Teff Planting Date Approaches

Richard Taylor, Extension Agronomist; rtaylor@udel.edu

A number of growers have been asking about when they can plant the new grass hay crop, teff (Eragrostis tef). Teff is an annual warm-season grass and therefore similar to the other annual warm-season grasses in the need to hold off planting until the soil temperature at a two or three inch depth remains consistently above 65°F and actually is expected to rise soon into the 70°F range. In Delaware, this generally occurs in the third or fourth week of May. Recent rains and cool weather has dropped soil temperatures. This frequently happens throughout early and mid-May. Planting too early will delay germination and sometimes results in poor weedy stands.

Growers in Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland have found that teff can be planted as late as the third week of June and will still allow growers to obtain several harvests. Keep in mind that once the temperatures begin to fall into the low forties in September or early October, teff growth will slow way down. The crop is quite frost sensitive and will generally be killed by the first frost in the fall.

A seeding rate of 4 to 8 pounds per acre of pelleted seed will be adequate to obtain a good grass stand. You should be sure that the seedbed is weed-free initially since the small seedlings are not very competitive although they become very competitive by four to six weeks post emergence. It is recommended that you apply about 50 to 75 lbs nitrogen (N) per acre at planting to carry the crop through the first harvest. Another application or two of N sometimes is needed to boost second and third harvest yields as well as maintain protein levels in the hay. Do not cut teff too close to the soil surface as it will need 3 to 4 inches of stubble to regenerate the stand.

Another important consideration in planting teff is seeding depth. Teff has a very small seed (1.25 million seeds per pound); and if planted much more than one quarter of an inch deep, the grass will have difficulty emerging, especially on some of our soils that tend to crust after a pounding rainstorm. In seedings where significant trash (crop residue) has remained on the soil surface, germination occurred best where there was the least residue, indicating the need for good soil to seed contact. Always firm up the seedbed both prior to planting and after the seed has been placed and covered in the seedbed. This will speed up germination and result in a better stand.

Forage analyses of teff hay have been variable, but generally lower than many growers have expected. Growers should keep in mind that teff is a warm-season grass and warm-season grasses, in general, have lower forage quality than the cool-season grasses. To help boost quality, teff should be cut for hay shortly after the seed heads begin to emerge from the boot and before it reaches full heading.

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