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Turfgrass at park.

ARS Helps Grass Growers Produce Seed Without Field Burning

By Kathryn Barry Stelljes
August 21, 1997

Farmers who grow grass seed for the nation’s lawns, golf courses and pastures have long depended on fire to keep diseases, weeds and leftover straw in check. But regulations to protect air quality and safety have all but eliminated controlled burning of fields after harvest. Now scientists with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service are helping growers live without this management tool.

The ARS Forage Seed Production Research Unit in Corvallis, Ore., is developing new ways for growers to produce their annual crop of one-half billion pounds of seed. The toolkit includes:

  • Two new genetic lines of tall fescue that resist rust disease up to 10 times better than existing varieties.
  • Strict monitoring of potential outbreaks of fungal diseases like blind seed and ergot. No chemical treatments effectively control these diseases. But early detection and specific plowing and planting techniques can help control them.
  • Herbicide testing to develop safe and effective alternatives to phased-out chemicals. Oxyfluorfen, metolachlor and pendimethalin look most promising. Biological control organisms have also been found effective and are ready for field testing.
  • A composting method to manage the 1 million tons of straw produced annually. ARS scientists proved for the first time that low-input, on-farm composting of the high-carbon straw was a viable option.

An article about the challenges and solutions of growing grass seed appears in the August issue ofAgricultural Research, ARS' monthly publication. The article can be viewed on the World Wide Web at:


Scientific contact: Jeffrey J. Steiner, USDA-ARS National Forage Seed Production Research Center Corvallis, Ore., phone (541) 750-8722, fax (541) 750-8750, e-mail steinerj