Farmers Can Fix Toxic Fescue Problems

New schools help teach farmers how to fix livestock problems resulting from tall fescue.

Published on: Feb 28, 2014

Spring is just around the corn and once again, Missouri farmers will face fescue problems. This year the Alliance for Grassland Renewal is offering help for farmers wanting to eradicate fescue in pastures.

The problem with fescue in Missouri is that it is toxic and cuts into livestock production. The Alliance for Grassland Renewal aims to teach how to eradicate and replant fescue pastures for better production.

Until now, most forage lessons have been on ways to alleviate loss.

"We have several novel-endophyte fescue varieties that eliminate the problem," says Craig Roberts, University of Missouri Extension forage specialist.

In four one-day schools, Missouri producers will learn steps for eradication and reseeding. The schools will be held March 31, Mount Vernon; April 1, Cook Station; April 2, Columbia; and April 3, Linneus.

Fescue is the dominant forage for Missouri livestock producers, but is toxic and cuts into livestock production. The Alliance for Grassland Renewal aims to teach how to eradicate and replant fescue pastures for better production.
Fescue is the dominant forage for Missouri livestock producers, but is toxic and cuts into livestock production. The Alliance for Grassland Renewal aims to teach how to eradicate and replant fescue pastures for better production.

The intense schedule brings together state and national teachers to cover problems and solutions.

Missouri extension specialists brought together all the groups that have worked separately on fescue toxicosis.

The toxicity has been recognized for years, but only recently did plant breeders release a number of fescue varieties to replace the long-established Kentucky 31. That grass, which belatedly was discovered to carry a toxic fungus, is now the dominant pasture grass in the state.

"We'll teach a plan for step-by-step replacement," Roberts says. No farm can replace all pasture at once and maintain their herds, he notes, but they can start with pastures that benefit the most.

"Kentucky 31 is one tough grass," Roberts says. That's why it is popular-because it survives. But a downside is that it cuts calf growth by at least a half-pound per head per day.

"At today's prices, with feeder calves selling for nearly $2 per pound, that's costly to Missouri farmers," he says. "With replacement, we will have huge economic impact. The time is right to take action."

Replacing pastures, killing the old and seeding the new, is a yearlong process.