Forage chicory (Cichorium intybus L.) is a relatively deep tap-rooted
perennial broadleaf cool-season herb that belongs to the sunflower family.
Chicory produces leafy growth and if properly managed, is highly palatable
and similar in nutritional value and mineral content to alfalfa or
cool-season grasses. ‘Wild’ chicory, or the weed type, is commonly seen
growing along roadsides and produces very low forage yields.
Chicory originated in Central Europe and has been grown in other countries
for more than 300 years. Much recent breeding for improved forage
characteristics has been done in New Zealand including development of the
variety ‘Puna’, which has been marketed in the United States. Additional
forage varieties include ‘Forage Feast’ and ‘Lacerta’.
Chicory is suited to well or moderately well drained soils that have
medium to optimum phosphorous and potassium levels and a soil pH of 5.5 or
greater. Waterlogged, heavy clay soils tend to limit stand life.
Chicory has good seedling vigor and due to its relatively deep taproot
tolerates drought conditions well. The taproot can be damaged by
overgrazing, trampling, or frost heave. Chicory is a low-growing rosette
plant with broad leaves in the winter, resembling dandelion. As temperatures
warm in the spring, it produces large number of leaves from the crown. In
the late spring, the year after establishment, a few flower stems begin to
develop (or bolt) from the crown and the shoots will reach heights of 6 feet
if not grazed.
Iowa State University trials show that Lacerta and Forage Feast were less
winter hardy than was Puna. Lacerta and Forage Feast were more likely to
‘bolt’ in the seeding year, while Puna remained vegetative in the seeding
year and bolted in subsequent years. Root and crown diseases caused Puna
plants to die by about the 3rd or 4th growing season.
A soil test is needed to determine fertility and pH levels. A firm, moist
seedbed is needed for chicory, either seeded solo or in a mixture with grass
or legume. Spring seedings have been the most successful, especially in
areas of severe winters.
When seeding into a tilled seedbed, drilling is preferred over broadcasting.
Good seed-to-soil contact is critical. No-till seeding of chicory into
existing pastures has been successful, but proper management is needed to
suppress the existing sod. If seeded solo, 3 - 5 pounds per acre planted ¼
to ½ inch deep should produce optimum stands. In mixtures, seed 2 - 3 pounds
of chicory with amounts of the usual seeding rate of the other forage(s).
Chicory is a non-legume and 35 pounds of nitrogen per acre should be applied
at seeding. This amount can be reduced if chicory is seeded with a legume.
Chicory is normally not grown in mono-culture (solo seeding), but is most
often included in mixtures with grasses and legumes to add forage diversity,
improve uniformity of growth during the grazing season, and have nitrogen
‘fixed’ by the legume.
If chicory is grown without a legume, 100 - 150 pounds of nitrogen per acre
per year should be provided in split applications of 50 pounds per acre. The
first application is green-up in early spring, then an optional application
in early summer, and the third in early fall. Since nitrogen will stimulate
stem growth, the forage yield increase must be weighed against the ability
to keep chicory grazed so the stems do not bolt.
Spring seeded chicory can be grazed about 85 days after seeding, but leave a
2-inch stubble. A rest period of 25 - 30 days between grazings is suggested.
Forage production and persistence is optimized with rotational grazing.
After the seeding year, chicory will grow vigorously and will try to produce
flowering stems (bolting). The rest period of 25 - 30 days mentioned above
may need to be shortened, or grazing pressure regulated, or have additional
mowing to prevent bolting, especially in the spring. Once bolting has
occurred, production potential is reduced for the remainder of the grazing
season or until the stems are mowed. Preventing bolting will extend the
vegetative stage and forage productivity.
Yields (when chicory was solo seeded) in Illinois and Pennsylvania in the
seeding year ranged from 2 - 3 tons of dry matter per acre; established
stands produced 4 - 6 tons of dry matter per acre. Stands may last five
years or more with good grazing management, but soil type, winter weather,
and variety will be influencing factors.
Proper management is essential to obtain adequate yield, quality, and
persistence from this unique forage crop. Additional research and experience
will help identify varieties with reduced bolting and stand persistence.
Where to Get Help
For more information about chicory contact the local office of the
Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) or University of Illinois
Information in this fact sheet was adapted from a number of sources,
including Penn State University, Kansas State University, Iowa State
University and Forages: An Introduction to Grassland Agriculture, Volume 1,
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