Mott Grass can meet livestock feed needs

Continuous supply of adequate and nutritious green forage is essential for the promotion and development of livestock which plays a significant role in the economy of Pakistan.

The Livestock sector accounts for 38 percent of the agricultural value added and about 10 percent of the total GDP. Green forage not only meets the fodder requirement but also minimises the cost of feeding.

Though in Pakistan, it is available during most part of the year, it is difficult to maintain its regular supply. Due to scarcity of green fodder in May-June and October-November, the animals are subjected to low productivity, which in turn, results in heavy monetary losses to the owners of livestock.

Against the estimated requirement of 358.11 million tonnes, only 165.76 million tonnes of green forage is available for livestock in Pakistan, which presents 53.71% forage deficiency.

Therefore, enhancing forage production is essential to meet the increasing fodder requirements in the country. In animals, more than 70 percent of expenditure is incurred only on feed.

Forages are the major and cheaper source of feed for livestock. In Pakistan, about 16 percent of the total cropped area is put under forage crops annually, even then regular supply of adequate and quality forage is not being ensured.

Due to traditional agronomic practices achieved yields are less than half the potential of the forage crops under cultivation and are estimated to be a quarter of the potential for improved hybrid varieties.

The present trend to bring more of the cultivated area under cash crops at the expense of forage crops may further deteriorate the green forage supply to the livestock. Shortage of green forage can he alleviated either by shifting growing seasons of the conventional forage crops or by the introduction of high yielding new multicut forages which can supply green herbage in adequate quantities during the scarcity periods.

Recently a number of high yielding forage crop varieties have been introduced in Pakistan and Mott elephantgrass (pennisetum purpureum sechum) is one of the promising forages, which have the potential to meet the challenges, as it not only provides more herbage per unit area but also ensures regular green forage supply due to its multicut nature.

Mott is a perennial bunch grass that grows to an uncut vegetative height of just over 1.66m. It does not spread or colonise new areas, but individual bunches produce numerous tillers and increase in diameter at the base to 0.6 m or more.

The leaf canopy from a single bunch may occupy a diameter of 1m to 1.3m. Since the grass is heterozygous and does not breed true from seed, it must be propagated vegetatively to obtain true to type population, using stem cuttings or root stocks.

It is best adapted to moderately well drained soils. Cold tolerance is comparable to that observed for Merkeron, one of the most cold tolerant elephant grass cultivars. In a field of one acre a fresh matter yield of 192 tonnes per year can be produced with improved agronomic practices.

Mott grass is also important because of its availability during feed shortage period (May and June). Its fodder can also be converted into good quality silage. Being considerably palatable, succulent and one of the most practical forage preservation systems, silage is the most effective substitute, for green forage especially during scarcity period (December-January).

Mott grass was introduced to Pakistan in 1988. Although some of the farmers have started its cultivation yet its success will depend upon the evolution of a comprehensive package of agro-technology compatible with the local agro-climatic conditions.

Two vital components of agro-technology for Mott grass are proper plant spacing and adequate nitrogen fertilisation which play a key role in the development of quick growing grasses like Mott that tillers profusely.

An increase in nitrogen rate results in a higher percentage of stems producing shoots, more vigorous early growth. Similarly, preliminary study at Faisalabad (Pakistan) has shown a progressive increase in tillers/bunch and forage productivity of Mott grass in response to increasing levels of nitrogen.

The row spacing chosen may depend on the intended use for the crop stand. Close spacings gives significantly higher forage productivity than wide plant spacing at least during the first year of plant stand establishment of Mott grass.

Similarly adequate supply of nitrogen is required for maximising productivity of the Mott grass because it grows quickly and tillers profusely. Thus, plant spacing and nitrogen fertilisation have major impact on plant stand establishment, growth, forage yield and quality of Mottgrass.