(Editor’s Note: This article relates to cattle production, but fescue toxicity also affects goat production. Converting pastures to toxin-free fescue would benefit goat producers as well as cattlemen.)
Justin Sexten, University of Missouri beef nutritionist, sees a way to protect fragile land and make profits with forages. He knows better grass provides better cow nutrition. Sexten is part of the Alliance for Grassland Renewal, which conducts schools on converting pastures of toxic Kentucky 31 fescue into toxin-free novel endophyte fescue. Five new varieties are available for farmers.
“CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) ground that was planted to crops when grain prices shot up may be ready to reseed to grass,” Sexten says. “Cropping a couple of years eradicates toxic K-31.”
Grazing new novel-endophyte fescue varieties will improve productivity, Sexten says. The toxic endophyte cuts calf gains, reduces cow’s milk and hurts conception rates. Novel-endophyte fescues avoid those problems.
There is an added advantage. Nitrogen fertilizer can be applied to the new varieties to produce more pounds of grass per acre. With the old fescue, adding nitrogen increased toxin levels. That defeated the advantage of added pounds of grass.
Four fescue schools held across Missouri will teach the steps in killing old fescue and planting new. Management is needed in both steps: eradicating and reseeding. If K-31 plants and their seeds in the soil are not killed, toxic fescue will return and crowd out new seedlings. The new grass must be protected with careful grazing.
Economic outlook favors conversion. With current high prices for beef calves, and a strong outlook, there should be quicker payback for pasture conversion.
Staff at the fescue schools will urge starting small on best pastureland and increasing the renovations year by year.
The schools and local contacts for registration are:
• March 31, Mount Vernon; MU Southwest Research Center. Carla Rathmann, 417-466-2148.
• April 1, Cook Station; MU Wurdack Research Center. Will McClain, 573-775-2135.
• April 2, Columbia; MU Beef Research and Teaching Farm on Highway 63 South. Lena Johnson, 573-882-7327.
• April 3, Linneus; MU Forage Systems Research Center. Tamie Carr, 660-895-5121.
Space is limited at each school. The research centers are part of the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. The Alliance for Grassland Renewal brings together all players in the renewal process, Sexten says. That includes MU research and extension, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, seed companies, fescue testing labs, nonprofits and farmers.
“All work together now,” Sexten says. “Land taken out of CRP and put in crops is an ideal place to start raising new fescues,” he says. “That land was not top-grade crop ground when it was enrolled in CRP. Now it can be returned to grass to slow soil erosion. At the same time it can be a profit center on the farm.”
However, current toxic K-31 pastures can be no-tilled into crops. Corn and soybeans can be used as smother crops in the MU-perfected “spray, smother, spray” fescue eradication. Cropping helps pay the cost of pasture reseeding. Otherwise, the smother crop can be an annual grass used for beef forage.
See school registration details at www.grasslandrenewal.org.