Dropping crop prices and rising beef prices may draw marginal cropland into improved pastures this year, says Justin Sexten, University of Missouri beef nutritionist. It's also a way to protect fragile land and make profits with forages.
Sexten is part of the Alliance for Grassland Renewal, which conducts schools that teach producers the best way to convert pastures of toxic Kentucky 31 fescue into toxin-free novel endophyte fescue. Five new varieties are available for farmers.
The economic outlook also favors conversion. With current high prices for beef calves, and a strong outlook, there should be quicker payback for pasture conversion, he says.
"Land taken out of CRP and put in crops is an ideal place to start raising new fescues," he says. "That land was not top-grade crop ground when it was enrolled in CRP. Now it can be returned to grass to slow soil erosion. At the same time it can be a profit center on the farm."
Sexten adds that CRP ground that was planted to crops when grain prices shot up may be ready to reseed to grass – and, cropping a couple of years eradicates toxic K-31.
The toxic endophyte cuts calf gains, reduces cow's milk and hurts conception rates. In contrast, seeding to novel-endophyte fescues will avoid those problems, and can improve productivity with added advantages, Sexten says.
For example, nitrogen fertilizer can be applied to the new varieties to produce more pounds of grass per acre. With the old fescue, adding nitrogen increased toxin levels.
But, Sexten warns, if K-31 plants and their seeds in the soil are not killed, toxic fescue will return and crowd out new seedlings. The new grass must be protected with careful grazing.
Another option is to no-till crops into current toxic K-31 pastures. Corn and soybeans can be used as "smother" crops in the MU "spray, smother, spray" fescue eradication system.
Cropping may also help pay cost of pasture reseeding. Otherwise, the smother crop can be an annual grass used for beef forage.
Sexten advises that if producers near Missouri can attend, there will be four workshops on March 31 and three dates in April that will help producers eradicate toxic fescue with novel-endophyte varieties. Learn more at www.grasslandrenewal.org.
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