COLUMBIA, Mo. – When farmers learn what works in growing grass, they share. That will happen at four fescue schools, March 31 to April 3.

The schools kick off a campaign to replace toxic tall fescue with new fescue varieties that won’t harm grazing livestock.

“Farmers like farm success stories,” says Craig Roberts, University of Missouri forage agronomist. “We learned at grazing schools that our best teachers are often the farmers who use science-based practices.”

The programs feature speakers from MU, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the seed industry and farmers.

The programs, the first in the nation, are sponsored by the Alliance for Grassland Renewal.

The schools will be held across the state, moving south to north, on MU research centers of the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. Plots of the new fescue varieties will be shown.

The schools and local contacts are:

  • March 31, Mount Vernon; MU Southwest Research Center. Carla Rathmann, 417-466-2148.
  • April 1, Cook Station; MU Wurdack Farm. 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.

The schools run 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at each location. Pre-registration is required. Details are available on the Alliance website at or from a local contact.

“We have known for years the lost gains and lower reproduction in cow herds,” Roberts says. “Replacing toxic fescue with novel-endophyte varieties can add another three-quarter pound of daily gains on calves.”

Darrel Franson, cow-calf producer from Mount Vernon, Mo., will tell how he converted all of his pastures to a new novel endophyte fescue.

He moved from Minnesota to Missouri. His cattle fell apart when grazing toxic Kentucky 31 fescue. In 2001, he replaced 10 acres of fescue. That led to a year-by-year replacement of all fescue.

He used the MU-developed spray-smother-spray for killing and replacing pasture grasses.

“Franson is not only a good grass farmer, he is an excellent record-keeper,” Roberts says. “He records everything.”

At all four schools he will share records that show the new fescue pays.

Fewer cows lose their hooves, more live calves are born and calves gain weight faster. “The calves do better because the cows produce more milk,” Franson says. He is past president of the Missouri Forage and Grassland Council, co-sponsor of the schools.

Roberts and co-worker Justin Sexten, MU Extension beef nutritionist, brought together all of the players, who were working independently on fescue replacement, to form the Alliance.

The schools will teach the fine points of seeding and managing the new grass.

The new varieties take more management. The old fescue grows a toxic endophyte fungus between plant cells. The toxin inhibits grazing, which protected the stand.

The schools added a section to discuss possible incentives for planting the new fescue.

“With the current high prices for calves, there has never been a better time to improve pounds of gain,” Roberts said. “The early adopters have the most to gain.”

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