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Cattle gain faster on Tifton 85; new bermudagrass hybrid has enhanced digestibility.

When the spriggers heard about the new bermudagrass it wasn't long before Earl Elsner's telephone began ringing.

"I started getting telephone calls the next day, saying, |I want some, I want some,'" recollects Elsner, director of the Georgia Seed Development Commission, which distributes seeds and cutting to certified growers.

The spriggers - who plant grass in clumps called sprigs - were excited by a report from a research team led by Agricultural Research Service scientist Glenn W. Burton. During a late-February workshop in Tifton, Georgia, Burton and colleagues Roger N. Gates and Gary hill told the spriggers about Tifton 85, which ARS and the University of Georgia had recently released.

Tifton 85 is the newest of ever-improving bermudagrass varieties developed by the ARS Forage and Turf Research Unit at Tifton. The group is headed by Burton, a research geneticist. During his 56 years with USDA, Burton's group at Tifton has developed several bermudagrass - including Tifton 78, Tifton 44, and Coastal - that are widely grown across the South.

Tifton 85 was jointly developed by Burton, Gates, an ARS agronomist in Burton's unit at Tifton, and Hill, a University of Georgia animal scientist. All are based at the Georgia Coastal Plain Experiment Station in Tifton.

Suitable for pasture or hay, Tifton 85 is a hybrid between a South African variety and another called Tifton 68. The new variety is taller and has larger stems, broader leaves, and darker green color than either its predecessors.

Because Tifton 85 doesn't produce seeds, it's grown by panting sprigs - clumps that include above-ground runner known as stolons and underground runners called rhizomes. the stolons and rhizomes spread horizontally and develop roots and a new plant at each joint.

The spriggers are excited about Tifton 85 because it has several key advantages over other bermudagrasses. During field studies from 1985-91, it produced an average of 26 percent more dry matter than Coastal bermudagrass, the popular variety first released in 1943 and now planted on 10 million acres across the southern United States

Also, in small-plot experiments, Tifton 85 was 11 percent higher than Coastal in digestibility-meaning cattle eating Tifton 85 forage could gain weight at a faster rate. This was illustrated in a 1989-91 steer grazing study, in which available forage was maintained at 2,500 pounds per acre in Tifton 78 and Tifton 85 pastures. Tifton 85 provided 38 percent more steer grazing days per acre and produced 47 percent more liveweight gain than the Tifton 78, another highly productive bermudagrass hybrid grown in the South.

"This new grass has great potential across the South," says Burton. "Bermudagrasses occupy more than half the pasture acreage in the southtern United States. Much of that acreage is suitable for Tifton 85."

Hill, who represented data on the grass at a southern regional animal science meeting in Kentucky in February, says, "There was a slot of interest. Everyone was pleasantly surprised that it did so well in our field studies compared with Tifton 78."

Tifton 85 is also drought tolerant - "at least as drought tolerant as any of the hybrid bermudagrasses." said Hill. He noted that in 1990 - Georgia's worst drought year since 1954 - there were no apparent losses and "cattle continued to graze on it at high stocking rates."

One of the new few remaining questions about Tifton 85 is its ability withstand cold. In December 1989, it survived unusually low temperature of 7 [degrees] F to 28 [degrees] F in Athens, Georgia, but it was planted at a depth of 4 inches - double the normal depth Burton is conducting further studies to determine if deeper planting depths will protect it from freezing temperatures.

Although planting may be limited to the Deep South, the researchers say it could be grown across the southern United States from Georgia to California. Elsner says spriggers from a half-dozen states - including Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, and North Carolina - attended the workshop last February. He expects sprigs of Tifton 85 to be available from certified seed growers on a limited in 1993.

Cattle ranchers who want Tifton 85 sprigs should contact the crop improvement association in their state for the names of certified sprigs producers.
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Author:Adams, Sean
Publication:Agricultural Research
Date:Aug 1, 1992
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