COLUMBIA, Mo. – Out with toxic fescue and in with new novel-endophyte fescue. That is the theme for two one-day grazing schools, March 18 at Mount Vernon, Mo., and March 21 at Linneus, Mo.

“We’ve learned to eradicate Kentucky 31 fescue,” said Craig Roberts, University of Missouri Extension specialist. “Now we have several novel-endophyte fescue varieties to replace the toxic grass.”

Nontoxic fescues are best suited for managed grazing, Roberts said. Toxic fescues survive continuous grazing.

Livestock prefer new varieties so much they overgraze them. That can kill new plantings. “To be successful, the new varieties need careful grazing,” Roberts said. “Management protects the investment.”

The grazing schools will be held at the MU Southwest Research Center in Lawrence County and MU Forage Systems Research Center in Linn County. The centers have comparison plots of all novel-endophyte varieties. The plots will be grazed this year.

The schools are planned by the Alliance for Grassland Renewal. The group brings fescue seed companies together with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, MU Extension and farmers.

“The schools are patterned after the popular grazing schools, now held statewide,” Roberts said.

After the two new grazing schools the specialists plan to conduct regional schools in future years.

“We’ve known for years that infected fescue reduced grazing gains and cut reproduction in livestock,” Roberts said. “Now we have varieties that boost livestock production.”

Early attempts to replace Kentucky 31 failed when endophyte-free fescue was introduced. The plants need the endophyte.

Endophyte is a fungus that lives between the cells in grass plants. The old endophyte produced toxins that protect fescue against drought, diseases, insects and nematodes. The toxin also reduces animal grazing.

The novel endophytes protect the grass but don’t poison the livestock. “Farmers must control grazing on the new varieties to help maintain the stands.”

Financial returns to grazing will increase, Roberts said. That becomes important with rising cattle prices and higher feed costs.

An early part of the schools will teach how to kill toxic fescue. “K31 variety is hard to kill,” Roberts said. “The replacement recipe must be followed closely. We want producers to be successful—and gain more returns from pastures.”

The school will show how to test fescue fields to see if they should be replaced.

The Alliance limits enrollment in the first trial state schools. The fees will be $60 single or $110 per couple. That includes lunch, breaks and a notebook of materials.

To enroll at the Southwest Center, Mount Vernon, contact Carla at 417-466-2148 or [email protected]. At FSRC, contact Tamie at 660-895-5121 or [email protected].

In addition to MU Extension and NRCS, seed company representatives will participate. Companies are Barenbrug, DLF, AgResearch, Pennington and Mountain View. A toxin-testing service, Agrinostic, will help.

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