Successful International Grassland Congress

We can be especially proud of the successful XXV International Grassland Congress (IGC) that was recently held in Covington, KY May 14-19. I say “we” because it was definitely a team effort. This Congress would not have happened without the support of many volunteers including KY county agents, KFGC members, University personnel, AFGC Executive Director Tina Bowling, and many others. Dr. Ken Quesneberry, who is a graduate from UK and has been a forage breeder at Univ. of Florida for over 40 years, said it was the best IGC he has attended. And that’s saying something since Ken has attended every Congress except one, going back to 1981 (that one was in KY too).

Over 650 people registered for the Congress from over 50 countries. There were over 400 presentations given during the weeklong event and many of the leading grassland researchers from around the world attended. The collaborations that developed at these meetings will likely lead to major innovations in forage agriculture in coming years. Here’s just one example of a breakthrough that occurred from a past IGC Congress. New Zealand researcher Garry Latch met University of Georgia researcher Joe Bouton at the 1989 Grassland Congress in Nice, France. Bouton learned about Latch’s safe endophytes and they developed a collaboration to insert these new endophytes into Bouton’s SE adapted tall fescue varieties. This collaboration led to the entire novel endophyte tall fescue industry which has provided safe and persistent tall fescue varieties for livestock producers across the US and around the world.

At the Congress Kentucky was recognized for our commitment to forages through the strong programs at UK, the Lexington USDA-ARS lab, and most importantly through the great forage producers we have in the state.  Kentuckians were involved in the organization and leadership of multiple sessions including: The Dr. Norm Taylor Memorial Symposium (Dr. Taylor was the clover breeder at UK for almost 60 years), the Forage Secondary Metabolite Symposia, the Extended Grazing Symposia, the Equine Grazing Systems Symposia and more.

I especially want to thank the farm owners and farm managers who hosted mid-Congress tours in KY including: Clayton Geralds, John Seymour (Roundstone Native Seeds), Todd Clark, Brenda and Ron Paul, Dr. Greg Halich, Hanzly Albina, Tim White, Ned Toffey. In addition UK faculty and USDA-ARS scientists highlighted their research accomplishments: Dr. Laurie Lawrence, Dr. Rebecca McCulley, Dr. Hanna Poffenbarger, Dr. Don Ely, Dr. Isabelle Kagan, Dr. Brittany Davis, Dr. Jimmy Klotz, Dr. Jen Weinert-Nelson, and Dr. Alayna Jacobs.

All oral presentations at the Congress were recorded and will be available shortly to those who registered or for a small fee. The entire Proceedings containing all papers will be available in the near future. Also, mark your calendars for the 100th Anniversary of IGC in Germany June 12-19, 2027.

~ Ray Smith

Forage Timely Tips: June

  • Continue hay harvests. Minimize storage losses by storing hay under cover.
  • Clip pastures for weeds and seedheads as needed.
  • Slow pasture rotation allowing for a longer recovery period.
  • Use portable fencing to decrease paddock size and increase paddock number.
  • Do NOT graze below the minimum desired residual height of 4” cool season grasses.
  • When present, johnsongrass can provide high quality summer forage when managed.
  • Crabgrass, a warm-season annual grass, can provide high quality summer grazing.
  • Begin grazing native warm-season grasses. Start at 18-20” and stop at 8-10 inches.

Great potential as a high value hay crop

Farmers in the “tall fescue belt” are witnessing a major change in their region.  Many of their peers are retiring and selling out, and farmers new to the land have a different outlook.  Many advisors have recommended that small to medium sized cattle farmers probably should not be making much if any hay.  Many of these new farmers heed that advice.  Also, many of these new farmers have high value livestock including cattle, horses, sheep and goats.  All of this leads to a growing market for high quality hay.  Unfortunately, much of the hay produced in the region does not meet the quality preferences of these farmers.

Farmers looking to purchase hay will find that much of the hay made in the region is low to medium quality and what most of us call “cow hay”.  If they have received some education on how to determine the nutritional value of hay, they are usually disappointed in what they can find.

To fit this market a great deal of high quality hay (“horse hay”) is imported into the region from areas north of the tall fescue belt where growing high quality forages is easier, and is part of the culture.  Most of this hay is timothy, orchardgrass, or grass/alfalfa mixes.  Local farmers have started to explore that market primarily by growing orchardgrass or timothy.  With good management they can do well but in most of the region orchardgrass and timothy stands are short lived and need frequent renovation.

The best performing cool season grass in the region is Tall Fescue.  However, it is widely known that most tall fescue hay grown is “cow hay” in quality and that it contains the toxins that cause performance problems including low growth rate in cattle and difficult foaling in horses.  Cattle farmers have come to expect this and can manage around the fescue toxins.  However, many horse and small ruminant owners just reject Tall Fescue hay entirely.

Kentucky-31 tall fescue can make good quality hay if cut on a timely basis. The toxin levels are reduced in the hay during the curing process and that is a plus.  Research at the University of Missouri showed that the level of the primary toxin Ergovaline was reduced by about 30% during the curing process (the first 3 weeks after cutting).  After an additional decrease during 6 months of storage the result is a 50% decrease overall.  Toxin levels declined from about 600 ppb to 300 ppb.  This is good, but toxicosis starts to be noticeable when ergovaline level is above 100 ppb!

The release of good varieties of Novel Endophyte Tall Fescue in the last two decades has great potential to impact the high-quality hay market. This plant produces non-toxic hay and has great agronomic characteristics with the potential for stands lasting indefinitely!  Tall Fescue is very responsive to fertilizer applications, but heavy fertilization is not recommended with toxic tall fescue because it increases toxin levels.  With Novel Endophyte Tall Fescue, adequate fertilization will not cause a high level of toxins, so it is ideal for growing high yields of high quality hay.

Research at North Carolina State University compared toxic tall fescue hay to novel endophyte or endophyte- free tall fescue hay for growing steers.  There were no nutritional differences between the novel endophyte and endophyte- free hay, and both were superior to the toxic hay (which had only 120 ppb ergovaline).  The toxic hay was slightly lower in protein and slightly higher in fiber, but in vitro digestibility was similar.

Taking the toxins out of the hay resulted in a 12% increase in hay intake, 7% increase in digestibility, and a 61% increase in nitrogen retention.  Projected average daily gain was 1.0 lb/day for the toxic hay and 1.6 lb/day for the non-toxic hay.  This confirms that Novel Endophyte Tall Fescue can produce very high quality hay.

In some parts of the region a few  farmers have started growing and marketing novel endophtye tall fescue hay.  They have found that they can charge a premium over “toxic” hay.  Why would farmers be willing to pay a premium for this kind of hay?

Farmers that are in the process of renovation to remove toxic tall fescue from their farms need to purchase hay that doesn’t contain toxic tall fescue seed.  Many farmers also recognize the improved performance of animals fed this kind of “non-toxic” hay.  Eager hay customers include folks that are backgrounding weaned calves or finishing cattle on high forage diets, or who own some other high value livestock.  Horse owners continue to reject “fescue hay” in general, but educational efforts with that audience will continue because of the potential benefit to commercial hay growers in the region.  All of this points to a market for Novel Endophyte Tall Fescue, with almost no current supply.

If you grow and feed your own hay, consider  renovating tall fescue hay fields to novel endophyte tall fescue.  If you grow and market hay, be aware that there is a market for this product that can be explored.  If you purchase high quality hay that comes from out of the region, be aware that a significant portion of that high price you pay is for the fuel burned to transport it to you.  You should look for local sources of hay that fit your needs whenever possible to help reduce production costs and the climate impact of your horse or other livestock enterprise.

~ Matt Poore, NC State University and Craig Roberts, Univ. of MO on behalf of the Alliance for Grassland Renewal. To stay up to date on all things novel endophyte tall fescue, visit

Reports of True Armyworm in Hay in Central & Western Kentucky

      There have been reports of armyworms in hay fields collecting on equipment as the fields were being cut. This is a different species from the fall armyworm that had an outbreak in soybeans, alfalfa, and pastures two years ago. In general, true armyworm, also know just as armyworm, tends to be more of a spring pest of grasses and corn. Fall armyworm, as its name implies is more of a late season pest beginning mid-July until frost.

True armyworm characteristically feeds on leaf margins (Photo: Ric Bessin, UK).

Habits & Description

Infestations of the true armyworm usually first develop in fields of small grains or other grasses. In conventional tillage systems, partially-grown larvae can migrate into corn fields from grassy waterways or wheat fields; damage is usually first noticeable around the field margins adjacent to these areas. The name armyworm derives from its behavior of migrating in large numbers into fields similar to invading armies. In no-till or reduced tillage corn crops, infestation may cover the entire field. In these systems, eggs may be laid on grasses within the field prior to planting and herbicides may force armyworms to feed on corn as the weeds or cover crop dies. Cool, wet spring weather usually favors armyworm development. 

The true armyworm has a greenish brown body with a thin stripe down the center and two orange stripes along each side. The head is brown with dark honeycombed markings. Armyworm overwinters as partially grown larvae in grasses or small grain fields in Kentucky. When warm spring temperatures return, armyworm feeding resumes. Armyworms may move onto corn during this period. When feeding is completed, larvae pupate just below the surface of the soil. Adults of the first generation emerge in April and May and feed on nectar for 7 to 10 days before beginning to lay eggs. There are three to four generations per year in Kentucky. 

As with fall armyworm, true armyworm usually feeds at night preferring to feed on the succulent leaves in the whorl first. During the day, armyworms are found in the soil or underneath ground cover. Ragged leaf feeding on leaf margins in the spring and early summer is consistent with armyworm feeding.

Monitoring & Management

In hay fields and pastures, treatments for armyworm is based on monitoring. As with fall armyworm, true armyworm often hides under debris on sunny days, so monitoring is best done in the late afternoon or early evening. The same threshold is used for both true armyworm and fall armyworm: 2 to 3 per square foot. Insecticides listed for fall armyworm control here are also effective against true armyworm. ~ Ric Bessin, Entomology Extension Specialist, in KY Pest News.

Updates on Forage Crop Insurance Options

There are two ways a farmer can cover forage in Kentucky through the Federal Crop Insurance program but neither product covers forage seeding. If a farmer wants coverage for forage seeding, he could have his agent submit a written agreement request to the Jackson, Mississippi regional office of the Risk Management Agency. His agent can help prepare the request and submit it through an Approved Insurance Provider( insurance company such as Rain and Hail) . Most farmers will have a problem getting all of the records required to get a written agreement approved. If the farmer is looking for coverage on hay he sells, then the Whole Farm Revenue Protection policy or the Micro endorsement to the policy could be a good option. Another option to cover established perennial forage could be the Pasture, Rangeland, and Forage policy that covers a lack of rainfall. The crop needs to be established before July 1st of the previous year for it to be insurable. There is also Annual Forage Pilot program available in the Plains states but not in Kentucky.~ David Mathis, Shelby Insurance Agency Inc., 

Upcoming Events

June 7 – Electric Fencing for Serious Graziers, Nancy, KY

Late Summer – Eastern KY KFGC Field Day, Clay Co., KY

Sept. 12 – Equine Farm and Facilities Expo, Harrodsburg, KY

Sept. 20-23 – Nat. Hay A. Convention, Bowling Green, KY

Sept. 21 – Beef Bash, Versailles, KY

Oct 31 – West KY Grazing Conf., Elizabethtown, KY

Nov. 1 – East KY Grazing Conf., Lexington, KY

Feb. 8, 2024 – KY Alfalfa and Stored Forages Conference, Bowling Green, KY


      The UKY Forage Team wishes to dedicate the 2023 Kentucky Grazing Schools to Dr. Donna Amaral-Phillips, who has recently retired after a long and award-winning program in UKY dairy extension.

Donna is a co-founder of the Kentucky Grazing Schools, and has been an integral part of every session since 1996. Her talk on ‘Meeting Nutritional Needs on Pasture’ has been a staple of the program since its inception. She has good-naturedly endured the kidding of faculty like Jimmy Henning over her demonstration about how goats eat compared to cattle.

Throughout her career, Donna’s goal has been to educate dairy farmers, industry personnel, veterinarians and Cooperative Extension agents on the fundamentals of dairy nutrition and management. Her extension education program centered on applying sound, science-based nutrition recommendations for replacements and lactating dairy cows. She often uses hands-on demonstrations and facilitates farmer-led discussion groups. She was the project leader for DAIReXNET, a national extension-driven dairy web resource, which provided dairy-related audiences with science-based, peer-reviewed materials and educational opportunities.

Her program has been recognized in many ways, including the Southern ADSA Honor Award and the UK Whitaker Award for Excellence in Extension. In 2020 she was awarded the prestigious DeLaval Dairy Extension Award by the American Dairy Science Association to recognize outstanding achievements in dairy extension.

The UKY Forage Team wants to thank Donna for her faithful and innovative leadership to the Kentucky Grazing School by dedicating this year’s grazing schools to her. ~ Jimmy Henning

Forage Timely Tips: May

  • Start hay harvests for quality forage. Consider making baleage to facilitate timely cutting.
  • Seed warm season grasses for supplemental forage once soil temperature is at 60 F.
  • Clip, graze, or make hay to prevent seedhead formation.
  • Rotate pastures as based in height rather than time.
  • Consider temporary electric fencing to subdivide larger pastures and exclude areas for mechanical harvesting.
  • Scout pastures for summer annual weeds and control when small.

Global grassland experts converge in Kentucky for international meeting 

The International Grassland Congress is set to convene in the United States after a hiatus of more than four decades. The congress, held in Kentucky for the second time, brings together scientists, farmers, ranchers, extension leaders and industry experts from around the globe to discuss the crucial role of grasslands in promoting sustainability and health. This year’s theme, “Grassland for Soil, Animal, and Human Health,” underscores the crucial role of grasslands in fostering health and sustainability.   

More than 600 attendees from over 60 countries will attend the congress in Covington May 14-19. Nancy Cox, UK vice president for land-grant engagement and UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment dean will speak at the opening session.  “We are excited to welcome the International Grassland Congress back to Kentucky and the United States,” she said. “The honor of our state being chosen to host this event demonstrates that our work to improve forages is being recognized worldwide.” 

The first Congress on Grasslands was held in Leipzig, Germany in 1927, bringing together 16 scientists from seven European countries. Their aim was to discuss the significance of grasslands to food security. 

“The congress meets every three to four years and offers a unique opportunity for attendees to collaborate,” said Ray Smith, UK Plant and Soil Sciences professor and IGC organizing committee chairman. “Attendees can listen and talk to some of the leading minds in the field, sharing ideas and discussing the latest research and best practices. Delegates frequently state that the IGC congresses they attended were the high point of their careers because they interacted with people around the world who shared a passion for grasslands and the animals they support.” 

This year’s program contains presentations on production, storage and forage utilization, focusing on applied and academic perspectives. The conference will also cover grassland policies, social issues, ecosystem services and offer a trade show marketplace.  

“The congress has been responsible for some significant progress in grassland research,” Smith said. “One example relates to efforts to overcome tall fescue toxicity from the widely planted endophyte-infected Kentucky 31 variety.” 

Smith said New Zealand researcher Gary Latch met University of Georgia researcher Joe Bouton at the 1993 Grassland Congress. Bouton discovered Latch’s safe endophytes and they developed a collaboration to insert these new endophytes into Bouton’s southeast United States-adapted tall fescue varieties.  

“This collaboration led to the entire novel endophyte tall fescue industry, providing safe tall fescue for cattle and horse producers across the country,” Smith added.  

During the congress, participants may explore grassland operations in Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio, gaining firsthand knowledge of the challenges and opportunities the region’s farmers and ranchers face. The IGC will also offer optional pre-congress tours in the Southern Plains and the Southeastern United States.  

“The congress allows researchers to share their ideas and research findings,” Smith said. “Over the years, hundreds of collaborations have been developed among researchers in different countries who previously did not have a personal relationship. It’s been great progressing the industry forward.” 

For more information or to register, visit With limited space, organizers encourage early registration.  

~ Jordan Strickler,