Teff Grain Farming; Cultivation Practices

Cultivation Practices of Teff Grain/Teff Grain Farming

We are discussing today Teff grain farming practices.


What is Teff grain? Teff is a protein-rich grain that has been a staple of Ethiopian cooking for thousands of years. Teff is traditionally used to create injera, a popular flatbread in Ethiopia. The Teff has a mild, nutty flavor and is excellent in porridge or stew. Teff is developed primarily as a cereal crop in Ethiopia.

Teff is used for both human & animal feed in Africa. Teff is a good cereal for malting and brewing because it has an excellent balance of amino acid content. This cereal is ground into whole-grain flour because Teff seeds are small, and that confers a high fiber & nutrient content of the obtained flour. In fact, the nutrient composition of Teff indicates its best potential as an ingredient in the food & beverage industry. Is teff grain healthy? Teff is a high-fiber food and a strong source of protein, manganese, iron & calcium. The array of vitamins and minerals found in teff contribute to its role as a healthy, weight-managing & bone-strengthening food. Now we get into details of teff grain farming.

Types of Teff:

The color of the teff grains can be ivory, light tan to deep brown color or dark reddish brown purple, depending on the variety. There are three types of Teff.

White Teff is the preferred type but grows in certain regions of Ethiopia. White teff grows in the Highlands of Ethiopia, requires the most rigorous growing conditions, and is the most expensive type of teff.

Red Teff, the least expensive form & the least preferred type, has the highest iron content. In persons living in areas of the country where consumption of red Teff is prevalent, hemoglobin levels were found to be higher with a decreased risk of anemia linked to parasitic infection.

The third type of Teff, brown Teff, has moderate iron content.

Temperature requirement:

The temperature requirement of Teff is as follows;

Hold off planting teff until soil temperatures are in the 65°F range. This means teff must be planted after most other forages and row crops. Planting earlier can slow stand establishment and give weeds an unnecessary head start. Teff is a C-4 grass like corn and sorghums and will make best during periods of maximum heat unit accumulation. Growth will slow as the days become shorter in the fall & will cease upon the first killing frost. 

Soil types

Teff has performed well on soil types vary from low-desert sands to waterlogged clays. The species were shown to tolerate a wide range of soil pH from acid to alkaline & reacts to salinity much like alfalfa but better than most sorghum types. Selection of good soil gives more crop yield in teff grain farming.

Crop Culture:

Teff can be planted in late May related to millets. Late plantings have the advantage to control emerged weeds by tillage prior to planting, which can be significant since teff is a poor competitor with weeds during the early growth stages. Teff germinates rapidly, and the broadcast & narrow row seeding allows for stronger weed competition. Moderate rates of nitrogen & phosphorus fertilizer are suggested to prevent lodging. Several special considerations should be given to Teff harvested for grain. Due to the small seed size, combine seed delivery systems must be checked for gaps & areas through which the small Teff seed can be lost. Soil particles must be prevented from going through the combine & into the grain hopper since it is very difficult if not impossible to divide fine soil particles from the Teff grain.

Teff Plantation and Seeds.
Teff Plantation and Seeds.

Fertility requirements:

Teff is considered a low input crop, need minimal fertilization. Plantings following alfalfa or sod may not need additional nitrogen for the first harvest. However, Teff following a small grain may require nitrogen applied for the first harvest. Normally, total seasonal supplemental nitrogen needs will be in the 50 pounds to 90-pound range depending upon yield, the number of crops & nitrogen source. Don’t over affect nitrogen as fertilizer or as manure. Lodging can occur which can reduce yield and stand persistence. Some phosphorous & trace elements may be beneficial, but soil test before applying.


Teff is developed directly from seed in a prepared seedbed. The field is prepared for planting by plowing several times and, in areas where drainage is poor, raised beds are created to aid drainage. In moisture-stressed fields, the seedbeds are strongly packed prior to sowing seed to help prevent the soil surface drying too quickly. Teff seeds are generally sown on the soil surface and left uncovered or are covered lightly with tree branches. Seeding rates vary by region but generally, 15–55 kg of seeds are sown per hectare of land. If Teff seeds are sown mechanically with a broadcaster or seed drill, lower seeding rates can be used. Higher seeding rates are necessary when hand sowing Teff seed due to the small size of the seeds making it difficult to broadcast evenly.

Seedbed preparation:

Planting into a firm seedbed is necessary for stand establishment. Teff seed is small & must be placed near the soil surface with good seed, soil contact for quick, vigorous germination. Arrange a bed that your heel barely marks or “you can bounce a basketball on” as some agronomists advise. When complete tillage isn’t possible, remove the trash, seed shallow, cover & firmly pack. Seedbed must be firm & prepared similar to the planting of alfalfa. Preparation of seedbed in teff grain farming plays a major role in a high percentage of seed germination.

Read: Methods of Seed Sowing.

Teff is a summer annual forage native to Ethiopia that is broadly adopted. It can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions, from soils that are badly drained to those that are prone to severe drought. It is low input forage that is extremely capable in terms of nutrient use. It can be planted on both dry land & irrigated acres.

Teff is planted when soil temps make a minimum of 65 degrees at dawn. The seedbed must be clean and firmed ahead of planting. Teff is best planted into a tilled seedbed; stands can be very erratic if no-tilled. The seed must be planted no deeper than two-tenths of an inch to prevent emerging issues given its small size. A clay-based coating pre-applied to the seed is obtainable to aid in the metering of the seed at planting & is strongly suggested, given the extremely small size of the seed. Compared to other grass forages, the Teff is an efficient use of nutrients. Nitrogen utilizes rates are fairly low, with a typical application rate ranging from 50 pounds to 100 pounds of actual N for a season, depending upon the yield goal for the field. Phosphorus and potassium must be applied per soil test results for newly established grass pastures. Given its broad adaptation, a Teff can tolerate both low & high pH fairly well without amending the soils for pH.

Seed Selection:

To maximize forage production, select a variety bred for forage production & not a grain type. Grain types tend to mature earlier than forage types which generally translate to less yield and lower forage quality.

Teff seed is very small and as raw, untreated seed averages 1.3 million per pound & is difficult to sow, for this reason, most growers prefer coated seed. The coating lowers the seed count per pound but increases the size & ballast of the seed for easier distribution by planters and more accurate seed placement. A colorant is part of the coating which helps growers gauge seeding depth and coverage. The selection of quality and high yielding seeds are very important in teff grain farming.

Seed Rate:

The seed rates for Teff are; seeding rates are 4.5 kg/ha to 9.0 kg/ha using implements such as cult packers or Brillion seeders. Teff must be seeded 12–15 mm deep either broadcast or in narrow rows.

The recommended seeding rate is usually 5 to 7 pounds per acre for raw seed & 7 to 10 pounds per acre for coated seed. Seeding rates above these ranges may lead to lodging, stand loss & reduced yield.

Stands can be established with broadcast spinners, the Brillion seeder small seed box of most grain drills gives the seedbed has been properly firmed beforehand. After planting, it is a good practice to roll or cult pack the field to ensure very good soil-seed contact. Avoid dragging after planting, which tends to bury seed deep for uniform germination. Teff can be aerially applied, but the seeding rate of coated seed must be 10-14 pounds per acre.

Weed Control

Seedbed preparation, soil temperature & seeding depth are the key cultural practices for weed control in teff. There are few labeled herbicides so the primary weed control on the common of U.S. acres is accomplished by the following cultural practices:

  1. Controlling weeds in the earlier crop or pasture.
  2. Pre-till to incorporate field residue & to get a “first flush” weed growth.
  3. Planting after getting a 65-degree soil temperature encourages quick emergence.
  4. Later planting dates & stand density can help reduce weed competition.
  5. Usually, if teff emerges quickly & has a two-week window of favorable weather to establish a root system, the crop can outcompete most weeds.
  6. Most broadleaf weeds can be removed with the first harvest 45 days -55 days after planting

Herbicide options are limited, but herbicides are currently being evaluated by researchers & chemical companies. Growers must check with their local suppliers and follow all labeled instructions. If the broadleaf herbicide Latigo is applied, it must not occur until the teff plant has at least 2 leaves and before the boot stage.

Cultivation Practices:

The cultivation of teff is labor intensive & the small size of its seeds makes it difficult to handle and transport them without loss. In Ethiopia, a Teff is mostly produced through the main rainy season, between July and November. It is called an “emergency crop” because it is planted late in the season when the temperatures are warmer, and mainly other crops have already been planted. Teff germination commonly occurs between 3 and 12 days after sowing. Optimal germination temperatures vary from 15 to 35°C; less than 10°C, germination almost does not occur. Teff is traditionally broadcast by hand, on firm, humid soil. Usual sowing density ranges from 15 to 20 kg/ha, though farmers should show up to 50 kg/ha because the seeds are hard to spread equally & a higher sowing density helps to decrease weed competition at the early stage. Seeds are either left on the soil surface or slightly covered by a thin layer of soil, but should not be planted at a depth greater than 1 cm. The field can be consequently rolled. Sowing can be done mechanically; row planting reduces lodging.

Read: Layer Poultry Training.

Recommended fertilization doses are the followed 25-60 kg/ha for Nitrogen and 10-18 kg/ha for Phosphorous. Teff responds extra to nitrogen than to phosphorus; thus, high nitrogen inputs increase the biomass production & size of the plants, thereby increasing lodging. To avoid this, farmers can decrease nitrogen input, cultivate Teff after a legume crop or adjust the sowing time, so that the rains have stopped when the crop attain the heading stage. In Ethiopia, a Teff is generally used in crop rotations with other cereals and legumes.

Harvest timing and cutting management:

For optimum forage quality, Teff must be harvested prior to the seed head appeared in the late vegetative stages. Don’t be fooled by Teff’s 2 1/2 to a 3-foot height at the sight of first heads & delay harvest. The canopy is thick, dense, & carries a deceptive yield. Delaying harvest hurts quality, harvest recovery, and total seasonal yield. Cutting at the proper time ensure adequate plant reserves for regrowth in subsequent cuts. Harvesting after Teff has headed out will reason delays in regrowth. The cutting interval is normally 45 to 50 days for a first cut and approximately 30 days for subsequent cuts; however, this could vary by location. A stubble cutting height of 3 to 4 inches is essential to promote vigorous regrowth. Plant food reserves that fuel regrowth is stored in the bottom four inches of the plant stem, therefore cutting heights lower than 3 inches to 4 inches will severely reduce subsequent forage production. Determining the proper harvesting time is important in teff grain farming.


Teff is ready for harvest between 60 and 120 days after planting when the leaves of the plants turn from green color to yellow in color. Prompt harvest before the plants dry out completely helps to stop the seed heads from shattering, reducing losses. At harvest, care must be taken to ensure that the grain does not get mixed with soil as the small grain size makes it not possible to separate back out. The Teff seed is separated from the chaff by trampling or threshing.

Read: How To Grow Pearl Millet.


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