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Forage Chicory is the New Kid on the Block

By Kent Kammermeyer
Certified Wildlife Biologist/Consultant

Forage chicory is a broad-leaf perennial herb in the sunflower family that looks similar to common plantain or even dandelion leaves. It can be grown on well-drained or moderately drained soils having medium to high fertility and a pH of 5.5 or greater. Chicory has good seedling vigor and a deep taproot, which makes it quite drought tolerant. Though it remains green in a flat rosette throughout winter (much like dandelion), its productive season is April through October when it can average production of 50 pounds/acre/day, providing valuable spring, summer and fall forage for deer. 

If managed properly, chicory produces leafy growth similar in nutrition and mineral content to alfalfa or cool season grasses. Protein levels range from 10 to 32 percent depending on growth stage and soil fertility. It is also highly digestible and palatable. 

PhotoPhoto: Chicory outside browse exclosure showing heavy pressure in August.

First introduced in the U.S. in the late 1700s, it has since become a common roadside weed in the northern U.S. ranging down through parts of the Deep South. During the Civil War, chicory root was used as a coffee substitute and it is still used as a coffee additive in some areas. Wild chicory produces low forage yields. Forage chicory has been used in agriculture for more than 300 years. It originated in Central Europe but much of the breeding for improved forage production has been done in New Zealand.

Chicory is widely adapted to most climate conditions in the U.S., with possible exceptions being the deep sands of the southeastern Coastal Plains and Canada (or extreme northern U.S.) where it needs to be sowed by early August to develop a deep root before winter. In the South, it can be successfully planted in September. It will grow in a pH as low as 5.0 but prefers one between 6.5 and 7.0. Seed may be either drilled or broadcast.

Drilling is preferred because of more uniform planting depth resulting in improved seed germination. Chicory seed should be planted no deeper than 1/4 to 1/2 inches deep. Cultipacking the seedbed before and after planting is recommended for best seed to soil contact. Seeded alone, a rate of four to five pounds/acre is recommended. In mixtures, two to three pounds of chicory along with two-thirds of the usual seeding rate of other forages generally works well. Fertilize according to soil test or use 300 pounds/acre of 19-19-19 at planting.

I do not recommend planting chicory alone. Because of potential grazing and fertility management problems (including high Nitrogen (N) needs for good growth), chicory needs to be part of a mixture with a legume and an annual or perennial grass. One mix would be two pounds/acre chicory, five pounds/acre Durana or Patriot clover, and 50 pounds/acre wheat, oats or cereal rye.

You can mix and match the three small grains but do not plant any combination at more than 60 pounds/acre. Another mix would be two pounds/acre chicory, three pounds/acre Durana, three pounds/acre Patriot, three pounds/acre red clover, three pounds/acre crimson clover and 30 pounds/acre wheat. Chicory requires a high level of fertility for maximum production. It is also quite responsive to nitrogen (N) fertilization. However, if chicory is planted with alfalfa or clover, annual N applications can be eliminated because the chicory will benefit from the nitrogen fixation of the clovers. A likely fertilizer application would be 100 pounds/acre of triple super phosphate (0-46-0) and 100 pounds/acre of Muriate of Potash (0-0-60) applied in September every year. Chicory can produce up to 4.5 to 6.0 tons/acre/year dry forage with careful grazing management and high fertility. The digestibility of chicory leaves is very high - usually between 90 to 95 percent!

Grazing management can be extremely important with chicory as it is with the brassicas. Fall-planted chicory should not be heavily grazed until the following spring; hence the mixture of nurse crop plants of legumes and grains. In spring and summer, chicory grows vigorously and will attempt to produce flower stems in late spring and early summer. Management practices that do not allow the flower stems to exceed a height of six to 10 inches in late May, and grazing or mowing to a one and one-half inch stubble height. This will reduce the amount of stem bolting (rapid stem growth). 

Rest periods longer than 25 days can allow stems to bolt. In other words, if the deer don't do it for you, delay bolting of flower stalk by periodic mowing. This ensures growth and production through the late summer stress period when deer need it the most. Once bolting has occurred, the production potential of plants is reduced for the remainder of the grazing season or until the stems are mowed. Controlled grazing or mowing can sustain a productive chicory stand for up to seven years.

Choice chicory from Pennington Seed Company is a new variety of perennial chicory developed by New Zealand plant breeders for use in the U.S. Choice was selected for its high use by deer, high yields, improved cool season growth and improved persistence. It also has very good drought resistance. Other widely available forage chicory varieties include Puna from New Zealand, Good Hunt, Forage Feast and Oasis.

Pennington Field Notes:
Choice chicory is a keystone perennial forage component of Pennington Buckmasters Ultimate seed mixture for deer and wild turkeys.

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