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Wheatgrass (Agropyron) is a fodder crop related to perennial cereal grasses.

Crested wheatgrass (Agropyron pectinatum)
Crested wheatgrass (Agropyron pectinatum)
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©Stefan.lefnaer (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Economic importance

Wheatgrass is a valuable fodder crop. When it is harvested at the beginning of heading, it produces well-leafed hay of high quality, with a protein content of 6.5-8.0%, which is superior in nutritional value to Bromus inermis. With good soil moisture, it can produce two cuts. If harvesting is late, the hay becomes coarse, poorly eaten by animals, and the second cut is lost. Resistant to trampling, remains suitable for grazing for many years. In one place it can grow 15-20 years.

When grazing wheatgrass before heading, it is eaten by animals well, by the flowering phase – badly.

100 kg of fresh wheatgrass harvested in the heading phase contains 22.7 feed units and 4.1 kg of digestible protein. 100 kg of hay – 48.7 feed units and 6.9 kg of digestible protein.

In the conditions of arid regions of the steppe zone, the alfalfa-wheatgrass mixture serves as a good predecessor in crop rotation for durum spring wheat, millet and other crops.

Crop history

First introduced into culture in 1896 by Bogdan V.S. at the Valuyskaya experimental station in Zaporozhye.

Cultivation areas

It is grown in the steppe, forest-steppe and semi-desert regions of Russia, primarily in the Trans-Volga region, Western Siberia, the arid regions of the North Caucasus, and also in the north of Kazakhstan.


The highest yield occurs at 4-5 years of age.

Botanical description

Wheatgrass (Agropyron) is a perennial, early-ripening plant, of loose bushy, semi-top types.

The root system is fibrous, powerful, penetrates to a depth of 2-2.5 m. The main mass of the roots is concentrated in the soil layer of 0-40 cm.

The stem is hollow, cylindrical, well leafy, slightly rough under the ear. Height 50-90 cm. Zhitnyak is distinguished by a large number of shoots per plant. With uncovered sowing, plants of the first year of life have up to 40 shoots (Krasnokutsk Experimental Breeding Station of the Research Institute of Agriculture of the South-East).

The leaves are narrowly linear, smooth below, hairy or rough above. In the narrow-eared species, the leaves are green, in the broad-eared species, the leaves are dark green.

The inflorescence is a linear or ovoid spike with pronounced gaps between the hairless spikelets, on which it has 3-10 green or bluish-green flowers. Cross pollination. The fruit is filmy, has an awned sharpening. Weight of 1000 seeds 0.8-2.1 g.


According to the structure of the ear, wheatgrass differs in narrow-eared and broad-eared. The broad-eared wheatgrass has a wider, dense, spinous spike 5 cm long, during the flowering period, the color is gray or bluish. Narrow-eared – narrow, loose, short-awned, up to 7-7.5 cm long, green during flowering.

Of the narrow-eared wheatgrass, Siberian and desert are common.

Siberian wheatgrass, or brittle (Agropyron fragile P. Candargy), grows naturally in the sandy steppes of Western Siberia, on the Lower Volga, in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Also found in the south of Ukraine and the Caucasus. It is used in agriculture in the southeastern regions of Russia.

Desert wheatgrass (Agropyron desertorum Schult.) is found in the steppes of the Caspian lowland and desert steppe. Most drought tolerant.

Among the broad-eared wheatgrasses, comb-shaped and comb-shaped are common in culture.

The comb-shaped wheatgrass (Agropyron pectinatum Beauv.) is distributed in the steppes, dry meadows and estuaries of the southern forest-steppe of the European part of Russia, Western Siberia, Central Asia and the Caucasus. It has become widespread in the agriculture of the steppe and dry steppe regions. The most common species in field grass sowing, also has the largest range in natural phytocenoses.

Wheatgrass comb (Agropyron cristatum Beauv.) grows in Eastern Siberia, Central Asia, Altai. The most winter-hardy, drought resistance is high.

Forms and ecotypes

Wheatgrass has a large number of forms and ecotypes, which depend on the growing conditions.

There are ecotypes:

  • steppe, with rising stems, wide leaves, grows mainly on chestnut soils;
  • solonchak, with thin stems and narrow leaves, found mainly on solonetzes;
  • sandy, with thick stems and leaves, found mainly on sands;
  • estuary, has a bluish coating on the leaves, found on estuaries;
  • a floodplain-meadow, high-growing ecotype with few broad leaves, found in floodplains of rivers;
  • Altai, characterized by rough thick stems and hard leaves, grows in the foothills of Altai.

Biological features

Frost resistance and winter hardiness are high, in these features it surpasses alfalfa.

Drought resistance is high, able to withstand prolonged drought, grows well after rainfall.

Grows on neutral and slightly saline soils. It does not make high demands on soils due to a powerful deep penetrating root system, which by weight significantly exceeds the mass of the aerial part.

Tolerates cover crop shading provided there is adequate moisture when planted early in the spring.

A typical xerophyte, however, young shoots can die from sultry sunlight.

Plant nutrition

For the formation of 1 ton of dry matter, 22 kg of N, 5.4 kg of P2O5 and 21 kg of K2O are removed from the soil.


In grass mixtures in the first two years it develops slowly, especially with insufficient moisture, forming only 1-2 stems by autumn, in sowing it takes only 10-15%. Bushiness in the first year of life is 20-30 stems per plant.

In the second year of life, it also forms few shoots, weakly displaces weeds , and produces a small hay crop. It reaches full development in the third year of life, while the bushiness in sparse crops reaches 600-800 stems per plant and a dense sod is formed, almost completely suppressing annual weeds. Due to the powerful tillering, it has a high competitiveness. At the age of 3-5, it begins to displace other species, occupying the main position in the herbage.

In the third year of life, wheatgrass gives the highest yields of hay and seeds. From the age of 5-6, productivity gradually begins to decline, but it can remain in the herbage for decades.

The type of development is spring-winter.

Crop rotation

Wheatgrass mixed with leguminous grasses is usually sown under the cover of spring wheat or barley, sometimes under millet. The cover crop is determined according to local conditions. However, wheatgrass or its mixture with legumes should be oversowed under the cover crop that produces the highest hay yield.

In the southern regions, wheatgrass is recommended to be sown under the cover of winter crops, in Siberia – under the cover of spring crops.

In Western Siberia and northern Kazakhstan, 4-5-field crop rotations without perennial grasses are used, in which wheatgrass is sown in a hatching field or on pastures.

To reduce the inhibitory effect of the cover crop, a half-cover overseeding method can be used, in which half the rate of cover crop seeds is sown.


According to the Sinelnikovskaya breeding and experimental station of the All-Russian Research Institute of Maize (Dnepropetrovsk), the introduction of 20 t/ha of manure under the predecessor increases the yield of broad-eared wheatgrass hay by 1.8 t/ha, narrow-eared hay by 0.5 t/ha.

The recommended application rates for mineral fertilizers are N30-60P30-60K30-60. Fertilizers are applied under the main plowing. Row application is also recommended when sowing together with seeds 50 kg/ha of granulated superphosphate.

In the early spring of the second and subsequent years of the life of the wheatgrass, as well as after each mowing, it is recommended to carry out top dressing with phosphorus-potassium fertilizers P30-40K30-45.


In general, tillage is similar to that for alfalfa. After harvesting the previous crop, the stubble is peeled, after 2-3 weeks – plowing with a plow with a skimmer to a depth of 20-25 cm, sometimes 30 cm.

In early spring, harrowing is carried out, then cultivation with harrowing and sowing with a cover crop at the same time as grasses. In each case, the tillage system is adjusted. The success of wheatgrass cultivation is largely determined by the quality of field cultivation. The soil must be clean from weeds, have an adequate supply of moisture and nutrients.


The sowing rate of wheatgrass seeds at 100% economic suitability in pure row sowing is 10-12 kg/ha, in grass mixtures – 6-10 kg/ha. With wide-row sowing – 5-7 kg/ha.

In arid conditions of the steppe, the recommended seeding rate is 6-8 kg/ha, in the Chernozem zone – 8-10 kg/ha.

Seeding depth 2-4 cm.


Harvest for hay

The optimal time for harvesting wheatgrass is the beginning of heading, a mixture of wheatgrass and alfalfa is the beginning of alfalfa flowering. In the areas of the steppe zone, the cut grass is raked into rolls, and after 1-2 days the hay can be stacked. On very hot days, wheatgrass cut in the morning can be mowed up in the evening.

Seed harvesting

Wheatgrass seeds crumble easily when ripe, so it is usually harvested in the middle of the waxy ripeness phase, which lasts 10-12 days, in a separate way.

At the end of wax ripeness, harvesting for seeds is carried out by direct combining. Harvesting seeds too early results in a 15-20% loss of germination than when harvesting at the end of the wax ripeness phase or in the full ripeness phase. Also, early harvesting leads to a significant proportion in the seed material of the so-called double and triple, that is, parts of the spikelet of wheatgrass. If there are a large number of undestroyed spikelets with seeds in the heap, it is passed through a clover grater, then again through grain cleaning machines.

Cleaned and sorted seeds are usually quite dry and do not require additional drying.


Crop production / P.P. Vavilov, V.V. Gritsenko, V.S. Kuznetsov and others; Ed. P.P. Vavilov. – 5th ed., revised. and additional – M.: Agropromizdat, 1986. – 512 p.: ill. – (Textbook and textbooks for higher educational institutions).

Fundamentals of agricultural production technology. Agriculture and crop production. Ed. V.S. Niklyaev. – M .: “Epic”, 2000. – 555 p.