For most field crops, there are well established management guidelines for growers to follow. With teff for forage, the do’s and don’ts of crop management are still being refined. Even so, there are some very important do’s and don’ts to pay attention to.
Hold off planting teff until soil temperatures are in the 65 degree Fahrenheit range. This means teff should be planted after most other forages and row crops. Planting earlier may slow stand establishment and give weeds an unnecessary head start. Teff is a C-4 grass like corn and sorghums and will produce best during periods of maximum heat unit accumulation. Growth will slow as days become shorter in the fall and will cease upon the first killing frost.
Teff has performed well on soil types ranging from low-desert sands to waterlogged clays. The species appears to tolerate a wide range of soil pH from acid to alkaline and reacts to salinity much like alfalfa but better than most sorghum types.
Seed Bed Preparation
Planting into a firm seed bed is essential for stand establishment. Teff seed is small and must be placed near the soil surface with good seed soil contact for quick, vigorous germination. Prepare a bed that your heel barely marks or “you can bounce a basketball on” as some agronomists advise. When complete tillage isn’t possible, remove the trash, seed shallow, cover and firmly pack.
Teff is considered a low input crop, requiring minimal fertilization. Plantings following alfalfa or sod may not require additional nitrogen for the first harvest. However, teff following a small grain may need nitrogen applied for the first harvest. Generally, total seasonal supplemental nitrogen needs will be in the 50-90 pound range depending upon yield, the number of crops and nitrogen source. Don’t over apply nitrogen as fertilizer or as manure. Lodging may occur which can reduce yield and stand persistence. Some phosphorous and trace elements may be beneficial but soil test before applying.
To maximize forage production, select a variety bred for forage production and not a grain type. Grain types tend to mature earlier than forage types which usually translates to less yield and lower forage quality.
Teff seed is very small and as raw, untreated seed averages 1.3 million per pound and is difficult to sow. For this reason, most growers prefer coated seed. The coating lowers the seed count per pound but increases the size and ballast of the seed for easier distribution by planters and a more accurate seed placement. A colorant is also part of the coating which helps growers gauge seeding depth and coverage.
Planting Rates and Planters
The recommended seeding rate is usually 5 to 7 pounds per acre for raw seed and 7 to 10 pounds per acre for coated seed. Seeding rates above these ranges may lead to lodging, stand loss and reduced yield.
Stands can be established with broadcast spinners, the Brillion seeder and thru the small seed box of most grain drills provided the seed bed has been properly firmed beforehand. After planting, it is a good practice to roll or cultipack the field to insure good soil seed contact. Avoid dragging after planting, which tends to bury seed too deep for uniform germination.
Teff can be aerial applied but the seeding rate of coated seed should be 10-14 pounds per acre.
Teff can be planted in the spring after the risk of frost has passed. For quick emergence, the soil temperature should be at least 65 degrees Farenheit and warming. When double cropping teff after forages or small grains, the critical concern is soil moisture rather than soil temperature. Whenever possible, manage teff for quick, uniform emergence.
For best results, place seed no deeper than 1/8 to 1/4 inch deep and pack for good soil seed contact. Planting at this shallow depth, will leave seed uncovered on the surface but limit seed placed deeper than desired. Usually seed placed deeper than ½ inch won’t emerge. The recommended seeding rate allows for this imperfect seed placement. Seed placed at the recommended depth in a firm, moist seed bed usually emerges in 4 or 5 days.
Seed bed preparation, soil temperature and seeding depth are the key cultural practices for weed control in teff. There are few labeled herbicides so the primary weed control on the majority of U.S. acres is accomplished by the following cultural practices:
- Controlling weeds in the previous crop or pasture
- Pre-till to incorporate field residue and to get a “first flush” weed growth
- Planting after reaching a 65 degree soil temperature encourages quick emergence
- Later planting dates and stand density can help reduce weed competition
- Usually, if teff emerges quickly and has a two week window of favorable weather to establish a root system, the crop can outcompete most weeds
- Most broadleaf weeds can be removed with the first harvest 45-55 days after planting
Herbicide options are limited, but herbicides are currently being evaluated by researchers and chemical companies. Growers should check with their local suppliers and follow all labeled instructions. If the broadleaf herbicide Latigo is applied, it should not occur until the teff plant has at least 2 leaves and before the boot stage.
Teff appears to be most productive in U.S. geographies having 24” or more of annual rainfall or the availability of supplemental irrigation. Established teff has also shown the ability to handle 100+ degree temperatures and drought stress longer than other forage species.
Disease and Insects
To this date, there are no known serious disease or insect pests of teff grass.