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, teff is normally ground into flour, which is used to make injera, a flat bread. It is also used as a porridge, similar to cream of wheat, or fermented 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 increasing demand for additional production.
Nearly 4,000 varieties or cultivars of teff have been identified in Ethiopia. The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) 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 the grain 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 plot size of the 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 USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Soil Survey of the Fallon-Fernley area. The land had previously been used to produce alfalfa. The trial was arraigned 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 sq. ft.) with a 20-square-foot (3 foot by 6.7 foot) seeded area within each plot. This design resulted in a 1 foot, unseeded border between plots and a 1.3 foot border between rows. These areas were kept generally 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 plot. All plots were firmed following 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 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 were recorded. We also recorded 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 seed heads from the harvested plants were then clipped from the plant stalks and placed over a common window screen resting on a clear plastic container. The seed heads were rubbed vigorously between gloved hands to dislodge the seed. The seed heads were also rubbed vigorously against the screen. The seed heads were examined closely during the process to ensure that all the seeds had been removed before the seed heads were discarded. The seeds collected in the plastic container were rescreened to remove additional chaff and placed in a paper sack.
The seeds from each plot were cleaned on a Clipper© office model seed cleaner and weighed on an electronic balance and the results displayed as the pounds of clean seed per acre. 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 grain production trial and plant characteristics are displayed in table 2.
Table 2. Teff variety characteristics, growth stages, plant status and clean seed yields during 2009
* Seed yields with followed by the same letters are not significantly different from other varieties at 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.
Very large differences occurred among some varieties as expected. The top three varieties produced 1,000 pounds per acre, with the top performing variety, “Dessie,” producing more than 1,500 pound per acre. Conversely, the production of the bottom five varieties did not average 500 pounds per acre. The control variety, “Dessie,” which has often been used as a forage and grain source, was the top grain producing variety, but was in the bottom half of all varieties tested for biomass production (UNCE Fact Sheet # xxx). Seed color and yields appear to be independent of grain yields but maturity when harvested was important. Also, the top yielding varieties had all lodged (fallen over) by harvest time while the majority of the lower producing varieties were still upright at harvest. Teff stems are small in diameter and lodging may be an indicator of higher grain production due to heavier head weights.
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 grain source is advised to conduct small-scale trials on unknown varieties or plant commercial varieties that have proven to be high grain producers in their area.
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