There is great interest in improving ecosystem services from grasslands through adaptive grazing management. Short, intensive grazing bouts followed by long rest periods is the key to all rotational grazing management systems. Implementing proven grazing practices in an adaptive approach that addresses the environmental, economic and social needs of the system improves soil health (through soil carbon sequestration and other mechanisms), forage production and diversity, and animal productivity. This approach has recently been termed “Regenerative Grazing” because, in general, it will help build soil over the long-term, while helping support a profitable farm. A common goal of many “regenerative graziers” is to sell pasture-finished/grass-fed meats on the local market. Tall fescue is the dominant perennial base forage covering a large area of the US, from the temperate Northeast to the Subtropical Southeast and West the Great Plains. Unfortunately, most tall fescue in the “fescue belt” is the variety KY31 which contains a toxic endophyte that threatens the long-term success of a regenerative management system, especially when it requires a higher level of animal production (like local meats). Adaptive grazing will generally lead to improved plant diversity, but as long as toxic fescue is part of the system, it will dominate pastures and continue to cause it’s well-defined problems with animal welfare and production.
On Dec. 7th, the Alliance for Grassland Renewal hosted a symposium at the 8th National Grazing Lands Coalition Conference in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina entitled “Renovate to Regenerate: Establishing Ecologically Beneficial Cool-Season Perennial Mixtures in the Tall Fescue Belt”. The goal of this workshop was to highlight the impacts of toxic tall fescue and offer alternatives to consider in relation to dealing with and eliminating fescue toxicosis through renovation. There was good audience participation and the crowd included familiar faces including Don Ball, Garry Lacefield, Pat Keyser, Jimmy Henning and many others. It was great to gather once again with these familiar colleagues and share some exciting ideas.
The symposium kicked off with Mr. J.B. Daniel laying the groundwork for healthy forage systems by discussing the potential for improving soil health with Regenerative Grazing. Following J.B., Dr. Jennifer Tucker presented a brief background on the toxic endophyte and novel endophyte tall fescue varieties. These varieties have been developed to have the benefits of infected tall fescue without the toxicity problems. Dr. Tucker also discussed current renovation recommendations when replacing toxic tall fescue with non-toxic forage options.
Following Dr. Tucker, Dr. John Fike discussed how the endophyte impacts diversity in our pastures in the tall fescue belt with a focus on ecology, management, and exploring renovation options including using very diverse mixtures. Dr. Fike showed results of research that shows toxic infected tall fescue reduces diversity in mixed pastures, while novel endophyte tall fescue makes a better companion species in diverse pastures.
The highlight of the symposium was Mr. Mike Jones, a Surry Co. North Carolina producer. Dr. Matt Poore introduced Mike and explained how Mike had asked him to help develop a diverse cool-season perennial mix including novel endophyte tall fescue. The development of this mix which Mike planted in 2021 was completed by a group of interested individuals from the Alliance for Grassland Renewal.
Mike then highlighted his real-world implementation and on-farm experiences with diverse mixtures and how alternative management strategies have helped him decrease the impact of fescue toxicosis on his cow herd.
The symposium wrapped up with an exciting panel discussion led by moderator Paige Smart, whose passion for the livestock-forage industry is infectious. Attendees learned that while toxic fescue has been a problem for an extended period, there is exciting potential in the tall fescue belt to dramatically improve animal performance by transitioning to an adaptive grazing management system that regenerates healthy soils and farm profitability.
Regenerative Grazing and Soil Health – J.B. Daniel
Tall Fescue: Livestock Effects and Solutions – J. J. Tucker
How does endophyte impact diversity in our pastures in the tall fescue belt? – J. Fike and M. Poore
Why is plant diversity critical to our farm? M. Jones
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