Bahiagrass occupies more acres of land in Alabama than any other forage species. However, someone who lives in North Alabama might find that statement hard to believe because most of the bahiagrass in Alabama is in the southern one-half or so of the state. This hardy grass, which is native to South America, can be grown on soils and sites ranging from drought-prone sands to fairly heavy clays and from upland sites to wet-natured bottom fields.
Bahiagrass can be used for either pasture or hay, but is most commonly used for pasture. Although a number of hybrid Bermuda-grasses have a higher yield potential, bahiagrass has a longer growing season than Bermudagrass and consequently provides more calendar days of grazing. Unlike hybrid Bermudagrasses, bahiagrass can be propagated by seed, and is quite tolerant of a wide range of fertility regimes. Once established in an area in which it is adapted, it will persist almost regardless of how it is managed.
Pasture acreage in North Alabama is dominated by cool-season forages, especially tall fescue. While cool-season forage species can provide a good supply of nutritious pasture forage in spring and autumn, production in summer is poor. Warm-season pasture forage options in North Alabama and areas with similar climate are limited, but another option is now available in the form of the variety ‘AU Sand Mountain’ bahiagrass developed and released by Auburn University.
This variety originated from a patch of Pensacola bahiagrass planted in the early 1960s on what is now the Sand Mountain Research and Extension Center near Crossville. Over time, nature selected the hardiest plants and, in 1984, Dr. Edzard van Santen, a plant breeder in the Department of Agronomy and Soils at Auburn University, collected seed from this ecotype and began working with it. Since that time it has been included in numerous yield trials in Alabama and in several other states.
The variety has been proven to be more winter hardy than other bahiagrass varieties and will expand the area of adaptation of bahiagrass farther north. The exact northern limit is not known, but is likely at least as far north as Central Tennessee. In the upper portion of the area where bahiagrass has been commonly grown, AU Sand Mountain has consistently yielded better than other varieties. However, the farther south the new bahiagrass is grown, the less likely it is to outperform currently available varieties.
AU Sand Mountain Bahiagrass will provide another warm-season perennial grass option for livestock producers north of the area where bahiagrass has typically been grown. It may be particularly useful in areas where a warm season perennial grass is needed but sites and soils are too moist for good Bermudagrass production. (Note: in some areas bahiagrass may out-compete other perennial forages, so plantings should be limited to areas where there is no concern about this occurring).
In addition, this variety will provide a higher-yielding bahiagrass option for persons in the northern portion of the area in which this grass is presently commonly grown. Persons interested in obtaining more information about this new variety should contact Dr. Jim Bostick, Executive Vice President of the Alabama Crop Improvement Association, whose phone number is (334) 693-3988. To order or be placed on the waiting list for seed, please contact Grady Congo (256-308-1732) or Bill Reedy (256-308-1706) at Agri-AFC in Decatur.
Dr. Don Ball is an Extension Agronomist/Professor in the Department of Agronomy and Soils at Auburn University and Dr. Jim Bostick is Executive Vice President of Alabama Crop Improvement Association in Headland.