REDESIGNING FORAGE GERMPLASM AND PRODUCTION SYSTEMS FOR EFFICIENCY, PROFIT, AND SUSTAINABILITY OF DAIRY FARMS
Location: Dairy Forage and Aquaculture Research
Title: Meadow Fescue: Back to the Future
Submitted to: ASA-CSSA-SSSA Annual Meeting Abstracts
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: April 10, 2009
Publication Date: November 1, 2009
Citation: Casler, M.D., Brink, G.E., Gildersleeve, R., Duncan, D.S., Jackson, R.D. 2009. Meadow Fescue: Back to the Future [abstract]. ASA-CSSA-SSSA Annual Meeting Abstracts. Paper No. 185-1.
Meadow fescue [Schedonorus pratensis (Huds.) P. Beauv.] was introduced to North America in the 18th century, well over 100 years before tall fescue [Schedonorus phoenix (Scop.) Holub]. The introduction of the higher-yielding tall fescue in the early 20th century, particularly the release of ‘KY-31’ in 1943, led to the rapid demise of meadow fescue as an economically viable forage crop in North America. Meadow fescue is experiencing a dramatic comeback in temperate regions of North America. A resurgence of interest in grazing has fueled a demand for grasses with high quality and palatability, high levels of persistence, and adequate summer productivity to sustain grazing operations. Early cultivar evaluations identified European cultivars of meadow fescue as potential candidates for management-intensive grazing systems, due to relatively high levels of consumption, persistence, and recovery following grazing. In 1990, Charles Opitz first discovered an unusual forage grass growing in deep shade of a small portion of remnant oak savanna on his farm near Mineral Point, WI. Using DNA markers, we identified this as meadow fescue. Subsequent research identified meadow fescue plants on over 300 farms in the driftless region of southwestern Wisconsin, southeastern Minnesota, and northeastern Iowa. The pattern of meadow fescue incidence suggests proximity to the Military Ridge Road, a series of military outposts between Madison, WI and Dubuque, IA. We have hypothesized that meadow fescue was brought to this region by one or more of three methods: (1) primary immigration from Europe, (2) secondary immigration from the eastern USA, or (3) in the guts of cattle shipped by rail from the southern USA where meadow fescue was a dominant forage crop before its eventual replacement by tall fescue. These remnant populations of meadow fescue survived years of cropping, emerging from the oak savanna refugia to dominate many pastures in this region.