The choice of which tall fescue to plant can seem overwhelming, given the large number of named cultivars. To the best of our knowledge, there were 508 tall fescue cultivars eligible for certification in 2005 under rules of the Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies (AOSCA) in the United States, and internationally under rules of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) (Table 19-3). Most of these cultivars appear to be intended for turf use. Cultivar choice can be simplified greatly by considering the intended application (e.g., forage, turf, soil conservation) and local performance data. Universities and governmental agencies can be good sources of unbiased information on tall fescue cultivar performance for a given region. Online sources of information exist such as variety trial reports from The Plant Management Network, the University of Kentucky, the Forage Information System at Oregon State University (http://forages.oregonstate.edu/main.cfm?PageID=160), and the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (all websites verified 22 Apr. 2009).
Availability and purchase price are additional factors affecting cultivar choice. Since tall fescue is a long-lived perennial where it is well adapted, any premium paid for initial seed costs can be spread over many years of stand life and may be justified if accompanied by anticipated increased returns or reduced costs. For example, in the United States, the price of seed containing a nontoxic, novel endophyte may be up to four times that of seed containing a toxic endophyte, primarily because of the cost of developing and marketing this new technology. However, replacing tall fescue pastures infected with a toxic endophyte with a nontoxic, novel endophyte tall fescue cultivar leads to increased animal performance, such that the entire cost of stand establishment is recovered within 3 to 7 yr (Gunter and Beck, 2004). Greater returns from nontoxic than from toxic pastures would then be expected in every subsequent year.
In some countries, such as the United States, seed can be sold as "Variety Not Stated" (VNS) which often is the least expensive tall fescue seed available. However, by definition, the purchaser cannot be assured of the identity of the VNS tall fescue seed and may be disappointed by its performance. This is somewhat analogous to work in which Smith et al. (1995) demonstrated lower forage yields and persistence in red clover seed lots labeled as "Common" than from the cultivar Arlington. The authenticity of a cultivar can be guaranteed only by purchasing seed that has been through a certification process, such as "registered" or "certified" seed of the chosen cultivar.
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