Craig Roberts

Extension: Fescue Toxicosis

Fescue Toxicosis is a program that addresses the most devastating syndrome facing Missouri livestock producers. The goal of the program is to help the forage-livestock industry improve weight gain and milk production  in beef calf and dairy heifers and reproductive performance of all classes of livestock. The underlying philosophy of the program will be "alkaloid management," which calls for a series of practices to limit ingestion of toxic alkaloids.

These toxic alkaloids, known as "ergot alkaloids," are produced by a symbiotic fungus that lives inside of tall fescue plants. The alkaloids occur in the part per billion range, yet they can reduce steer weight gain by 50%. Because producers are "paid by the pound," this 50% reduction in steer weight gain represents the same degree of reduction in gross income. Ergot alkaloids can also reduce milk production by 30% and cause numerous birthing difficulties in all classes of livestock, especially dystocia (foaling complications) in horses.

In the past, this educational program was implemented through workshops held on MU outlying research centers. The first workshop, a pilot event, occurred on 7-8 Oct. 2004 at Mt. Vernon, Missouri. It was co-taught with State Specialists and researchers from the University of Missouri and Clemson University. The curriculum for these workshops followed the agenda proposed at the 5th International Symposium on Neotyphodium/Grass Interactions, held in May, 2004. The subject matter presented management techniques published in Fescue Toxicosis and Management.

In 2012, this educational program began addressing "novel endophytes," which are strains of beneficial fungi that are hosted by the tall fescue plant but produce little or no ergot alkaloids. The new program teaches producers how to plant and mange the new cultivars. The educational aspect is implemented through the Alliance for Grassland Renewal, a nonprofit organization comprised of stakeholders in agribusiness, production, NGOs, government, and the university.

Key Publications and Resources

  • Roberts, C.A., and J.A. Andrae. 2005. Public education in tall fescue toxicosis. p. 359-377. In C.A. Roberts, et al. (eds.) Neotyphodium in Cool-Season Grasses. Blackwell Publishing Professional, Ames, IA.
  • Roberts, C.A., and J.A. Andrae. 2004. Tall fescue toxicosis and management. Online. Crop Managm. doi. 10:1094/CM-2004-0427-01-MG.
  • Roberts, C.A. (ed.) 1993. Fescue Toxicosis & Management: 136-p manual edited for area extension specialists and graduate students. MU Pub. MX396.