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NCSU research workers harvest seed of tall-growing experimental grass

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NCSU research workers harvest seed of tall-growing experimental grass
Agricultural experiment stations
Crop science
Seeds -- Harvesting
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Transcribed from accompanying press release: For A.M. Release Monday, March 8, and Thereafter; Tar Heel "Wonder Grass" Being Sought Worldwide: The key that could open the way for more rapid expansion of beef production in North Carolina may be provided by some remote region of far-away Afghanistan or mysterious Tibet. It is in these seemingly unlikely places, among others, that North Carolina State University scientists have sought a "wonder grass" that might be better suited to the state's peculiar climate than anything now being grown. The prime candidate currently, according to Dr. D. H. Timothy, is a tall-growing plant from Afghanistan called oriental pennisetum. "Preliminary work with this plant at the University research Farm at Raleigh and the Central Crops Research Station near Clayton has been very encouraging," the research scientist said. There is a possibility that North Carolina farmers could be growing the grass within about three years. Much depends on whether or not additional research funds become available to allow scientists to study the grass on research farms widely located over the Piedmont and Coastal Plain. Oriental pennisetum, which is a distant relative of pearl millet, is described by Dr. Timothy as "apparently very nutritious and digestible" for cattle. It has about three times the crude protein as corn silage; digestibility equal to that of alfalfa hay; and yields of about twice those of fescue of orchardgrass. "In some cases, yields have been even larger than that," Dr. Timothy commented. Fescue and orchardgrass are two of the mainstays among the pasture grasses--along with coastal bermudagrass--grown in North Carolina. The production potential of each, however, is severely limited by climate and growing conditions across the Piedmont and Coastal Plain. Fescue and orchardgrass are both cool season grasses, performing best in spring and fall but largely unproductive outside the mountains during the summer. Tar Heel farmers and fescue lawn buffs are thoroughly familiar with the performance--or lack of it--of this grass during summer months. It turns brown and virtually stops growing. What is needed is a grass that is better suited to the state's temperature and rainfall patterns. The imported oriental pennisetum in tests in the upper Coastal Plan and lower Piedmont has given evidence that it will grow from April or May right up until frost. "Even in drought periods," Dr. Timothy explained, "it maintains its green color, although it doesn't grow very much. Growth resumes, however, with the first rainfall." Another candidate for the state's obvious need for an outstanding perennial grass is switchgrass, unique in that it is one of the few native grasses that has shown any promise. It is found along canal banks and other low lying areas of the east. "It's potential may be even greater than that of oriental pennisetum," Dr. Timothy said, "but so far we haven't been able to get it established from seed under field conditions. We're continuing to work on that problem." From a scientific point of view, perhaps the most exciting project underway involves the search for and use of South American relatives of corn in breeding a new forage grass. Dr. Timothy, who has had a leading role in searching the wild Amazon Basin for genetic material for this project, said this study probably would be of very long duration. Despite the scientific and geographical challenges of this type of research, Dr. Timothy and his fellow scientists are convinced that the need justifies the effort. "The introduction of a truly outstanding perennial forage grass into North Carolina and the southeast, it seems to me, would have significant impact on our agriculture," he commented. "The tend is away from small row crop operations and toward larger land units. A superior forage grass that is well suited to our particular climate could enable farmers to manage enough grassland to have profitable beef operations." --Woody Upchurch--3/2/71
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