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Harvesting Tips for Perennial Ryegrass Seed Production

Posted: Jul 18, 2022

A guide on ensuring your crop stays healthy and fungus-free this harvest

Our Early Harvesting Tips for Perennial Ryegrass

The weather this year is certainly different from what we experienced last year—but that's to be expected in the Prairies. Every year is full of surprises, and farmers need to adapt to whatever curveballs are thrown their way. With the frequent, heavy rain we're having and the delayed start to our growing season, there are some important things to keep in mind to ensure harvests are healthy and successful.

Rainy Weather Has Its Pros and Cons

Heavy rains make it more difficult to access fields, so it can be tempting to wait around for dryer conditions. However, delaying fertilizer applications can drastically affect yield potential in early-season grass seed crops.  Now is the time to address any fields that still require additional fertility.

Fungicide is especially important when the weather is consistently damp. That excess moisture within the dense grass stand creates an ideal breeding ground for pathogens and fungi.  Leaf and stem rust blows in with southerly winds and can be harmful to seed yield in perennial ryegrass. Our growers have been busy applying fungicides to protect their perennial ryegrass crops during the pollination and seed-setting stage.

When to Harvest Your Perennial Ryegrass

Harvest time will be about 7-10 days behind our typical schedule due to the late start to the season. With this in mind, here’s a reminder of signs that indicate your perennial ryegrass is ready to be swathed:

Seeds at the top of each spike will be the first to ripen and drop, but this is nothing to panic over.  There will always be some seed shatter prior to perennial ryegrass stands being ready to swath
Take a handful of perennial ryegrass heads and bang them into your hand.  You want to see a decent palm full of ripe seeds when it is time to cut.  Too many green seeds or entire spikelets falling in your palm indicates a field that needs a little more time to dry down 
Have a look at the base of your perennial ryegrass.  Is it drying down and browning off?  As you cut your perennial ryegrass, your stubble should have a tan/whitish hue to it.  Generally, if it is still green at the base, you’re likely cutting a little early.
Not 100% confident in assessing proper swath timing for your perennial ryegrass?  Not a problem, your BrettYoung Seed Production Specialist is on hand to help with this critical decision.

The Perks of Early Harvests with Perennial Ryegrass

The great thing about growing perennial ryegrass is that it's ready for harvest much earlier than other crops. This means you can extend your harvest over a few months instead of becoming overwhelmed with harvesting everything all at once.

Another great benefit of harvesting early is escaping the risk of early frost damage. It's not unheard of to experience freak frosts or snow in September, which can threaten the quality of your crops. With perennial ryegrass, harvest is wrapped up well in advance of these threats being a concern.

Tips for Successful Harvesting

Rebecca McCleary, a Seed Production Specialist here at BrettYoung, has some helpful tips for growers harvesting perennial ryegrass and other grass seeds.    

Firstly, it's advantageous to use smaller headers to create swathes more prone to drying down consistently.  An ideal swath will be 16-21 feet of material laid out as wide as possible to promote dry down.   Wider headers can be used successfully as well but will require longer dry down times due to the larger, more tightly packed nature of their swathes.

Faster is not necessarily better when swathing perennial ryegrass. Take care to lay out as even and consistent a swath as possible.  This will lead to better threshing conditions once you send the combine into the field in 4-5 days.

Make sure you are using adequate aeration when binning your seed at harvest time.  Even if your PRG is coming off dry (12%), it will need to be cooled to ensure safe storage and proper germination.

Thinking Ahead to Next Year’s Grass Seed Harvest

Another helpful practice that Rebecca recommends growers adopt is to leave behind 8-10 inches of consistent stubble when harvesting wheat and canola that has under-seeded perennial ryegrass. Good stubble is essential for catching snow to insulate and protect your perennial ryegrass from our harsh winter weather. Leave that stubble behind, and your grasses will be in great shape the following year.

Growing perennial ryegrass can be a game-changer for growers because there are many overlooked benefits. If you're interested in growing perennial ryegrass, or any other forage or turf seed species with BrettYoung, contact a Seed Production Specialist, and we'll be happy to help you get started.

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