The drought would get much worse, but fields were still in fairly good shape in late spring when the event was held last spring.

The varieties showcased – Greenfield and Vaughn’s – are dark-green in color, have fine stems and leaves and are valued for their ruggedness, dependable yields and quality potential.

But quality isn’t guaranteed. During the tour, growers and researchers alike stressed the importance of good fertility and weed control programs in establishing quality bermudagrass stands.

Northern Arkansas winters are too harsh for some bermudagrass varieties, but several cold-tolerant hybrids have done very well with proper management.

One of those cold-tolerant hybrids – Vaughn’s – is a relative newcomer to northern Arkansas.


Larry Miser of Pea Ridge was the first producer in the region to establish the variety in 2001. He planted a 13-acre field of Vaughn’s from cuttings and has since expanded that to 180 acres from his own plant material. Initially,

Miser was just looking for an affordable protein source to feed his bulls. But the new forage has done so well that he now produces excess forage and has started selling some to horse owners. His farm was the first stop on the AFGC tour.

Miser described how he has expanded Vaughn’s with sprigs that he dug from his original field. The sprigs contain underground runners or rhizomes that spread quickly after they’re broadcast and incorporated into the soil, Miser said. He uses a manure spreader.

“If you get a sprig to come up here and then another one five or six feet away, you’re good. It’s not like planting wheat,” Miser told fellow producers. “It’s amazing how fast those will run and fill in the area.”

After sprigging a new field, Miser disks it in about two inches. “Don’t get it too deep,” he advised. “Disk it in and make sure you roll it good.” One of the most important things in establishing a new field is weed control, Miser said.

Crabgrass can be a big problem in new stands, so a pre-emergent herbicide is important.

“Make sure you get that grass killed the first year or you will be fighting it for the next three or four years,” he said. “The crabgrass will push out the bermuda in that first year because it grows so much faster.”

Vaughn’s is one of the best yielding of the bermudagrass varieties adapted to northern Arkansas. Miser has averaged about 5,000 bales a year on his original 13-acre field.

“That’s not chicken feed,” said Robert Seay, University of Arkansas Extension agent for Benton County.

Vaughn’s has also shown excellent rebound ability. “Until Vaughn’s came along, we didn’t have anyone doing a fifth cutting in northwest Arkansas,” Seay said.

Fescue is still the number one forage crop in Arkansas, but bermudagrass has made big gains in the past decade or so. About 2 million acres are now grown statewide.

Its rising popularity may be attributable to a quality forage program launched by the University of Arkansas Extension system in Benton County in the late ’90s.

UA Extension agents conducted cooperative field trials, workshops and field days, all promoting bermudagrass. Participants in the program learned best management practices and were encouraged to submit hay samples for an annual contest.

Nearly 140 farmers have participated, including some from neighboring states. (In 2004, the program was opened up to producers outside Benton County).

Miser is a participant in the program and so are brothers Dennis and Don Malone. The Malones’ farm near Highfill, Arkansas, was the second stop on the AFGC tour.

The Malones grow Greenfield, a common variety released by Oklahoma State University in 1954. It’s the variety against which all others in northwest Arkansas are compared, mostly because of its ease of establishment, rapid groundcover, stand longevity, yield and quality.

The Malones sell much of their Greenfield hay to other livestock producers and what they don’t sell, they feed to their own stocker cattle. Like Miser, they have excelled at producing top-quality bermudagrass.

Dennis and Don Malone were recognized during the 10th anniversary of the NW Arkansas quality forage program for having maintained the highest overall quality of bermuda hay across all harvest periods.

In 2001, they became the first program participants to capture first place in the bermudagrass category of AFGC’s national hay contest.

Their hard work must have rubbed off on other farmers in the region. Producers from northwest Arkansas have dominated the category for the past decade.

Proper fertilization is crucial to establishing and maintaining a good bermudagrass stand, UA researchers said. Newly established fields are especially susceptible to winterkill in northern Arkansas without proper levels of potash.

If growers plan on four cuttings a year, they should also plan on making an equal number of potassium applications, said Nathan Slaton, UA professor of soil fertility. “You need to spread them out,” he said.

Commercial potassium applications will be necessary even if producers are applying poultry litter to the field, he said. Soil tests are critical.

Historically, Arkansas farmers have judged hay quality on the basis of crude protein. In 1999, leaders of the quality forage program started using relative feed value as their key measuring stick. With RFV, a measurement of 100 is very good and it’s something that everyone can relate to, Seay said.

There’s been a steady improvement in quality since the program started, he said. In the program’s first year, only 20 percent of participants reached 100 percent on the RFV scale with some of their samples.

In 2011, 60 percent of them hit the benchmark. “It’s been a distinct change,” Seay said. He urged growers to do their homework before deciding on a variety.

“A variety that works in one area may not work in another,” he said.  FG

Wilkins is a freelance writer based in Twin Falls, Idaho.

Editor’s note: Make plans now to attend the 2013 AFGC National Tour to be held May 22-24, 2013 at Graves Mountain Lodge in Syria, VA. Click here for more information.

University of Arkansas Extension agent Robert Seay discusses bermudagrass at the Larry Miser Farm in Pea Ridge, Arkansas. Photo courtesy Dave Wilkins.