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Fescue - New beneficial endophytes coming soon

Posted Wednesday, July 20, 2011, at 12:12 PM

Endophytes are organisms that live in plants. Endophytes in tall fescue are beneficial in that they increase the stress resulting from drought, insects and pathogens.

Tall fescue has an endophyte that causes fescue toxicosis. In the 1980's, researchers removed the toxic endophyte and released endophyte-free tall fescue; unfortunately the endophyte-free varieties did not persist well. In recent years, researchers have taken the endophyte-free plants and inserted new strains of the endophyte. These new strains produce little or no toxins, but they greatly increase plant persistence compared to the endophyte-free varieties.

The first beneficial endophyte to hit the market was MaxQ. Jesup, an endophyte-free tall fescue developed at the University of Georgia was inserted with an endophyte collected and tested by AgResearch, New Zealand. For the past few years, Jesup MaxQ has been the primary recommendation from Mu forage specialists.

A follow-up release from Pennington is Texoma MaxQII. This cultivar was developed by the Noble Foundation for the central and south central U.S. It has shown superior growth in states south of Missouri. Tests may prove it can perform well in Missouri as well according to Craig Roberts, MU forage specialist.

A new variety, BarOptima PLUS E34 was recently released by Barenbrug USA. According to their plant breeders, the "E34" endophyte was discovered internally by screening its germplasm for an endophyte that produced low levels of ergovaline and not simply inserting the endophyte into an existing line. Bar Optima PLUS E34 has been tested since 2002 and has shown excellent persistence in grazing trials. In grazing trials, animals grazing BarOptima Plus E34 performed as well as those grazing on Jesup MaxQ.

A variety soon to be on the market is "DuraMax Armor," with Armor being the name of the endophyte. The Armor endophyte does not produce an ergovaline alkaloid, so there is no risk of fescue toxicosis. Armor does produce compounds known to deter insects while having no harmful animal impact. DuraMax Armor is planned for limited market availability in summer or fall of 2011.

In addition to these cultivars, one is being developed by the University of Kentucky and another one to be called ArkShield. More information on these two new cultivars should be available as they undergo testing.

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As our local University of Missouri Agronomy Extension Specialist, Crook has been writing a column for the print edition Agriculture page for the past three years and we will now be sharing it on our web version. Crook has a bachelor and masters degree in agronomy from University of Missouri and received his doctorate in Agronomy from Kansas State University. He was in soybean variety development research for 22 years for various seed companies and has been Saline County's agronomy specialist for 10 years.
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