For producers with vast acres of toxic tall fescue, there are few more daunting tasks than eradicating the endophyte-ridden forage.

It takes time, money, and patience, but help is here. The Alliance for Grassland Renewal has teamed with Virginia Cooperative Extension and University Extension in Missouri, Kentucky, North Carolina, and South Carolina to put on a series of fescue pasture renovation workshops. These one-day sessions aim to assist cattle producers in replacing toxic fescue with novel tall fescue varieties through providing tools and information.

Tall fescue toxicosis is an ongoing problem that affects many cattle across the United States. Kentucky 31, the dominant variety, often causes multiple health issues in grazing livestock that may result in death. This translates to a loss of revenue for producers that researchers estimate at $1 billion annually industry wide.

Discovered in the mid-‘70s, an endophyte, or fungus, grows between tall fescue’s cell walls and produces ergot alkaloids. These compounds shrink blood vessels and reduce blood flow, impairing livestock’s ability to remain cool in hot weather. As a result, cows become lethargic and overheated, which affects their desire to graze and thus gain weight.

This blood vessel constriction has been known to damage extremities throughout the winter months. Serious cases result in hooves sloughing off, or “fescue foot,” in which the animal must be put down. Toxic fescue also reduces conception rates, birth weights, growth, and milk production.

Kentucky 31 is notorious for its hardiness. Being heat, drought, disease, and insect resistant, tall fescue is resilient and hard to eradicate. In an effort to find solutions, plant breeders have developed novel endophyte varieties of tall fescue that are nontoxic to livestock and are as resilient as Kentucky 31.

The upcoming workshops, supported by the Alliance for Grassland Renewal, aim to help producers understand fescue toxicosis and the best strategies for converting pastures. Topics include establishment practices, fertility needs, smother crops, weed control, stand maintenance, and variety selection. Workshops include added training in drill calibration and pasture walks to observe different novel endophyte varieties.

For registration information, call 660-895-5121 or visit

Dates and Locations

Tuesday, March 6, 2018 — Mt. Vernon, Mo.

Thursday, March 8, 2018 — Lexington, Ky.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018 — Pendleton, S.C.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018 — Raleigh, N.C.

Thursday, March 15, 2018 — Raphine, Va.

Lauren Peterson

Lauren Peterson served as the 2017 Hay & Forage Grower summer editorial intern. She is from Wyanet, Ill., and currently attends Kansas State University where she is pursuing a degree in agricultural communications and journalism. While at school, Lauren works at the KSU dairy farm and is an active member of the Horseman’s Association.