Tef (Eragrostis tef) is a warm season, annual grass native to Ethiopia. It grows as fine-stemmed clumps with many tillers. The clumps vary in height from 10 to 50 inches, depending on the variety. The numerous leaves are narrow, hairless, smooth and grow nearly as tall as the seed heads. The root system is fibrous and shallow, but massive. The seeds are tiny (1.25 million/pound) and grow in various shades of white, red, brown, or almost black, again depending variety. They are produced in heads that range from very open to compact. Figure 1 is a line drawing of a typical tef plant.
Nevada Cooperative Extension fact sheet #04-51 discuses tef uses, adaptations and recommended agronomic practices in detail. It also provides information on the results of the 2003 tef demonstration trial efforts. This fact sheet describes the results of the 2004 trial.
Fallon Demonstration 2004
In early 2003 a major tef producer from Idaho contacted the author concerning the possibilities of large scale tef production (500 acres) by local agricultural producers. Although interested, no local producers would commit to a tef production contract. Because of the interest shown, Cooperative Extension and a local cooperator completed a demonstration trial in 2003. The results of the demonstration trial completed in 2003 were disappointing, but a second trial on better soils was completed in 2004. The purpose of the work in 2004 was to evaluate the survival and production potential of tef on high quality soils in the Lahontan Valley.
Figure 1. Typical tef plant showing leaf shape and seed head.
The 2004 trial had several components. The first was determining seed yields and straw production of tef. The second was to evaluate tef hay production, and the third was to compare tef hay production to a sorghum-sudangrass planting, which is often used as an annual summer forage. The 2004 demonstration trial was seeded on May 27, 2004. It was seeded in a Sagouspe loamy, sand soil that had produced alfalfa for several years before the tef. In the Fallon-Fernley area soil survey, the Sagouspe soil was classified by the Natural Resources Conservation Service as IIw-22 Irrigated. The description for this soil unit indicates it is very deep and somewhat poorly drained. The soils have a surface layer of loamy sand or loamy fine sand, a subsoil of loamy sand and clay loam, and stratified substrata that range from coarse sand to silty clay. Permeability is moderately slow with the available water capacity of 5 to 7 inches. The major limitations listed for this soil are related to wetness, moderately low available water capacity, and coarse texture of the surface soil.
The field was disked, harrowed, and leveled. Approximately 75 pounds of actual nitrogen per acre were incorporated into the soil prior to seeding.
The tef seed production trial was seeded at 2.5 pounds per acre gross weight. The hay trial was seeded at 5 pounds per acre gross weight. The tef seed and hay crops were planted on approximately 2.5 acres each. The tef variety was not stated and was provided by Mr. Wayne Carlson of the Tef Company in Caldwell, Idaho. He indicated it was a variety that matured approximately 2 weeks earlier than the common tef variety “Dessie”.
The tef was seeded using a “gandy” fertilizer box that dropped the seed on to a fertilizer spinner. The spinner broadcast the tef seed in a swath that was approximately 15 feet wide. The field was firmed immediately after seeding using a cultipacker.
A sorghum-sudangrass variety (#877F) was seeded at the same time as the tef, using a standard grain drill at approximately 60 pounds per acre. It was planted as a comparison crop to compare hay yields. The sorghum-sudangrass was planted on approximately 1.5 acres.
The first irrigation occurred immediately after seeding on May 28, 2004. It was followed by irrigations on June 4, June 17, June 30, July 13, July 25, and August 5, 2004. The total amount of irrigation water applied from seeding to harvest was 2.9 acre feet. This compares to a normal application of irrigation water to alfalfa of 3.5 to 4.0 acre feet.
The recommended time to spray tef for broadleaf weed control is when the tef plants have initiated tillering (approximately 4-5weeks after emergence). The crop was sprayed with 2,4-D amine at 2 pounds acid equivalent per acre to control broadleaf, annual weeds on June 26, 2004. The weed control treatment was generally successful and the majority of weeds had been eliminated before the seed was harvested. (Note the 2,4-D label for the specific product used must specify small grains, grass seed crops, or forage grasses on the label to be used on tef.)
The first harvest of the tef hay trial and sorghum-sudangrass was on July 20, 2004. They were cut and conditioned with a New Holland 2550 swather, windrowed, dried, and then chopped. The tef hay was dried to approximately 7% moisture while the sorghum-sudangrass hybrid was 8% moisture when weighed and sampled for quality. The tef was in the early flowering stage when cut. The sorghum-sudangrass was in boot stage when harvested. Both grasses were harvested to a 4” stubble height to facilitate re-growth. The hay was irrigated approximately 10 days after it had been cut. Table 1 shows the results of the first hay harvest from the tef and sorghum-sudangrass hay.
Table 1. Hay production values from tef and sorghum-sudangrass harvested July 20, 2004.
The tef and sorghum-sudangrass hay was analyzed for nutrient quality at the time of harvest. The hay quality results indicate that tef hay was marginally better in quality than the sorghum-sudangrass hay (Table 2).
Table 2. Average Dry Matter (DM), Crude Protein (CP), Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF), and Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN) percentages for tef and sorghum-sudangrass harvested in July 2004.
The tef seed harvest began on September 9, 2004. The first attempt to harvest the tef was by direct combining. The effort was a failure as a majority of the tef plants severely lodged as they matured. The combine was unable to cut and thresh the plants because of constant plugging from the large amount of green plant material (leaves and stems). The operation was resumed after the tef plants were cut, using a New Holland 2550 swather. The swather was set to form a windrow approximately eight feet wide to speed drying time. The conditioner rollers were adjusted to the widest settings to prevent seed shatter. The windrows were allowed to dry for approximately 4 days until the plants were dry enough to combine.
The seed was harvested from the windrows using an older “Gleaner” combine with a 12-foot header. The combine concave settings were closed as tightly as possible, and the airflow was set low to avoid blowing the small seed out the back of the combine.
The grain yields were much higher in 2004 than those recorded in 2003. Approximately 22% of the material harvested was composed of straw and plant materials other than seed. Mr. Wayne Carlson rated the seed as acceptable quality in the categories of color, taste, and plumpness.
The tef field harvested for hay on July 20, 2004 was cut and combined to determine seed yields from the re-growth that occurred after the hay harvest. Table 3 shows the seed yields obtained from both trials in 2004.
Table 3. Tef seed yields from the seed and hay trials on the Peraldo farm in 2004.
An advantage of tef seed production is that the straw remaining after the combining can be used as a forage source. The yields can be relatively high with acceptable quality and decent palatability. The straw remaining after the seed harvest in 2004 was weighed and analyzed for some major quality indicators using standard wet chemistry methods in a private lab.
The tef straw was chopped and fed by the cooperator to cows and calves on his farm. The cooperator reported the cattle consumed the tef as readily as the other grasses normally fed. The straw yields of tef are shown in table 4, while the quality indicators are depicted in table 5. As a comparison, to the tef yields, sorghum-sudangrass yields and quality are also displayed in table 4 and 5.
Table 4. Tef straw yields remaining after seed harvest and sorghum-sudangrass yields from the one and two cut system.
When the straw yields (after seed harvest) from the tef hay trial are combined with the first hay harvest, a total yield of 3.5 tons per acre tef hay/straw was achieved. Combining both sorghum-sudangrass cuts, reveals a total yield of 4 tons/acre.
Table 5. Selected quality indicators for tef straw remaining after seed harvest.
The tef straw remaining after the seed was harvested from the hay trial had nearly 2 times as much crude protein as the straw from the seed trial. The authors speculate that was due to the much longer time required to dry the straw in the seed trial prior to combining. The twice cut sorghum-sudangrass quality was higher than the other forages due to the younger growth stage of the plants when harvested.
The seed yields of the tef grown strictly for seed were high enough to warrant commercial production on a larger scale by the cooperating producer. The combination of seed sales, plus the yield of straw following seed harvest resulted in significantly more income than his normal production practices.
The tef hay yields were approximately the same as the two cut system of sorghum-sudangrass and less than half of the single cut sorghum-sudangrass crop. However, the yields were comparable to cool season grasses such as winter wheat or oats normally grown as a rotation crop. The costs of production are less due to the small amounts of tef seed needed when planting for hay.
The 2004 results indicate that tef seed shows promise as an alternative crop in western Nevada. That conclusion is based on production figures of 1000 pounds per acre clean seed and a selling price of $.35/pound. Additional information will be collected and reported in the future if commercial tef seed ventures are established in the coming year.
Resources used to prepare this fact sheet
Braunwart, K., Putnam, D. and G. Fohner. 2001. Alternative Annual Forages-Now and in the Future. In: Proceedings, 31st California Alfalfa and Forage Symposium, University of California Davis. Davis, California.
Carlson, W. 2004. The Teff Company. Caldwell, ID. Personal Communication.
Davison, J. and C. McKnight., 2004. Tef Demonstration Planting for 2003. FS 04-51. University of Nevada Reno Cooperative Extension. Reno, NV. 4pp.
Ketema, S. 1997. Tef. Eragrostis tef (Zucc.) Trotter. Promoting the Conservation and Use of Underutilized and Neglected Crops. 12. Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research, Gatersleben/International Plant Genetics Resources Institute, Rome Italy.
National Academy of Sciences, 1996. Teff. pp 215- 235. In: Lost Crops of Africa. Vol. 1. Grains. Natl. Acad. Sci., Washington D.C.
Stallknecht, G.F., K.M. Gilbertson, and J.L. Eckoff. 1993. Teff: Food Crop for Humans and Animals. pp. 231-234. In: J. Jamick and J.E. Simon (eds.), New Crops. Wiley, New York.
Twidwell, E. K., Boe, A. and D. P. Casper. 2002. Teff: A New Annual Forage Grass for South Dakota? South Dakota State University. Brookings, SD. Coop. Ext. Serv. Bul. ExEx 8071.