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Perennial grass hybrid fights salinity

Farmers have been fighting saline patches across the prairies since the days of the earliest settlers.

November 19, 2007  By Lorne McClinton

80aFarmers have been fighting saline patches across the prairies since the days
of the earliest settlers. An Alberta Agriculture study estimates as many as
5.5 million acres on the prairies are affected. Since few crops or grasses will
tolerate salinity, salt tolerant weeds like foxtail barley and kochia have overrun
most patches. However, a new salt-tolerant hybrid forage grass may help in the
battle to control salinity by producing a productive stand of palatable grass
that can creep into saline areas.

The new grass forage, NewHy RS WheatGrass, is a hybrid cross of quackgrass
and bluebunch wheat grass. NewHy was developed by the United States Department
of Agriculture's Utah agricultural experiment station more than a decade ago.
For the last nine years, Miller Seeds has distributed it in Canada from Milk
River, Alberta. Proven Seed and Miller Seeds have now formed a strategic alliance
to broadly distribute the variety across the prairies.

NewHy RS is a long-lived perennial grass with the excellent forage nutritional
characteristics of bluebunch wheat grass. Like quackgrass, it is a creeping
rooted grass that will keeping spreading by rhizomes until it forms a sod.


"It does very well in saline conditions," says Proven Seed's Saskatchewan
technical marketing representative, Peter Novak. "NewHy will grow in areas
where soil salinity is as high as EC 26mS/cm (milasemins per centimetre). In
tests, we watered trays with salt water and saw good establishment at an EC
of about 7mS/cm. This would be comparable to tall wheat grass but it's very
lush, more palatable and has very good feed quality. It's fairly aggressive
and produces enough foliage in saline areas to out compete foxtail barley, so
it certainly has a pretty good fit."

Novak says that NewHy RS was even able to establish on white crusted soils
in 2004. However, he attributes this to higher than normal moisture throughout
the summer. In normal years, the grass would likely establish around the edges
of these areas and then slowly creep into them as the stand matures.

One day, Novak expects NewHy to be part of Proven Seed's common pasture blends
for variable soils. Currently, the company recommends producers seed NewHy in
pure stands. Most producers are currently seeding it on three to 15 acre plots
to see how it performs in high saline areas and try to out-compete foxtail barley.

Like most hybrid seeds, NewHy is not cheap to seed. "Right now NewHy RS
sells for approximately $6 a pound," Novak says.

Novak recommends a seeding rate of six pounds per acre. At $36 per acre, the
cost is just a little more than for a typical pasture blend. He says that in
all honesty, that price is on the low side because NewHy should probably be
seeded at about eight pounds per acre.

"We do cover it under our Performance Promise program, so we do guarantee
establishment. For 2005, we will give a 100 percent performance promise on seed.
To qualify, the seed needs to be in the ground by June 7." -30-



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