When renovating or establishing pastures, an important consideration is the selection of forage species and varieties. Forage species, as well as varieties within a species, vary significantly in yield, quality, and stand persistence, which combine to greatly impact performance and economic return to the operation. In addition to choosing an appropriate variety, proper seeding rates and seedbed preparation are necessary for the successful establishment of the selected variety.

Beginning in 2001, University of Kentucky researchers have published annually the results of trials comparing the performance of commercially available varieties of the most common forage species in Kentucky. Specific species include alfalfa, red and white clover, tall fescue, orchardgrass, annual and perennial ryegrass, timothy, Kentucky bluegrass, bromegrass, and annual warm-season grasses. Reports of these trials offer detailed information on forage yield, seedling vigor, stand persistence and grazing tolerance of the selected varieties. Variety trial publications include many tables of scientific data which prompts the question, “How can I use this to help decide on a variety?”

One of the first things to note is that the trials were conducted at different University research locations throughout the state: Lexington, Princeton, Jackson, and Owenton. Because climatic conditions vary between sites and years (and are included in the publication) you would want to use a variety that is well adapted to your region; take into consideration differences in weather and growing conditions between the site of the trial and your operation. Favorable adaptation to the region is indicated by a high and consistent level of performance across multiple years and locations.

Forage yields will often be the primary factor used when choosing varieties. For each location, the total yield for when the variety was evaluated is listed and includes an indication of whether this yield is statistically different from the highest yielding variety. As shown in the example (see table), yields of varieties with an asterisk are not considered different and will produce at similar levels under similar weather conditions. Besides forage yield, persistence and maturities can also be used to select varieties.

Please refer to the UK Forage website for access to the complete set of variety trial publications, located at http://www.uky.edu/Ag/Forage or printed copies from your local county extension office.

Commercial VarietyYield Total (tons/acre)
Variety A4.25*
Variety B4.13*
Variety C3.89

The total yields of varieties A and B are not different and would be expected to perform similarly. Variety C is lower yielding than varieties A and B. This table is to illustrate a typical variety trial and does not reflect any specific variety trial.