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8/17/2013 7:00 AM

To Replant Dead <\n>Spots in Grass Hay Fields

Weather conditions over the past few weeks have created the “perfect fungal storm,” which has overpowered and killed grass in windrows and areas with especially thick forage.

Farmers in southeast Pennsylvania, eastern Maryland and Delaware are reporting severe disease infestations in their forage grasses. Some say they will need to replant the hardest infected areas.

The consistent pattern between infected fields is heavy yields with possible lodging and harvesting just before the week of very hot weather in July.

Extension forage specialist Marvin Hall explains that forage growth was greater than usual because of the cool, wet weather in late June and early July.

The rain delayed harvest so that the forage began to lodge, creating a perfect condition under the forage mat for fungal growth. As soon as the rains let up, the forage was mowed, but the ideal conditions for fungal growth remained under the windrows.

The week of hot temperatures exacerbated the conditions, resulting in a “perfect fungal storm,” which overpowered and killed the grass.

Since it is unlikely that the environmental conditions will repeat again this summer, now would be a good time to reseed dead areas.

To Prevent Ergot Poisoning

Mature grass hay and pasture may contain significant amounts of ergot from wet humid conditions during grass flowering.

Extension agronomist Joel Hunter explains that ergot is a fungus that infects blossoms of grasses, notably rye and some other cereals. Hosts also include cool-season forage grasses (orchardgrass, tall fescue, timothy, etc.) and weed grass species like quackgrass and wild rye.

Ergot is well-known as a disease of rye and is readily recognized. When the grass heads are nearly mature, it appears as a hard, black-to-purple, horn-shaped mass protruding from the heads in place of the grain kernel.

Ergot varies in abundance from year to year. The wet, humid and hot conditions during flowering favored the development of the disease this year, and the severely delayed harvest in many areas is compounding the problem.

Animals get ergot either in the grain fed them or by grazing on infected grass. Either way, ergot may cause acute poisoning if a large enough quantity is eaten at one time.

In large doses, the toxin produces acute symptoms such as muscle trembling/contraction, loss of coordination, convulsions, and eventually delirium and death. Because the effect of ergot is cumulative, poisoning may develop slowly if lesser quantities are eaten regularly<\@>.

Symptoms include lack of appetite, dullness, abdominal pain and subnormal temperatures. The toxin results in the contraction of the small blood vessels and subsequently affects the extremities, which become gangrenous in severe cases.

One Erie County producer became alarmed last week after several of his cattle exhibited lameness. Upon inspection of his hay and pasture, he found that quackgrass, orchardgrass and timothy all contained ergot in the seed heads.

The specific type of ergot fungus and the amount present influence the toxicity. Some reports show as little as a few ounces of ergot kernels daily for 11 days can produce lameness in cattle.

However, some experiments have shown that a small amount of ergot is not injurious to dairy cattle that are amply provided with a balanced ration.

The only treatment for ergot poisoning is to remove the contaminated feeds or remove animals from contaminated pastures.

Contact your veterinarian about supplemental therapies if advanced symptoms are present. Pastures should be mowed and left for two weeks before grazing. Badly contaminated hay should be destroyed.

Much of this information came from the 2007 “Ergot Alert!” from the University of Vermont, www.uvm.edu/extension/cropsoil/wp-content/uploads/ergotalert.pdf. For more information, Iowa State University has an “Ergot Poisoning in Cattle” factsheet. Both online resources include images of ergot on heads of grass.

To Learn Results From <\n>This Year’s Wheat Variety Trials

Variety selection is the first step in growing high-yield wheat. Extension specialist Greg Roth reports this year that we saw a range of more than 20 bushels per acre among commercial varieties. The range would have been greater if we had included the bin-run seed some growers are still planting.

Wheat yields were up significantly from last year in Centre County (92 bushels per acre). However, in Lancaster County the yields were similar (72 bushels per acre) to the 2012 trials.

This was likely due in part to the earlier planting in the Centre County trial, which improved tiller development in the fall. Bushel weights were especially low — presumably a result of the wet weather and delayed harvest.

Some lodging occurred at the Lancaster location, but not much was present in Centre County. Head scab levels were generally low at both locations, but powdery mildew was present at both sites.

We also asked seed companies to provide information on the head types and list that in the table for the Lancaster County report at http://extension.psu.edu/plants/crops/grains/small.

Quote of the Week

“When everybody owns something, nobody owns it, and nobody has a direct interest in maintaining or improving its condition. That is why buildings in the Soviet Union — like public housing in the United States — look decrepit within a year or two of their construction...”

— Milton Friedman

Nobel Prize-winning economist

Leon Ressler is district director of Penn State Cooperative Extension for Chester, Lancaster and Lebanon counties.


Is the EPA being unrealistic in its timeline to reduce farm runoff into the Chesapeake Bay?

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11/29/2014 | Last Updated: 9:30 PM