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Hybner looks at improving plant varieties to increase pasture and meadow productivity

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Lander – “Why should we use improved plant varieties?” asked Roger Hybner, research agronomist at the Bridger Plant Materials Center in Montana. “We do so for better seedling vigor, increased yield, disease resistance, salinity tolerance and the list goes on.”

Hybner spoke to attendees at the third session of the Popo Agie Conservation District’s hay and pasture renovation workshop in Lander on Nov. 14.

When thinking about renovation, Hybner recommended beginning with an ecological site description. This includes soil type, precipitation and the native plant community. An easy tool to use in gathering the information is the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service web soil survey, available online. 

Appropriate plants

Next, he told attendees to identify the appropriate plant species for the site and to select the top performers based on the desired traits for the forage and hay use. 

“If we have a weed seed or another type that we don’t know,” Hybner said, “we can send it in to the Wyoming Seed Certification Service for identification. If we have a seed mix that has been stored, we can send in a sample and have it measured for viability.”

When storing grass seed, use the general rule of 100. Both temperature and humidity should not go over 100.

“We’ve had grass seed last 10 years in a insulated building,” Hybner says. “I highly recommend using certified seed, as it is better quality.”

Choosing varieties

The USDA plant material centers are open to visitors and have different types of grasses and woody plants growing side by side for better comparison. The centers compare natural species and introduced cultivars and do not breed new plant varieties.

“With few exceptions producers want to plant natives with natives and introduced with introduced,” Hybner said. “The introduced species have too much seedling vigor for the natives to compete with.” 

The Bridger Plant Materials Center’s website contains publications and technical notes on research and plant descriptions. 

The main focus of the seminar was the Plant Material Technical Note No. MT-69, available on the center’s website. The document lists the standard and preferred forage grasses for irrigated pastures or 11 inches and above precipitation zones.


“For Basin wildrye, I would be more inclined to plant the Trailhead or Magnar varieties,” Hybner said. “Trailhead is native to Montana and would do better in Wyoming than the Continental that was developed in Utah.” 

He continued, “Washoe Germplasm Basin wildrye is very drought tolerant. It isn’t normally recommended for grazing until November through April. It holds its protein and is an excellent choice for calving pasture. It also would be excellent wildlife habitat and for pivot corners.”

However, Hybner also cautioned producers against using certain varieties.

“I am not impressed with Altai wildrye,” he said. “We hear that Canadian ranchers graze it all the time, but we are also hearing that from the company selling the seed. It doesn’t compete well with weeds.” 


Several varieties of wheatgrasses are also available, but Hybner also expressed his reservations with them.

The AC (Agriculture Canada) Saltlander Green Wheatgrass is not aggressive and will not cross back with quackgrass as the NewHy variety will.

“I really like Saltlander,” Hybner said. “It is more leafy than NewHy and has high salinity tolerance. It has done well planted in recharge areas and in seeps.”

Intermediate wheatgrass is too aggressive to plant with sainfoin, and Hybner warned to not plant Rush wheatgrass with alfalfa. 

“I like to call Intermediate and Pubescent wheatgrasses kissing cousins. They are basically the same family, same genus. Pubescent is more dryland and has finer leaves,” Hybner said. 

“My dad and brothers have planted Pubescent wheatgrass for decades now. The only time they have had problems with it is when they graze it too early in the spring,” he explained. “In Sheridan, it begins to head out around June. 15, so producers can graze it a couple weeks earlier. It would be good for high spots in a meadow that are hard to get water over.”


For native pastures, Hybner recommended Bluebunch wheatgrass. Goldar and Anatone Germplasm are two of the top varieties. 

However, Bluebunch does need more than 12 inches of precipitation. 

 “Crested wheatgrass works well for very early spring grazers,” Hybner said. “Producers don’t want it to grow a seed head. If they have fall precipitation, it will regrow for some fall grazing.”

“Under irrigation Siberian wheatgrass would be better than Crested, as it yields more,” he noted. “Under dryland, Crested and other wheatgrasses would do about the same.”

Haying, he continued, leads to different recommendations.

“For haying, producers definitely want to cut the wheatgrass before it develops a seed head or just after it goes to seed,” Hybner noted. “It will reseed itself with a bunch of cows tromping it.”

Other wheatgrasses

Tall wheatgrass has really good salinity tolerance and a large seed, but not the best seedling vigor. It is an excellent early spring pasture but is even worse than Crested when heading out. 

“Thickspike wheatgrass can be grazed from spring through the summer,” Hybner said. “Rodan Western wheatgrass out-yielded the Rosana variety under dryland conditions in Sheridan.”

He added, “Thickspike and Western wheatgrass would be good for a meadow that doesn’t get regular water. Thickspike works better than Fescue in mixes. It takes about two years to get a Western wheatgrass field established as it has a lot of below ground growth.”

“Add Slender wheatgrass to the mix for starting and Green Needlegrass for more summer grazing grass,” Hybner said. “I recommend putting Slender wheatgrass at 10 to 15 percent in any seed mix; Pryor is a good variety. The main components of the mix will take over when Slender begins to die out in three years.”

Wheatgrass will out compete Foxtail barley and is a more economical control than herbicides. 

“The main thing with Foxtail is keeping it from going to seed. It is a short lived perennial and will die out,” Hybner says.

The best seed mix blends rhizomatous grasses, bunchgrass and legumes. Many of the commercial mixes available include Smooth Bromegrass.

“I realize that Smooth brome is easy to grow and fairly cheap,” Hybner said, “but there are better things out there. I would call Smooth a weed – no, that would give weeds a bad name. Weeds at least have protein.”

Melissa Hemken is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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