Gene and Glenda Fay Brown have been married for 61 years and live on their Century Farm in Cedar County, Missouri. After high school graduation, Gene purchased his first 100 acres of land and needed to pay for it. He took off for Kansas City and a job at the Firestone Tire Rubber Plant, rooming with several young men his age from his hometown area. When Glenda graduated from high school, she also headed to Kansas City. She found employment at Western Electric and roomed with several girls from the Dade County area. Along came a birthday and the two groups joined together to celebrate. “I was surprised to find out she wanted to go with me,” said Gene. They dated for three months, were engaged for three months, and married in 1959. “We’ve never been sorry!” When they were expecting their first child, they made their move back to the farm near Stockton. The couple was ready to raise their family and become full-time farmers.
Gene and Glenda have two children, Julie and Rick. Julie and husband Jack Kearney have a daughter and son, Cassie and Christopher. Both are teachers. Rick and Connie Brown have one daughter, Brittney, who is also a teacher, and three sons. Colton, the oldest, graduated from MSU with a degree in agriculture. He married in December 2020 and the couple is renting a farm across the road from his grandparents. Connor is currently attending MSU, also earning his degree in agriculture. Youngest grandson, Cannon, attends the fifth grade in Stockton. All three, along with their father, help out on the farm. Rick is the bank manager at Simmons Bank in Stockton and takes vacation during harvest to help with the hectic schedule. He is their master mechanic and they couldn’t do fescue seed harvest without him.
Gene is in partnership with his son and grandsons and together they operate the 440-acre family farm with 130 head of beef cows. They cut 150 acres of their own fescue seed during harvest, along with 150 acres cut on shares. The rest of the year, they manage the acreage to feed their cattle. Gene stated he had fed only 50 bales of their harvested hay by January 15, 2021. He attributes this to rotating pastures and the favorable weather. Gene learned how to extend his grazing season through attending one of the Missouri grazing schools offered by the NRCS and MU Extension. He highly recommends other cattlemen attend the school when it is offered in their area.
Gene planted his first Kentucky-31 tall fescue in 1954 and still has fields of the original toxic tall fescue, but in the past several years the Browns have worked to renovate their pastures to the novel fescue Texoma MaxQ II. “You can’t do all your pastures at the same time,” said Gene, “but you can get started.” Gene was convinced that the novel fescues were the way to go after reading about them in his farming magazines. “I particularly remember an article in the Joplin Stockyard magazine, ‘Cattlemen’s News.’ After reading that, I was ready to take the plunge.” They began the process with 24 acres in 2012. Later, they renovated 19 acres, and then 12 acres. Their last renovation was in the fall of 2020 when they planted 20 acres to Texoma MaxQ II. Grandson Colton will go into more detail on this recent renovation in a later paragraph, but simply put, Gene’s system of renovation goes like this: In the spring, mow the fescue down
and spray with Round-up before it “heads out.” Plant soybeans (or corn) in the field and after harvesting the soybeans follow with planting the novel tall fescue. Depending on the weather, this planting will be around September. “The cattle prefer the novel, it’s more palatable,” said Gene. “and the novels yield more.”
The Browns have their system of balancing seed production with hay production. “As soon as fescue seed is cut, we go immediately into hay. We don’t delay cutting the hay and for the most part we haven’t seen any adverse effects.” The Browns supplement their cows in the winter when they are feeding hay. Their supplement is purchased from Hammon’s in Stockton and called oil stock.
They apply a granular fertilizer to their fields. “We soil test and apply nitrogen in the fall and the spring according to the soil test.” He definitely recommends the soil test. “No need to throw out fertilizer that doesn’t need to be applied.” If they notice an influx of weeds in their spring pastures, they use Grazon or a broadleaf weed killer in early April. In their Texoma fields, they are careful to feed Texoma hay harvested from that same field “so we are not cross contaminating our fields by mixing novel hay and toxic hay.”
Grandson Colton and wife Ciara are working to make improvements on the 120-acre farm they are renting across the road from Gene and Glenda. The couple has 20 head of beef cows and a bull. Colton’s early memories of working with fescue include being in the grain truck with Grandpa and Dad when they were unloading, later driving the combine under supervision and then on his own. “It’s a season that I love.”
The field Colton renovated to Texoma MaxQ II was planted in soybeans the previous fall by the landowner. Once the beans were harvested, the landowner turned the field over to Colton to be converted to pasture. Colton didn’t want the land to set idle when he could be growing grass, so he planted Teff in the spring of 2020 and harvested the hay. In August, he sprayed the field to kill any remaining vegetation and headed to the NRCS office to rent their no-till drill.
“We planted the Texoma MaxQ II on September 14, 2020 and it didn’t rain for six weeks. I was nervous for six weeks.” It was the end of October before Colton began to see the novel fescue emerge and finally a rain came. “The seed popped up and I got a good stand.” At present, the seed is just a few inches tall and Colton doesn’t know if there will be a seed crop this year since it came up so late, but at least he will have good quality hay.
Colton likes the benefits of the new, improved novel varieties. “It’s better for your cattle and the Texoma MaxQ II outperforms the previous varieties by producing more forage in the fall and the spring.”
Maintaining the purity of the pastures involves feeding novel hay on novel pastures. To further safeguard against contamination, he recommends carefully cleaning off the swather and combine when switching fields during seed harvest. “We blow off the equipment when we change fields so seeds don’t travel from one field to another.” He also recommends keeping the combine’s sieves and screens cleaned out. “We are always checking to make sure there are no weeds in there that will dock our load at the buying station.”
When seed harvest time is getting close, Colton checks the stem for signs of yellowing. “I’ll also take some of the seeds and rub them off.” He says that watching what the neighbors are doing is good information too. “We watch our neighbors and when they start cutting, we know the time is getting close.”
This multi-generational farm family with their years of experience is heading into another growing season. Just like many of our readers, they will deal with the weather, the daily grind, and before you know it, it will be fescue seed harvest once again. We hope the advice and experiences they have shared will help you with your fescue. Gene’s final recommendation to the fescue producer just starting out: “If you have questions and don’t have any neighbors to talk to, contact the county soil & water district.” He commented Keith Hankins was also a good resource for fescue information. ~ Linda Perkin, for The Fence Post (Pennington Seed)
The Alliance for Grassland Renewal is a national organization focused on enhancing the appropriate adoption of novel endophyte tall fescue technology through education, incentives, self-regulation and promotion. For more resources or to learn more about the Alliance for Grassland Renewal, go to www.grasslandrenewal.org