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The Whole Truth About Durana White Clover

By Kent Kammermeyer
Certified Wildlife Biologist/Consultant

Do you remember the nursery rhyme "Jack and the Beanstalk?" I haven't read the story in about 50 years, but the best I can do dredging up details from memory, it went like this.  (Please remember that folks like me over 55 years old are known to suffer frequent serious memory loss).

PhotoPhoto: Durana clover in March in Madison County, Ga. Note heavy grazing outside the cage.

Once upon a time, a young deer hunter named Jack traded his old bird dog for some magic clover seeds from Georgia. He carefully sowed the magic clover on a log landing on his deer lease called the Monster Rack Trophy Club. The next day he came back and low and behold one clover stalk had climbed its way up through the clouds making a perfect deer stand. 

Jack got his 7mm Magnum (or was it a 30-06 or .270?) and climbed the stalk until he had a perfect view of the forest about 1,000 feet below him (he had a good scope). Pretty soon a buck appeared out of nowhere and began nibbling the lower leaves of the clover stalk. Jack waited a good 10 minutes for the clover to work its magic as the monster's rack to grow. Jack watched it breed 3 or 4 does to pass on his superior genetics. Then he carefully squeezed off his shot. The rest is history. Jack lived happily ever after and had his prized trophy mounted with a four-leaf clover (not a hemlock branch) sticking out the side of its mouth. He named the giant buck "Old Clover Horns."

A fairy tale? Sure! But, what is the real truth about some of these new clover varieties for deer and turkeys?  The rest of this story gets serious and digs through the frills, truths and myths surrounding white clover varieties and their value to deer and deer hunters. From now on, as old LAPD Sergeant Joe Friday would say, "Just the facts, Ma'am, just the facts."  Read on.

"Durana will last at least three times longer than common ladino white clovers on the market today," said Dr Karl Hoveland, retired senior researcher and renowned forage expert with the University of Georgia's Crop and Soil Science Department. "It's a real bargain except for those farmers and hunters that enjoy frequently re-planting their fields and food plots. We still don't know if it will ever die out."

Are you impressed yet? John Carpenter, national forage and wildlife products manager for Pennington Seed says, "Several Durana demonstration food plots, in fact, have had steady grazing from as many as 60 deer without any significant signs of stress." Try to do this with brassicas or red clover or Austrian winter peas. The Durana advantage based on The University of Georgia studies includes: tolerating heavier browsing pressure; delivering more persistence; growing in a lower soil pH; producing more stolon density (runners); thicker leaf growth; competing aggressively with grasses and weeds; producing more nitrogen for better grazing; and tolerating extreme drought conditions.

PhotoPhoto: Dr. Bill Sell inspecting a Durana clover/wheat stand planted in September. This photo was taken in May.

There has long been a need for a persistent, long-lived clover that is highly competitive in a mixed stand with perennial grasses or other aggressive plants including weeds. Along comes Durana white clover, the product of Dr. Joe Bouton, renowned plant breeder formerly at the University of Georgia (currently with the Noble Foundation in Oklahoma). To improve grazing tolerance of white clover, he collected "native ecotypes" that had survived many years of hot, dry summers, heavy grazing and cattle trampling in several Georgia locations. Plants were subjected to heavy, continuous grazing with significant grass competition and productive survivors were crossed and a promising entry called GA43 (later named Durana) was increased for further development. 

Durana is an intermediate white clover that has smaller, more abundant leaves than (large-leaved) taller ladino clovers but produces many more runners or stolons, which allow aggressive spreading, thicker leaf density and excellent grazing tolerance. Durana also flowers profusely for long periods making it a more dependable re-seeder if that seed bank is ever needed. For example, reseeding itself after an extreme summer drought severely injures top growth and stolons.
     
Parent material from Durana was also crossed with a hardy virus-resistant Mississippi ladino clover to create a variety named Patriot. In performance tests (university yield test) at UGA Experiment Stations, both compared very favorably with Regal ladino (an industry standard developed many years ago at Auburn University). Durana (3,200 pounds/acre dry weight forage yield) is not as productive as Regal ladino (4,200 pounds/acre) during the establishment year but catches up to it in year two with both producing close to 4,000 pounds/acre dry weight. 

Both produced two to five tons of forage per year at 25-30 percent protein levels and up to 80 percent digestibility (indicating lack of cellulose which is not digestible). The difference is that Regal faded from perennial grasses in a few years (survival 17 percent) while Durana increased its original stand coverage (133 percent) and persisted for five years or more! 

I have had experience with Durana for over 10 years now since first using it on Northeast Georgia Wildlife Management Areas on an experimental basis even before the seed was available commercially. The great majority of the Durana stands I have seen on both public and private lands persist for 3 to 7 years or more. I don't know about you but I vote for replanting my clover stands once every five to 10 years instead of every year or every other year! I prefer managing food plots with a mower rather than a plow.
 
This cool season perennial legume is adapted from east Texas across the south to the Atlantic Coast, north along a line from Macon, Ga., to Dallas, Texas and all the way to Canada. Below this line, it will do well in the right soils: sandy loam and heavy soils but not deep pure sands. It also tolerates shade up to 70 percent and wet soils including intermittent flooding.It is adapted to the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountain regions (where rainfall is adequate) as well as Upper Midwest and New England. I suspect it will thrive in Canada, but this is currently unknown.
 
Durana will grow in low pH (down to 5.4) but like all other clovers, will thrive in a pH of 6.0 or above. In lieu of a soil test, check with local agronomists or agricultural extension agents to determine general lime and fertilizer recommendations. Lime can be applied at planting but it is better to apply and incorporate six months before planting. Prepare a smooth, firm seedbed by disking the ground four to six inches deep, broadcasting 300 pounds/acre of 19-19-19 or equivalent (get a soil test to determine exact fertilizer requirements for your soil). Sow 50 pounds/acre of wheat (or oats or rye where appropriate), covering one inch deep, then firming with a cultipacker and broadcasting 5 pounds/acre Durana mixed with 5 pounds/acre red clover (Cinnamon Plus, Redland Max, Redland III, or Bulldog). 

Cultipack or drag the mix again so that the clover seed has good soil contact and firm seedbed but is not more than one-fourth inch deep. Do not cover Durana or any other clover too deep with soil, trying to cover clover with disk harrows is a tricky proposition! Where Durana failures have occurred they can almost always be attributed to seed covered too deep or companion grasses planted way too heavily. In the North, August and April are best months but in the South, September and late February are ideal. For all spring plantings, always substitute oats for wheat because spring planted wheat will attempt to boot and go to seed at an early low growth stage. 

Durana is always sold pre-inoculated with a coating of lime and selected Rhizobia (bacteria) strains for optimal nitrogen fixation. We have no-till drilled Durana into grasses killed by glyphosate with great success in both spring and fall. Cut clover seeding rates to 3 pounds/acre and small grains to 30 pounds/acre when using a drill.
 
As mentioned, Patriot white clover is a close relative of Durana with better first year production but possibly somewhat less persistence. One smart option would be to mix them together 50:50 for the best of both worlds, as Patriot will establish faster the first fall and as it begins to fade in subsequent years, Durana (or subsequent generation crosses) should gradually take over the stand. 
 
For Durana management, unhook your plow and hook up your mower. Depending on weed coverage and competition, mow the Durana (down to three to four inches) one to three times each spring and summer beginning in June and ending in late August. Each mowing stimulates new growth and allows sunlight to reach the stolons which encourages both top growth and lateral growth as stolon density thickens. If weed competition or stand coverage is not a serious problem, once in late August is sufficient. Fertilize once per year in September with a no nitrogen fertilizer such as 0-20-30 or 0-20-20 at 300 pounds/acre. Some clover experts recommend an application of 100 pounds/acre Muriate of Potash (0-0-60) as soon as clover growth resumes in early spring.

University of Georgia (UGA) agronomists, after their seventh year of Durana field tests, were declaring unrivaled persistence in grazing trials where Durana is mixed with fungus-infected (toxic) fescue. UGA deer researchers recently completed a 1 1/2 year field test at six locations testing Durana production, palatibility and deer use. Graduate student Odin Stevens, under the direction of Dr. Karl Miller and Dr. Mike Mengak in cooperation with Georgia DNR Wildlife Resources Division and Pennington Seed now have the results. 

Results indicate forage production and standing crops of Durana and Regal were similar throughout the study except during year two in the Coastal Plain and Piedmont when Durana surpassed Regal in production. In Georgia, availability (standing crop) of Durana was good all 12 months (after establishment) in the Piedmont and Coastal Plain but not in December and January in the mountains. High production of Durana occurred in March, April and May and again in September, October and November. Fall planted Durana will be slow to produce for two to three months as it spends time and energy establishing its strong root system. The researchers suggest that Durana may be superior to ladino in terms of long-term productivity. Combine this with superior persistence, and Durana quickly and easily becomes the clover of choice for hunters and deer managers.

Meanwhile, I have seen upwards of 100 different plots of Durana clover on public and private lands in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Piedmont, and Upper Coastal Plain of Georgia and South Carolina (including a one and one-half acre patch on my own property) and despite harsh and difficult conditions (drought, flooding, low fertility, overgrazing - even by hogs and cold) have encountered only a very few that I would consider a failure and most of these were planted too deep or overcome by noxious weeds. Most all of the others are vigorous and thriving and exceeding expectations. Some stands are going into their third or fourth year despite severe drought.

Retired UGA extension agronomist (and long time cattle farmer) Dr. Bill Sell who hired Joe Bouton years ago and was a close associate of Karl Hoveland for decades decided to test Durana at his Jackson County, Ga., farm to see for himself. He established plots of Durana and Patriot in the fall of 2002 without lime or fertilizer! His soil pH (tested twice) was 5.4. Both stands persisted under heavy deer grazing pressure (and again, no fertilizer) through the winter of 2005 when they began to fade from competition with winter forbs. He sprayed herbicide to kill everything and soon got back a pure vigorous stand of clover, again without fertilizer!

I would not recommend that you treat your Durana like this (low pH and no fertilizer), but it goes to show how tough the plant really is. I don't think his Durana would have faded in two and a half years had he limed and fertilized it.

Mark Buxton, former manager of Oakland Club Plantation in the Upper Coastal Plain of South Carolina reported on his deer management successes at the Fifth Annual Convention of the Quality Deer Management Association in Charleston, S.C. I watched and listened intently to his talk and recognized some of the Durana food plots that he had showed me during a spring field trip on his property. Basically, his deer antler development has rewritten the South Carolina record book for his part of the state. Durana is the cornerstone of his food plot program. In 2007, Mark grew it on every food plot acre he had (over 75 acres) except deep sands.

Why plant Durana? It is resistant to overgrazing, more persistent, more drought tolerant, more acid tolerant, more aggressive with competitive grasses and weeds, and has more stolon density (runners) and growing points than any other clover. That is one tough clover!

Both Durana and Patriot clovers are exclusively marketed by Pennington Seed Company of Madison, Ga. Call 1-800-285-SEED or check with your local Pennington seed dealer for availability.

Pennington Field Notes:
Patriot and Durana white clovers are key ingredients in Pennington Buckmasters Ultimate seed mixture for deer and turkeys.

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