Crabgrass and a Living Legend

Crabgrass is a summer annual grass that can be a valuable part of a full season grazing and hay program in Kentucky. Crabgrass is highly palatable and is well adapted to Kentucky although it is often thought of as a weed. It has often been part of Kentucky pastures, especially those that have been overgrazed. The advent of improved varieties of crabgrass has changed the perception of crabgrass as an opportunistic weed to a valuable high quality forage. This article is an update on the varieties available, quick establishment tips and a bit about the family behind the improved varieties of crabgrass.

Figure 1. Crossbred steers grazing improved crabgrass as part of the grass-fed beef operation of Michael and Stacey Palmer of Marshall County Kentucky. Improved crabgrasses are the result of the visionary work of R.L Dalrymple and Dalrymple Family Farm in Thomas, Oklahoma.

Crabgrass can be established using a prepared seedbed, but it also has value as a renovation forage for tall fescue pastures, especially areas that have been disturbed by hay feeding or livestock trampling. Crabgrass will make good use of the soil nutrients left behind in hay feeding areas. These areas are ideal for the introduction of crabgrass because the soil is already disturbed. Crabgrass establishes best when it is worked into the soil between ¼ to ½ inch deep. No-till seedings are possible but depth control is critical.

For renovation, crabgrass should be broadcast at 3 to 6 lb/acre onto disturbed sod and rolled with a cultipacker. Chain harrowing after seeding can help cover the seed, which is essential for successful establishment. Seed may need to be mixed with a carrier such as pelletized lime to flow through spinner seeders. It is critical to check the spread of crabgrass seed as it typically only travels half as far as a carrier. Crabgrass can be seeded with red clover for additional yield and forage quality. For more information on using crabgrass for forage, see UK publication AGR-232 Crabgrass. To get to the online version quickly, type ‘crabgrass uky’ into your web browser.

The driving force behind improved crabgrass varieties is one man, R.L. Dalrymple. RL spent a career at the Noble Foundation doing applied research and extension on pasture and grazing systems. Growing up he observed how his parents had used crabgrass for forage on their west central Oklahoma farm. As part of his Noble Foundation efforts, R.L. selected and released ‘Red River’ as a public variety in 1988 and he has released other varieties as shown below. All of these improved crabgrasses are erect, high yielding, high quality annual forages.

Red River. The original improved variety, released by Noble Foundation as a public release. There are known problems with uncertified seedlots, so it is best to specify Certified seed.

Impact. Derived from Red River at the Noble Foundation, this variety was selected to grow longer into the fall. Barenbrug has the marketing rights. Impact is a component of the commercial blend ‘Mojo’.

Dal’s Big River®. A refinement and improvement over Red River only available as trademarked, certified Seed. Red River and Dal’s Big River have rough seed coats that can have variable amounts of ‘fuzz’ making the seed flow poorly through spinner spreaders and conventional seeding equipment. As noted above, carriers help seed flow.

Quick-N-Big®. Quick-N-Big was released in 2010 and was selected to germinate earlier and provide quicker earlier growth than Red River or Dal’s Big River. It is very upright in its growth habit.

Quick-N-Big Spreader®. Released in 2016, this variety is much like Quick-N-Big except it tends to root more around the crown, if there is space to spread. Quick-N-Big and Quick-N-Big Spreader have smooth seed coats and flow more readily than Red River and Dal’s Big River.

Mojo. Mojo is a commercial blend of Impact and Red River varieties, owned and distributed by Barenbrug. Mojo is only available as coated seed, and the coating comprises 50% of the bag. Coating greatly improves the ability of the crabgrass to flow through drills and spread from spinner seeders.

Crabgrass usage in Kentucky is growing, such as producing grass finished beef at Michael Palmer’s farm in Marshall County. Having a high quality summer grass alternative that can complement tall fescue is a valuable option.

I am sure R.L. would be work pretty hard to deflect any accolades for this work. Yet accolades are due. In my opinion he is one of the legends of forage agriculture, both for improved crabgrasses as well as a career of contributions to farmers and ranchers. And it is a privilege indeed to know a living legend. ~ Dr. Jimmy Henning, originally published in  Farmer’s Pride.