Effect of cereal companion crops on the establishment of red fescue (Festuca rubra L.) for seed production Public Deposited

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  • Some perennial grass seed crops such as red fescue (Festuca rubra L.) do not produce a profitable seed crop during the first growing season. The present establishment method in Oregon for red fescue seed crops generally entails spring planting which does not satisfy vernalization requirements for seed production in the year of planting. This establishment procedure relies on the amortization of establishment costs over the seed producing life of the stand. In Europe, perennial grass seed crops are often established with annual companion crops such as winter rape, flax, peas and cereals. Companion crops provide income in the year of establishment, thereby increasing the profitability of the seed production venture over the life of the stand. However, the companion crop competes with the grass seed crop for light, soil moisture and nutrients which often causes unsatisfactory establishment. The primary objective of this study was to determine the feasibility of establishing red fescue with cereal companion crops in Oregon's Willamette Valley. The second objective was to examine the influence of cereal companion crops, cultivars and row spacings on the growth and environment of red fescue. This was investigated to identify companion cropping methods that would be the least competitive with the establishing seed crop. The third objective was to evaluate the effect of companion cropping on subsequent red fescue seed production and income relationships over a two-year period. Two experiments were initiated in October 1982 and October 1983 at the Oregon State University Hyslop Crop Science Field Laboratory. 'Pennlawn' red fescue was established with two winter wheat cultivars, 'Hill 81' and 'Yamhill1, and two winter barley cultivars, 'Hesk' and 'Scio', as companion crops. Cereal companion crops were drilled in 15-, 30-, 45-, and 60-cm row spacings, perpendicular to red fescue rows. Red fescue was also established without a companion crop as a control. Companion crop tiller height, tillers m⁻² and leaf area tiller⁻¹ were measured to determine their influence on red fescue growth and development during establishment. The effect of cereal companion crops on red fescue environment was investigated by measuring photosynthetic photon flux density (PPFD) incident on red fescue plants and by determining soil moisture levels. Red fescue tiller height, leaf area, dry matter production, and tillers m⁻² were examined to evaluate the effect of companion crops on red fescue growth. Companion crop grain yields were obtained to calculate additional revenues from establishment with companion crops. First-year red fescue seed yield and yield components were measured to determine the seed production capability of red fescue established with cereal companion crops. Finally, a partial budgeting technique was employed to evaluate the economic feasibility of companion cropping in Oregon. Cereal companion crops markedly reduced PPFD incident on red fescue plants. This greatly decreased red fescue tiller m⁻², dry matter m⁻², individual tiller weight, and increased the height of tillers. Leaf area tiller⁻¹ was generally unaffected by companion crops. Increasing companion crop row spacing resulted in more red fescue tillers m⁻², dry matter m⁻² and reduced etiolation of tillers because of higher PPFD availability. Soil moisture content was not decreased by establishment with cereal companion crops. Although companion crops adversely affected red fescue growth during the establishment year, first-year seed yield was not significantly reduced. Red fescue seed yields ranged from 490 kg ha⁻¹ when planted with Hill 81 wheat to 654 kg ha⁻¹ with Scio barley. The seed yield of red fescue planted without a companion crop was 589 kg ha⁻¹. Establishment with Yamhill wheat in 15-cm rows increased net income over a two-year period by $416 ha⁻¹ over monocultural red fescue. Establishment with Hesk barley proved to be the least successful in terms of income. Establishment with companion crops was shown to be most profitable when cereal market prices were high and red fescue prices low. The results of this research clearly indicate the potential for increased profits by establishment of red fescue seed crops with cereal companion crops.
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