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Texas Agriculture Archive

May 7, 2004

Tifton 85:
Setting the record straight!


By Lana Robinson
Field Editor

East Texas cattlemen and hay producers who have refrained from planting Tifton 85 bermudagrass because they have heard it is difficult to establish had those doubts put to rest and learned how best to get a successful stand at an April 19 field day hosted by Chamness Land and Cattle Company, Poyner.

"Don't fall for that. Tifton 85 is no harder to establish than any other bermudagrass," said Dr. Larry Redmon, Extension forage specialist.

Redmon, who with fellow forage specialists has performed extensive trials with Tifton 85 and other bermudagrasses, was on hand to set the record straight about this amazing grass developed by Dr. Glen Burton and released in 1991. According to Redmon, Tifton 85 was selected for improved nutritive value, high dry matter yield, and increased drought tolerance.

"Dr. Burton was also the breeder of coastal bermuda. Tifton 85 is no more cold tolerant, but has a much higher level of digestibility—60 percent better than coastal. In my opinion, Tifton 85 is Dr. Burton's 'crowning achievement,'" Redmon said.

Redmon indicated that Tifton 85 is showing the best growth and nutritional results of all hybrid bermudas in research trials over the past five years at the Overton Center.

"We've seen 5 inches per day stollon growth. It's a remarkable grass. Actually, there is no significant difference between Tifton 85 and Jiggs in growth, but Tifton stands alone in nutrition," Redmon emphasized. "Tifton 85 was selected for deep, droughty sands. It has improved drought tolerance when compared to coastal. It does okay in clay and blacklands, although black soil is not a good bermudagrass site. It can be planted in deep East Texas and as far west as Pecos and up to Lubbock, if you irrigate it."

Redmon began by discussing the economics of Tifton 85.

"It's expensive, so you must be serious. I do not recommend it for a cow/calf producer. It's hard to pay $150 to $200 per acre and make that ever pencil out, but if you're in the horse hay business or run stocker cattle, you can pay that back pretty quick," he suggested.

Redmon stressed the importance of initiating the planning process the year prior to actual planting for the best chance of getting a good stand and having the forage available at the right time. He advised prospective planters of the bermudagrass to destroy existing perennial grass vegetation in the field in late summer, using 5 quarts/acre of glyphosate (Roundup). He said to begin initial seedbed preparation approximately two weeks after the herbicide application and recommends planting a small grain or ryegrass on the site to minimize soil erosion and provide winter/spring grazing for livestock (that will be disked under during the last seedbed preparation in late March). He also underscored the importance of obtaining a soil sample and applying recommended phosphorus (P) early during seedbed preparation. He said to apply the recommended lime (ECCE approaching 100 if possible) later during seedbed preparation.

"Locate a reliable source of Tifton 85 sprigs well before planting time," he said. "Unlike the coastal sprigs, which are usually dug during the dormant stage, dig Tifton 85 sprigs only after they have broken dormancy. Sprigs should be fresh and planted the same day they are dug. Sprigs should be planted two to three inches deep. Rolling helps to ensure good sprig-soil contact and good establishment."

Redmon said you can also plant tops from Tifton 85, like some do with Alisha or Jiggs, but it is more risky. To increase the chances of success, he recommends waiting until the stem has at least six nodes before you cut it.

"I would establish a nursery plot by planting springs. Then go prepare the seedbed on 50 acres and when you have a good chance of rain, cut your tops and plant," he said.

Whether planting sprigs or tops, Redmon said to use 1.5 to 3 pints/acre of Direx 4L or Diuron 4L pre-emergent herbicide within a day or two of planting.

"As an alternative, use 1 to 2 quarts/acre of Weedmaster within the same time period to minimize broadleaf weed problems and to suppress many small-seeded annual grasses," he added.

Redmon recommends planting 30-40 bushels of Tifton 85 sprigs to the acre, ideally into a moist seedbed, just prior to a gentle ¾-inch precipitation event. When sprigs begin to green up, apply 4 to 60 lbs of actual N/acre and any potassium (K) according to soil test recommendation. Pay close attention to broadleaf weed competition and control with appropriate herbicides, the forage specialist said.

"Chicken litter on these sandy soils is one of the best products you can purchase and use for fertilizer in your pastures," Redmon suggested. "You get nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and calcium. Some people say all that organic matter raises the soil pH too much, but it would take 10 to 20 years to get there. It's an inexpensive alternative, unless you have to haul it from a long way off."

Redmon said the new stand of Tifton 85 should be grazed only lightly or only harvested for hay one time prior to mid September.

"Allow forage to go into the winter with 6 to 8 inches of stubble height. And do not overseed with winter annuals the first season," he advised.