Forages and Pastures Session
Prescribed fire may be a non-chemical alternative for seedhead suppression in endophyte-infected tall fescue forage systems. A study was conducted to observe the effects of a single prescribed burn on seed head production, ergot alkaloid concentration, forage production, forage quality, and stand composition in K31 tall fescue plots (endophyte infection=96%). Treatments of an undisturbed control (CON), March mow (MOW), March burn (EARLY), and April burn (LATE) were randomly applied to 56 square meter plots with ten replicates per treatment. Plots were sampled for forage quality and ergot alkaloid concentrations monthly from May to October. Forage production and species composition was recorded in June and October. Fescue seedhead count was conducted in May. After June sampling, plots were clipped to a height of 10 cm and litter was removed to simulate spring grazing. CON had greater (P< 0.01) total forage production in June than other treatments. MOW had greater (P< 0.01) forage production (≤107 kg/ha) than EARLY and LATE in June. There was no effect (P=0.30) of treatments on forage production in October. LATE burn reduced (month × trt; P=0.02) ergovaline concentration in June but all treatments were above the established threshold (150 ppb) for fescue toxicosis. Fescue seed head frequency was decreased (P< 0.01) by 50% in LATE plots. There was no treatment effect (P≥0.22) on forb and non-fescue grass frequency in May, but warm season grass frequency was greater (P< 0.01) in LATE plots in October. Crude protein in LATE was greater than other treatments in May and both LATE and CON were greater than other treatments in June (P< 0.01). Neutral detergent fiber for LATE was less than other treatments in May and June (P< 0.01). Under conditions of this experiment, prescribed fire decreased seed head count and ergot alkaloid concentration, with a modest reduction in forage production.