On Tuesday, March 28 2023 the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES), in cooperation with the Alliance of Grassland Renewal, hosted the 2023 Novel Tall Fescue Renovation Workshop. Because of the large crowd expected for the day-long meeting, the classroom portion of the workshop was conducted in the modern and spacious Advanced Technology Center at Calhoun Community College and the field exercises were conducted a short distance away at the Tennessee Valley Research and Extension Center (TVREC). The workshop was well attended by producers and educators from across northern Alabama and several surrounding states, and the information presented was extremely well received.
Tall fescue is the dominant forage in northern Alabama, but despite years of educational efforts many producers have not taken advantage of the benefits of including novel endophyte (Novel E) fescue in their forage systems. There are many reasons for this resistance, some of which would include a general lack of awareness of the benefits of Novel E fescue, an overall lack of understanding about the process of converting “dirty” fescue stands to Novel E, and a resistance to the cost of converting fields. But perhaps the single biggest point of resistance comes from the general misunderstanding that comes from associating Novel E fescue with the “fungus free” fescue that many producers tried years ago with very poor results. The excellent classroom presentations given by a great slate of speakers from across the Southeast did a great job of dispelling many myths associated with Novel E fescue, and did a great job of explaining how Novel E fescue can be practically and economically established by almost any motivated forage producer.
As has been the case in other workshops conducted in other parts of the Southeast, a highlight of the classroom portion of the workshop was the “Producer Panel”. The panelists for this workshop included someone that has probably been growing Novel E fescue for about as long as anyone in the South, a purebred cattle producer that very recently established a stand of Novel E fescue, a large commercial cattle producer that has very successfully included a field of Novel E for the past 7 years, and a younger, innovative cattle producer that utilizes Novel E fescue in an intensively managed grazing system designed to minimize his dependence on stored feeds. The producers on this panel represented some of the most respected cattle producers in the area, and their honest and frank assessments of the use of Novel E fescue in their operations provided great credibility to the idea of taking advantage of the use of Novel E fescue in northern Alabama.
One of the highlights of this particular workshop was the inclusion of the field exercises at the TVREC. In preparation for conducting the workshop, large demonstration plots (3 acre each) were planted with Novel E tall fescue using three different, commonly used, establishment techniques. Each of the establishment techniques, all of which had been explained in good detail during the earlier classroom portion of the workshop, were equally effective and served to demonstrate to the producers in attendance that there was more than one way to successfully transition a field into Novel E tall fescue. In addition to seeing the results of different establishment techniques, the workshop attendees were also about to see the results of a cool-season annual weed control demonstration that had been put into place across the different establish areas.
An additional highlight of the workshop was a no-till drill calibration demonstration and a sprayer calibration demonstration. The drill calibration portion of the workshop was taught by David Harkins, North AL Regional Director for the Alabama Agriculture Experiment Station. This demonstration was done using the exact drill used to plant the demonstration area. The sprayer calibration demonstration was presented by Dr David Russell, the ACES statewide weed specialist, demonstrated not only the “nuts and bolts” part of proper sprayer calibration but also provided great instruction about the importance of proper herbicide selection and applying it at the proper rates. The “hands on” portion of this workshop was greatly appreciated by everyone in attendance at the workshop.
Judged by any measure, the 2023 Novel Tall Fescue Renovation Workshop in northern Alabama was a great success! The large, comfortable classroom with excellent audio-visual equipment provided an excellent environment for informative, classroom instruction that was presented by some of the best instructors in America. The field exercises which showed how the exact same equipment used for establishment was used to successfully establish Novel E tall fescue was informative and well received. But the true value of the workshop, and something that cannot be duplicated in any other venue, was the day-long interaction between motivated forage producers, some of the best forage researchers and educators in the country, graduate students, and Extension educators. There simply is not substitute for that sort of educational experience and it is a great reason that any forage producer in the Southeast should attend a similar workshop if at all possible…it is certainly worth the effort!
~ Gerry Thompson / Leanne Dillard
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