A review of summer-active tall fescue use and management in Australia’s high-rainfall zone

Throughout many areas of Australia, climatic conditions create a unique challenge for pasture producers due to the combined effects of heat and moisture deficit stress over summer/early autumn, and cold-temperature stress with transient waterlogging over winter and early spring. To survive and remain productive in this environment, pasture species must possess a wide range of adaptive traits, with few species being suited to both drought stress and waterlogging stress.

Tall fescue (Lolium arundinaceum syn. Festuca arundinacea Schreb.) is a perennial pasture grass that is not widely used in Australia, where perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) and phalaris (Phalaris aquatica L.) are the predominant improved pasture species. Summer-active cultivars of tall fescue may, however, possess adaptive traits (traits not possessed by other pasture grasses) that are useful in Australia. Summer-active tall fescue is generally more heat tolerant and deeper rooted than perennial ryegrass, with comparable nutritive value over much of the year and the benefit of improved summer productivity.

To sustain a high level of summer growth and persistence, it is likely that summer-active cultivars of tall fescue will be specifically suited to rainfall zones receiving >600 mm/year, with some summer rainfall. In areas where summer rainfall is unreliable, summer-active tall fescue may be suited to heavy textured waterlogging-prone soils that provide a source of stored soil moisture available for extraction over summer. This review documents the potential usefulness of summer-active tall fescue as a forage species in the high-rainfall zone (>600 mm) of Australia, particularly areas that experience the combined stresses of hot and dry summer conditions with cold conditions and transient waterlogging during winter.

This literature review considers research from around the world, with particular reference to New Zealand studies, which are highly relevant to the Australian environment. The response of tall fescue to a range of establishment, grazing and fertiliser management regimes is discussed, relevant to prevailing environmental conditions and other comparable forage species.

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