Napier grass (Pennisetum purpureum), commonly known as elephant grass is one of the important perennial forage crops in smallholder dairy production systems in Uganda.
Napier grass fodder contributes over 80 percent of the forages fed to stall-fed dairy cattle. In Uganda, more than one million smallholder dairy cattle farmers depend on Napier grass as a major source of feed.
Climate and soil requirements
Napier grass can be grown at altitudes ranging from sea level to 2,000 meters above sea level. The grass performs best in high rainfall areas, over 1500 mm per year.
It grows best in deep, fertile, well-draining soils. It is drought tolerant and can be used as dry season reserve in dry areas.
Although Napier grass is aggressive and perennial in nature, it can compete very well with most weeds, it becomes well-established in perfect stands only if planted in a well-prepared seed bed.
Deep ploughing is recommended so that the roots will be able to penetrate deep into the ground. This will make the plants more resistant to drought. The soil should be well pulverized with the use of a rotavator.
Planting Napier grass must be done at the beginning of the main (reliable) rainy season.
Provide adequate nutrients to your soils to improve biomass yield.
Analyse your soils to determine the availability of nutrients or the need for its introduction and the increase in yields and profitability of fertilization (poor soils do not always provide yield increase due to fertilization because of possible limiting factors). Soil sampling and analysis can be done at:
• The College of Agricultural and Environmental Studies, Makerere University;
• Holland GreeTech Uganda located on Kironde road, Muyenga, Kampala
• SPARK AGRO INITIATIVES AFRICA and;
• PAAT CLINIC LTD
Napier grass is propagated largely by vegetative means, either using stem cuttings or root splits divisions. Cane cuttings should be obtained from plants about to flower where the stems are still green and from fields with no disease infection.
Planting Napier grass cuttings
• Napier grass requires well-prepared seed bed free from all types of weeds.
• Cut a mature stem of Napier grass around 15-20 cm above the soil.
• Cut the stem into pieces with 3 inter nodes each. Use a sharp knife and make each cut at a roughly 45°C angle.
• Dig a series of holes approximately 60 cm apart.
• The holes should be deep enough to place three cuttings underneath the soil.
• Add fertilizer to the holes. You can use:
o 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of triple superphosphate fertilizer,
o a few handfuls of farmyard manure, or
o a fertilizer with a 20-20-0 NPK ratio.
• Plant the cuttings angled into the ground at about 45 degrees, so two of the nodes are buried in the soil and one is above the ground.
• Plant more rows with a spacing of about 90 cm (3 feet) between the rows and 90cm (3 ft) between plants.
• Plant the canes in the holes and fill in the holes with soil.
Growing Napier grass from root splits
• Cut the stem at ground level.
• Remove all of the green parts of the plant, leaving only the portion that is under the soil. Use the stem and leaves for compost or animal feed.
• Once you have cut off the stem, dig under the soil and get a bundle of roots and shoots.
• Separate the clump of roots into separate “slips,” consisting of a living root with one or more grass shoots emerging from it.
• After separating out the slips, trim the roots on each slip to about 5 cm (2 inches) long.
• Dig a row of shallow holes 60 cm apart (Figures 7.8a and 7.8b).
• Each hole should be deep enough to submerge the root, while the shoot is left above the ground. When you are done planting the root slips, fill in the holes with soil.