October 27, 2011
BELTSVILLE, Maryland: The hotter it gets, the better Eastern gamagrass, a native American prairie grass, grows.
This amazing grass is often called “The Queen of Grasses” because it has so many good qualities.
A hardy, warm-season grass, it not only tolerates and grows in marginal, acid soils that are compacted and water-logged, it actually improves them.
At a time of the year when cool-season grasses go dormant, Eastern gamagrass provides high-yielding forage that is as nutritious as alfalfa.
But, like alfalfa, it must be rotationally grazed to survive. This is why it has largely been overlooked until the growing adoption of Management-intensive Grazing.
The grass goes dormant at first frost but makes an excellent standing hay for wintertime dry cow use.
Eastern gamagrass is the only perennial grass found so far with an average daily gain high enough to forage finish beeves all summer long in hot climate areas.
It can do this because, the plant’s leaves are bigger and contain twice as much nitrogen as other grasses in summer.
Also, Eastern gamagrass seems to withstand hot, dry conditions by closing the stomates on its leaves during the day to reduce water use.
Recent research at Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Station found that Eastern gamagrass tripled its carbon storage as daytime temperatures climbed from 68 to 95 degrees F.
This means that it is unlikely to negatively affected by global warming and can by increasing its growth rate help mitigate the effect of high atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Eastern gamagrass can be grown in most of the Eastern half of the United States but does best where summers are hot but soils are heavy and moist.
As a result, it is an excellent choice for alluvial soils too wet to reliably graze in winter.
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