Forage management style can help decide fescue types

LITTLE ROCK — When it comes to the question of selecting a fescue variety for fall planting, the decision depends heavily on forage management style, said John Jennings, professor-extension forages, for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

“There is a simple answer and a more complicated answer to that question,” he said.

For growers who use the Ky-31 fescue, the answer is simple: “if the goal is to thicken it up a pasture, then just add more Ky-31 fescue and maybe add some clover with it if the soil fertility is good enough for clover,” he said.

Endophyte or no endophyte

After that, decision-making becomes more complex. Some varieties of fescue, such as Ky-31, grow with a fungus, or endophyte, that helps the fescue survive extreme conditions and resist pests and drought. The downside is that the fungus produces a toxin that can slow the growth of cattle.

There are fescues that come without the endophyte. The upside is “that cattle will preferentially graze nontoxic fescue,” Jennings said, “But research has shown that endophyte-free fescue varieties do not persist well under Arkansas conditions and are not recommended.”

A compromise may be in “novel-endophyte” fescue varieties. These varieties contain a fungus that does not produce the toxins like Ky-31, but still have the toughness to stand up to Arkansas’ weather extremes and pests.

There are five novel endophyte fescue varieties on the market: MaxQ, MaxQ-Texoma, BarOptima, Estancia and DuraMax. “The latter two contain novel endophytes from the University of Arkansas research program,” Jennings said. “Most agricultural suppliers can order these novel-endophyte varieties through regional seed distributors.”

The novel endophyte fescues will require closer management. Make sure all the old Ky-31 is killed before planting a novel-endophyte variety.

“Good management is important for maintaining stands of novel-endophyte fescue, particularly during summer heat and drought,” Jennings said. “Always maintain novel fescue at a height of least 4-6 inches during summer and do not overgraze it.”

For more information about forage management, contact a county extension office or visit