality alternative to traditional perennial ryegrass or phalaris pastures. It often out-performs perennial ryegrass for persistence, animal performance in warm months, and has endophyte free animal health advantages. Being a deep-rooted plant, it is both productive, drought and heat tolerant, and depending on the cultivar, can either provide valuable summer, or winter production.
Tall fescue performs well on a wide range of soils, tolerating acid and moderately saline soils, and short periods of flooding. Summer-active types require minimum annual rainfall of 650 mm, and 450 mm rainfall for the winter-active types.
Tall fescue is usually sown as the sole grass component with clover at 12-25 kg/ha. Do not sow with ryegrass, as ryegrass dominance will severely reduce tall fescue persistence. Tall fescue is best established on high fertility, heavy or wetter soils, and can withstand acid or alkaline soils and poor drainage. It also responds well to nitrogen.
Wild tall fescue (often found on roadsides and wasteland) usually contains an endophyte (Neotyphodium coenophialum) which can be very toxic when grazed by stock. Commercial cultivars do not contain this toxic endophyte. MaxP - the endophyte for tall fescue, enhances the persistence of tall fescue.
The choice of tall fescue cultivar should be based on climatic conditions and the feed requirement of the farm.
- Summer-active (European) tall fescues are suited to hot, summer moist (rainfall or irrigation) areas where temperatures limit ryegrass growth. They will exhibit vigorous summer growth and moderate winter growth.
- Summer-dormant (Mediterranean) types are more suited to hot areas where moisture is the greater limiting factor. Whilst their summer growth is limited they will make a valuable contribution in winter.
Recommended requirements for tall fescue establishment
- Paddock size. Need to be able to be grazed quickly and independently of other grass paddocks.
- The eradication of existing weeds, seed bands and unwanted grass species. Use sprays and/or cultivation, or a break-crop rotation. A forage brassica crop may fit the farm system. For more information contact your local Territory Manager
- Fertile soils. Preferably soils with phosphorus levels of Olsen P 25-30+ (mg/kg) or Colwell P 40-60+ (mg/kg). Production and persistence are relative to soil fertility levels.
- Warm soils. At 10 cm deep, soils need to be 15oC or warmer at time of sowing.
- Moist soils at sowing and for six months after sowing. Flecha tall fescue is normally sown in autumn, following adequate rainfall and weed control.
- Fine, firm, moist, level seedbeds. Remove all turf clumps and make sure that clod size is less than a five cent coin, rolling for consolidation if necessary.
- Sowing depth of 1-1.5 cm. Sowing deeper can result in total failure.
- Fertiliser. Sowing with a nitrogen-based fertiliser is vital to obtain strong establishment, and ongoing nitrogen applications in late-autumn and then after each grazing for the first winter and spring, are recommended.
- Sowing method. Most methods can be used, where the ideal sowing rate can be achieved and seed is not deposited on the surface. Broadcasting without some form of incorporation or aerial sowing is not recommended. Direct-drilling can be used but requires more thorough preparation than is commonly needed to establish ryegrass. A correct and consistent seed depth must also be achieved.
- Normal pest precautions and monitoring. Follow recommended guidelines in your district for grass establishment.