A Texas A&M University researcher is looking at using tall fescue to replace annual winter forages in East Texas.

“The problem with the annual winter forages is that they have to be replanted every year,” says agronomist Gerald Evers.

Winter forages allow beef producers to reduce one of the largest out-of-pocket costs during winter – feed costs. But re-establishing them every year is expensive. On average, a producer spends from $20 to $40 per acre in seed costs, fertilizer and field operations, says Evers.

Tall fescues are perennials, and could last years. But current fescues aren’t well-adapted to most soils in Southern climates. They go dormant as temperatures rise and day length increases in early summer. A summer rainfall can cause them to start growing again, then the South’s sandy soils quickly dry out and the plants go dormant again.

“Repeated growth initiation followed by senescence of top growth causes depletion of car-bohydrates in the root system, resulting in grass stand deterioration,” says Evers.

But he suspects that may not be a problem in new fescue varieties being developed in New Zealand. Known as obligatory summer-dormant types, they cease growth when day length and temperatures rise, regardless of rainfall.

Later this summer, Evers will compare two obligatory summer-dormant types of fescue with other varieties. If tests this year and the next show promise, the next step will be to see how cattle perform grazing tall fescue, says Evers.