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Exploring Options with Teff Grass

Authors as Published

Tom Stanley, Extension Agent, Farm Business Management, Northern District, (

In recent years, teff grass (Eragrostis tef) has gained some attention in the U.S. as a heat-tolerant summer annual that produces abundant high quality forage with relatively limited rainfall. Teff, also known as Tef, Abyssinian Lovegrass, or Annual Bunchgrass, has its origin in Ethiopia where it is used both as fodder and as a cereal crop. In the Mid Atlantic, teff appears best suited for producing high quality grazing July – September or as a cash hay crop. For grazing, independent trials have shown cattle gaining in the range of 1 lb per head per day over and above fescue/clover pastures. Hay yields can range from just under 3 tons to over 5 tons per acre depending on moisture and fertility. Multiple hay cuttings are typical with the first cutting in the early boot-stage of growth taking place 45 – 60 days after planting.

One challenge with teff is its small seed size and shallow planting depth that necessitates a tilled firm seed bed. The abbreviated list of establishment costs reveals equipment costs (including operator labor) can make up 34% of the total establishment bill.

Table 1. Teff Budget

ItemCost per AcreDescription
Seed$26.607 lbs @ $3.80 lb
Nitrogen Fertilizer$33.5050 lbs @ $.53 / lb + $7.00 application cost
Other Fertilizer, Lime, Herbicides$43.00Some P & K, pro-rated lime costs, one application of Glyphosate herbicide
Labor$31.762.19 hours @ $14.50/hr
Varible Equipment Costs$25.74Fuel, Lube, Repairs
Fixed Equipment Costs$23.53One trip over the field w/ each: plow, off-set disk, off-set disk w/ harrow, cultipacker, and grain drill
Interest and Overhead$20.517% APR
Varible Cost of Establishment$85.84 - $181.11Cash Expenses
Varible + Fixed Establishment Cost$204.64Per Acre

While out-of-pocket costs could be as low as $85 / acre (if labor is $0), the equipment and time involved in establishing Teff are significant and should not be ignored.

Once established, what are the options with teff? Table 2 illustrates a partial budget analysis comparing three different haying and grazing options. It is important to note that for grazing, an initial period of growth followed by some type of mowing is necessary to establish a root system sufficient to withstand grazing and animal traffic.

Teff grass has been shown to produce very high quality hay suitable for dairy cattle and horses. Assuming a Teff grower can successfully market high quality small square bales, it appears hay might be the preferred method for marketing teff. However, this can change with different cattle stocking rates, rates of gain, and cattle values. If you would like an electronic copy of this budget to conduct your own analysis, contact Tom Stanley at (540) 463-4734.

Table 2. Teff Management Options: Hay vs. Graze, Partial Budget Analysis

Additional Income    
Value / Ton
(F.O.B the Field)
4.5Yield (T/Ac)
Value / Ton
(F.O.B. the Field)
Avg Daily Gain
(over and above that of fescue/clover
1.5 0
$150.00$150.00 0
 1 1
  Days Grazed60 70
  No. 6 cwt steers per acre2.25 2.25
  Value / lb$1.10 $1.10
A.Total (per acre)$675.00Total (per acre)$373.50 $173.25
Additional Expenses    
Harvest Cost/Ton$80.00Harvest Cost/Ton$80.00Mowing Cost/Acre$18.00
Additional Fertilizer/ acre$0.00Temp Electric Fencing /acre$10.00 $10.00
  Portable water /acre$10.00 $10.00
B. Total (per acre)$360.00Total (per acre)$140.00 $38.00
Net Change per acre* Line A - B$315.00 $233.50 $135.25
*Establishment Cost NOT included

It is recommended that teff grass be mowed once before allowing livestock to graze, as this insures the root development in the stand is sufficient to withstand grazing and animal traffic. Harvest costs are based on the 2010 Shenandoah Valley custom rate survey indicating $2.00 / small square bale to cut, rake, & bale (40 bales / ton).


Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, re-print, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.


Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Alan L. Grant, Dean, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; Jewel E. Hairston, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State, Petersburg.


August 11, 2010