Schools Teach Replacing Toxic Grass With Novel-Endophyte Fescue Variety

   A group that helps grassland farmers replace toxic tall fescue with nontoxic-endophyte fescue is coming to Oklahoma.
   The Alliance for Grassland Renewal, which worked in Missouri for the past three years, will hold its first out-of-state grass-renewal school March 28 at Welch, Okla. Three sessions will be held across Missouri.
   The one-day workshop was refined in repeated session at four locations across Missouri each year.
   “We’ve taken suggestions from farmers to tell what they need to know,” says Craig Roberts, University of Missouri Extension forage specialist, Columbia.
   The Alliance, a national organization, was formed in 2012 to improve pasture performance of animals suffering fescue toxicosis.
   Roberts, a native of northeastern Oklahoma, says his home area is a hotbed of toxic fescue. “There are many producers who can benefit from the new novel-endophyte fescues.”
   The Alliance expects to draw farmers from the four corners of Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas and Missouri.
   The first school will be at the Cherokee Red Barn cafe in Welch, starting at 9 a.m.
   The schools help farmers in making successful conversion from toxic Kentucky-31 fescue to one of several varieties available. Plant breeders from several companies perfected replacing toxic endophyte with nontoxic endophyte.
   Endophyte, a fungus, grows between cell walls of tall fescue. The original endophyte in K-31 produces a toxin with serious side effects in grazing livestock, particularly cattle and horses.
   The fescue remains a popular cool-season grass. However, the endophyte is new.
   The fungus protects the fescue. Endophyte-free fescue did not work in grazing systems.
   The Alliance tells many advantages: No more fescue foot, heavier weaning weights, smooth hair coats, higher conception rates and thrifty production.
   “Just knowing calves gain twice as fast appeals to producers,” Roberts says.
   Conversion isn’t simple. The schools are meticulous in teaching the fine points of establishment. The first step eradicates long-standing fescue stands. That is time-consuming.
   “One big advantages of fescue is that it is hardy-and hard to kill,” Roberts says. For new varieties to compete, the old stand must be eradicated. That is an almost yearlong process.
   MU researchers perfected a method called “spray-smother-spray.” Replacement starts with grazing down and then spraying with herbicide. Next, a cover crop is no-tilled into the sod. Over summer, that crop can be a warm-season Sudan forage. In winter, that is a small grain such as cereal rye or wheat.
   The cover crop smothers seedlings emerging from the soil. At last, the field is sprayed again to kill any remaining toxic tillers. Only then can a new novel-endophyte variety have a clean start.
   “We tell everything, including hands-on skill of setting the no-till drill,” Roberts says.
   The 2016 school locations and contacts:
   • Mar. 28, Welch, Okla., Cherokee Red Barn. Shirley Hudson, 918-542-4576 or
   • Mar. 29, Mount Vernon, Mo., MU Southwest Research Center. Eldon Cole, 417-466-3102 or
   • Mar. 30, Columbia, MU Beef Farm. Lena Johnson, 573-882-7327 or
   • Mar. 31, Linneus, MU Forage Systems Research Center. Racheal Foster-Neal, 660-895-5121 or
   Contact local person for advance sign-up.
   A trade show presents products. Company exhibitors: Barenbrug, DLF, AgResearch, Pennington, Mountain View and Agrinostics.
   A registration fee covers meal, refreshments and proceedings.
   Speakers include MU faculty and extension specialists, NRCS specialist and a grass farmer at each site. ∆
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