Toxic Fescue Hard to Kill to Reseed Pasture

11:37AM Mar 04, 2015
BT Stocker Cattle Fescue 8
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"Say 'goodbye' to profit-robbing toxic fescue" is the theme of four schools to start March 30 across Missouri.

The long name is "Novel endophyte tall fescue renovation school."

The action plan is simple, says Craig Roberts, University of Missouri Extension forage specialist. "We teach how to kill the almost impossible to kill toxic fescue. Then we teach how to seed and manage new toxin-free fescues."

The story sounds complicated, Roberts says. "The plan works if it is followed step by step."

Hundreds of farmers have proven that shortcuts don't work, he says. "And everyone thinks of an easier way. Trouble is, none work."

When the "spray, smother, spray" plan is followed, the new toxin-free pastures boost gains.

The flier for the schools explains: "Toxic tall fescue causes more problems than 'fescue foot.' Research shows reduced weight gains, poor reproductive performance, rough hair coats and diminished immune response due to impaired blood circulation caused by toxin in fescue pasture and hay."

For years we have managed around all those problems, Roberts says. "Now we can just get rid of the toxin problems. Novel-endophyte varieties work."

The toxic K-31 requires high maintenance, but many producers fail to recognize the problem. "Too much toxic fescue is not managed." The losses cost beef and dairy herd owners millions in potential gains.

"The only reason K-31 has become the No. 1 grass in Missouri is it survives without care," Roberts says.

The schools are held at MU research centers of the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. Each MU farm has plots being grazed for demonstrations.

Dates, places and local contacts are:

March 30. Southwest Center, 145148 Highway H, Mount Vernon; Carla Rathmann, 417-466-2148.

March 31. Wurdack Farm, 164 Bales Road, Cook Station; Will McClain, 573-775-2135.

April 1. Beef Research and Teaching Farm (South Farm), 5151 Old Millers Road, Columbia; Lena Johnson, 573-882-7327.

April 2. Forage Systems Research Center, 21262 Genoa Road, Linneus; FSRC, 660-895-5121.

All start at 9 a.m. and end at 5 p.m. Enrollment is limited at each site. Call early. The fee includes lunch and breaks.

The schools are organized by the Alliance for Grassland Renewal. The group, formed in Missouri, involves all interested in growing fescue. That includes all companies with new varieties, MU Extension, seed testers, farmers and government.

Novel endophyte has been known and used for years. "Now seed is widely available and tested," Roberts says. "Successful changes can be made."

School topics range from the economic loss, statewide, to how to set a no-till drill. The replacement requires a yearlong plan. It not only kills the growing K-31 fescue but also new seedlings emerging from the soil seed bank after the cover is killed.

If the plan is not followed, the old seed emerges and crowds out the new varieties, Roberts says. "Plowing does not work. One spray does not work. Those who do it right are big winners."

The biggest winners are farmers who use the new high-production grass.

Darrel Franson, Mount Vernon beef farmer, has been on the road speaking to farmers. He moved to southwestern Missouri from Minnesota. Immediately his cattle faltered. They were na‹ve to the toxic fescue.

No one had told Franson of the No. 1 grazing hazard in Missouri. Now he tells all who will listen. He found that replacement costs were paid off in just over two years, with reduced losses.

He took 10 years to replace fescue, pasture by pasture, on his farm.

He and farmer Curtis Schallert, Purdy, will speak, in addition to others from the industry.

Source: University of Missouri Extension