Teff Eragrostis tef (Zucc.) Trotter is a self-pollinated, annual, warm season grass that is used throughout the world as grain for human consumption and as forage for livestock. The amount of teff produced in the United States is increasing rapidly due to the plant’s popularity as an especially nutritious grain and as high-quality horse hay. The word teff means “lost” because teff seed is the smallest grain in the world, and if you drop it on the ground it will be lost. There are approximately 1.25 million seeds to the pound. That means 150 grains of teff is equal to a single grain of wheat.
Teff is an ancient grain that was believed to have been domesticated in Ethiopia between 4000 and 1000 BC. The grain is still a major component of the diet of millions of individuals from northeast Africa and Asian countries.
When grown as a grain it is normally ground into flour, which is used to make injera, a flat bread eaten with every meal. It is also used as a porridge, similar to cream of wheat or fermented and used to make an alcoholic beverage.
Teff grain does not contain gluten and is an increasingly important dietary component for individuals who suffer from gluten intolerance or Celiac disease.
In the U.S., most of the teff production is used for forage. Over the past five years, the acreage devoted to teff production has exploded, and teff is currently grown in at least 25 states across the nation.
Although the acreage devoted to grain production in the U.S. is small, increasing demands for teff grain by African immigrants and gluten intolerant individuals is driving the expansion of acreage for this purpose.
Nearly 4,000 varieties or cultivars of teff have been identified in Ethiopia. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Research Service Plant Germplasm Introduction and Testing Research Station (PGITRS) laboratory in Prosser, Wash., has nearly 400 numbered cultivars. Most of these cultivars have not been formally evaluated for grain or biomass production potential over large geographic areas. Therefore, information about production potentials of the various cultivars is very limited. The purpose of this study was to quantify biomass production potential of 15 teff cultivars in western Nevada.
The PGITRS supplied 12 varieties of teff that ranged in color from dark brown to white (Table 1). A dark brown and white variety was supplied by a representative of a teff marketing firm, and the variety “Dessie” was selected as a control. Approximately 2 grams of each variety was available from the PGITR, which limited the size of test plots.
Table 1. Seed source and characteristics for 15 teff varieties tested in Fallon, Nevada
The trial was located on a Dia loam soil as described in the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Soil Survey of the Fallon, Fernley area. The land had previously been used to produce alfalfa. The trial was arranged in a randomized, complete block design with three replications of each variety planted. The total plot area allocated to each variety was 4 feet by 8 feet (32 ft sq.) with a 20- square-foot (3 feet by 6.7 feet) seeded area within each plot. This design resulted in a 1 foot unseeded border between plots and 1.3-foot border between rows. These areas were generally kept free of all vegetation to clearly define the different varieties and reduce competition.
The plot area was plowed, disced, and leveled prior to seeding on June 4, 2009. Seeding was accomplished by hand using a common salt shaker with all but three of the holes in the lid being plugged. The seeding rate was equivalent to 3 pounds per acre (.023 oz/plot) with the seed distributed evenly over each seeded plot. All plots were firmed after seeding by systematically walking on all areas within the plots. The area surrounding the plots was seeded with a 15-foot-wide border of common barley to facilitate weed control. The plots were flood irrigated beginning June 13, 2009 and then on a regular basis until harvest began during September 2009. The plots were sprayed with 2,4-D LV 4 at .94 lbs/acre acid equivalent during the tillered stage of growth (July 9, 2009) to control broadleaved weeds and volunteer alfalfa. Plots were subsequently hand weeded on a regular basis to control grass weeds until harvest.
The plots were monitored weekly. We recorded date(s) when the boot stage and full heading occurred for each variety. Harvest began when seed heads were mature.
Prior to harvest, information on average plant height and panicle length was collected. We also recorded the stage of maturity and whether the plant had lodged (fallen over). Harvest consisted of clipping the entire plot at ground level using a gas-powered hedge trimmer. The resulting biomass was immediately weighed and a grab sample was obtained from each plot. The grab sample was weighed, placed in a paper bag and subsequently dried in a microwave oven until the weight stabilized. The percent moisture and total dry matter was calculated following the drying process. Wet weights from each plot were then adjusted to a 100 percent dry matter basis with the final results displayed in tons/acre for each variety. An analysis of variance (ANOVA) was performed on the variety means with mean separation at the <0.05 level.
Results and Discussion
The results of the biomass trial and plant characteristics are displayed in table 2.
Table 2. Teff variety characteristics, growth stages, plant status and dry biomass yields during 2009
* Biomass yields followed by the same letters are not significantly different from other varieties at the P< 0.05 level using Tukey’s HSD mean separation.
Note: Lodged plants are plants that have fallen over prior to harvest. Lodged plants prohibit direct harvest using a combine.
Large differences occurred among some varieties, as expected. The top seven varieties produced between 7 and 9 tons of dry matter, while the bottom six produced less than six tons per acre. The control variety, “Dessie,” which has often been used as a forage source, was in the lower 50 percent of the varieties tested. The top variety, # 193508, produced over twice as much dry matter as the worst performing variety, # 494433. Seed color and yields appear to be independent of biomass yields (UNCE Fact Sheet #10-36), as does maturity when harvested. The second highest yielder and lowest yielding variety were rated as immature when harvested.
This trial demonstrates the wide variety of yields that can be expected from different varieties of teff. A producer wishing to grow teff as a forage source is advised to conduct small scale trials on unknown varieties or plant commercial varieties that have proven to be high biomass producers in their area.
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