According to Dr. Rob Kallenbach, as damaging as the drought of 2012 was, it also represents an opportunity.
The University of Missouri Professor of Plant Sciences and state Extension specialist for forage crops said because of the drought reduced stands, producers can more easily reseed hay fields and pastures to something that’s better for their operations. Kentucky 31 Tall Fescue is a resilient species and difficult to push out of the way, but it may have been weakened enough so that it can be overseeded with red or white clover. “They’re often difficult to get started in those pastures under normal conditions,” Kallenbach told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor, “but now that we’ve had a drought and those pastures are maybe just a little bit weaker than normal, it might be easier to get those legumes started.”
Producers can also make more thorough changes. There are now five varieties of novel endophyte infected Tall Fescue in the marketplace; these Fescues do not produce the toxic alkaloids that cause reduced cattle performance.  “Those require a more complete renovation program,” said Kallenbach, “where we’re going to spray out the existing remnant forage that’s there and start over.” Yet a third option would be to replant pastures that have been in cool-season grasses to warm-season ones; he noted: “One of the things we learned from last season is that producers with pastures that had some aspect of warm-season forages were certainly in better shape than producers who relied entirely on cool-season grasses to try to take them through summer.”
A recent study by researchers at Mississippi State University and The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, Effects of Selected Endophyte and Tall Fescue Cultivar Combinations on Steer Grazing Performance, Indicators of Fescue Toxicosis, Feedlot Performance and Carcass Traits, lays out the benefits of seeding a pasture with a lower percentage of toxic endophytes infected Fescue, compared to a 78 percent blend of Kentucky 31 that they dubbed “KY31 E+.” They concluded, “Elite Tall Fescue cultivar and novel endophyte combinations improve growth performance of grazing calves over KY31 E+.”
Dr. John Jennings, University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service animal science professor and forage specialist, said he believes producers are becoming more aware of what the novel endophyte varieties can do. He told OFN, “We actually have seen some of the novel endophyte Fescue that came through this summer’s drought as well as, or in some cases better than, some Kentucky 31 fields that were next to them. So we know it can tolerate drought, as long as it’s not abused and overgrazed.”
Jennings said the first step to reseeding a field to either a novel Fescue or to Orchardgrass is to graze the field down closely in the spring. Then, “sometime in late April or early May, apply some glyphosate herbicide to that field to kill what’s there,” he said. “Follow that up with planting a summer annual forage like Pearl Millet, Sorghum-Sudan – some type of ‘smother’ crop like that.” The annual can either be grazed or harvested at the end of the summer; Jennings said harvesting is preferable so the field can be cleared off with little residue.  Finally, spray the field again to clean up any escaped Fescue, weeds or annual grasses, and no-till in your new field of novel Fescue or Orchardgrass.
Kentucky 31 and other Fescues produce seed in the late spring and summer, and even if the drought severely impacted the stand Jennings said producers should examine their damaged fields closely to see if there are new seedlings coming up. “If they do,” he said, “they just manage it this spring just like a brand new seeding to protect those seedlings. Let them get a good root system developed back under them, and that field should fill in.” If seedings are inadequate, he suggested going in during the winter to reseed the bare spots. “White clover is excellent for grazing,” he said. “Red clover is good for grazing and hay, if they want that option. Annual lespedeza is another good source on lower fertility fields.”


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