Timothy Seed Production


Manitoba is the largest producer of timothy seed in Canada. Most of the production is pedigreed seed, produced for use locally as well as for markets in eastern Canada, Europe and the United States.

The climate and soils in Manitoba are well adapted to the production of timothy, with growers reporting yields of 200-500 lbs./ac(225 to 560 kg/ha). Once established, timothy is an easy crop to grow; the main requirements for production of a good seed crop are plenty of moisture throughout the growing season and high fertility.

Site Selection

Timothy is a perennial, bunch-type grass. It is adapted to a wide range of soils but does best under cool, moist conditions. Well-drained clays or clay loam soils are ideal, but because the crop is fairly tolerant to flooding, it also does well on poorly drained or peaty areas. Timothy should be shallow seeded into summer fallow due to the small size of the seed. Fields should be free of perennial weeds.


The best time to seed timothy is in early spring; however an early August seeding can also produce a stand. The August seeding may be necessary to properly prepare the field, but first year seed production will generally be reduced.

The seed bed should be fine and firm so the seed is placed no deeper than one cm (0.5 inch). Seed in 12 inch (30 cm) rows at one to two lb./ac (one to two kg/ha). Six inch (15 cm) row widths are not recommended as the growth becomes too rank in two to three years and yield drops. Seeding can be accomplished by a variety of means. Some drills are accurate enough to seed the timothy directly through the grain box, but grass seeder attachments are generally preferred. The seed can also be directly dropped onto the soil surface in front of the packer weeds and pressed in.

Companion crops are commonly used to protect the young seedlings and provide a snow trap for the first winter. Cereal crops and canola have been successfully used, although if moisture is inadequate during the growing season the timothy may establish poorly. Flax makes a good nurse crop, as it offers adequate protection while allowing a considerable amount of sunlight to reach the seedlings.

Weed Control

Weeds can adversely affect the chances of a successful establishment of timothy. The seed field should be free of perennial weeds, especially couchgrass, Canada thistle, sowthistle, dandelions and red or alsike clover. Annual weeds can be a problem as well. There are no controls for green foxtail or barnyard grass in seedling timothy. As weed control options are limited, it is best to avoid such problems and seed timothy into clean fields.

During the cropping years, certain weeds will cause seed cleaning problems. Members of the mustard family are difficult to separate from timothy; wild mustard is a primary noxious weed and can be a severe problem. Just one wild mustard seed in the final sample will make the seed ineligible for any of the pedigreed grades. Other problems are caused by stinkweed, green foxtail, rough cinquefoil and the clovers.

The worst weed to find in a timothy field, however, is ox-eye daisy. Ox-eye daisy is a perennial plant for which there is no chemical control. It is a prolific seed producer and spreads rapidly, and is difficult to clean out of timothy. Because it is a prohibited noxious weed, seed containing ox-eye daisy cannot be sold in Canada.

For recommended herbicides, refer to the Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives publication, Guide to Crop Protection.


Fertility requirements will vary with the soil type; for specific recommendations producers are advised to have their soil tested. To obtain high yields, most stands will require 80 to 110 lb./ac (90 to 100 kg/ha) of nitrogen and between 20 to 40 lbs./ac (22 to 44 kg/ha) of phosphate. Timothy also requires high levels of sulphur and potassium for optimum seed yields. Grey wooded and coarse textured soils can be deficient in either of these elements, particularly if they have a history of canola or previous timothy production. A soil test will identify if these elements are required.

Fertilizer can be applied either in late fall or very early spring. Do not apply fertilizer to frozen soils subject to water run-off.

High fertilizer levels are important to good seed yields, but they also prevent the stand from becoming too thick. A good seed stand is thin with only one to two plants per square foot (10 to 20 plants per square metre). Volunteer plants spring up each year in the bare ground between each clump of plants. An application of fertilizer promotes growth of the established clumps at the expense of the seedlings, and this helps keep the stand from thickening up.


Timothy us usually swathed during the late July or early August. The crop is ready when there is a trace of shattering and the heads are golden to the base. Care must be taken not to swath on the green side or yield losses will result.

Rainfall during this time can be serious. Crop losses from a light rain one to five days after swathing are minimal. However, if the swaths have lain six or more days the shattering losses can be significant, particularly in a heavy rain.

The crop should be ready to thresh seven to ten days after swathing. Care must be taken not to hull the seed. Hulled seed quickly loses its ability to germinate, which lowers the seed grade. Cylinder speed should be 700 to 800 RPM's and the recommended concave setting is 1/8 - 3/16 inches (3-5 mm) At the front and 1/16 - 1/8 inches (1.5 to 3 mm) at the rear.

If harvested during hot weather, seed may need to be spread thinly on a granary floor or placed in aeration bins. This depends on the humidity and moisture content of the seed when harvested. Once the seed is cool and dry, germination will not change and it is ready for storage.

Fall Care

Timothy straw can be used for cattle feed, particularly when it is leafy or when other grasses, such as quack-grass, are present.

To guard against a build-up of insect pests, straw should be taken off the field or burned. Stem Maggot, which causes silver top, can be controlled in this manner. Recently, localized outbreaks of two new pests have occurred. The European Skipper is a small orange moth that lays its eggs on timothy plants. The larvae emerge, crawl to the top of the plant, feed on the flag leaf, and then work down the stem. The Meadow Plant Bug is a close relative of the Alfalfa Plant Bug, and feeds on developing timothy seeds with its sucking mouth parts. Control methods for both the Meadow Plant Bug and the European Skipper have not been established, but burning the field after harvest may be an effective measure.