Winter woes from fescue foot

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In severe cold weather, cows eating toxic fescue can suffer frozen feet with lost hooves. In one case, a Missouri producer lost five cows out of a herd of 30. Other less-severe cases are also being reported, said Craig Roberts, a forage specialist at the University of Missouri.

While it’s too late to solve the problem this year, improving pastures can help prevent the problem in the future, he said.

“We’ve known prevention for 15 years,” Roberts said. “There are ways to reduce the problem but only one preventive: replace toxic fescue with a new variety.”

Fescue foot is caused by ingestion of an alkaloid from a fungus growing inside toxic endophyte varieties of tall fescue. The alkaloid is a vasoconstrictor, causing blood vessels to contract and shutting off flow to body extremities. In the winter, feet, tails and ears can freeze.

Cows can survive a lost tail switch, but animals crippled from the loss of a hoof cannot walk to graze. They must be put down.

Low blood flow in summer causes heat stress. While not fatal, it can cause unseen economic losses. Cows in heat stress quit grazing and head to shade or to ponds to cool off, Roberts explained. Animals that stop grazing stop gaining weight. That loss cuts farm income when calves are sold.

Fescue foot was first reported 75 years ago, but it took until 1977 to discover the cause was an endophyte fungus, a threadlike growth that lives between plant cells in the grass. It’s a symbiotic relationship. The endophyte protects fescue from insects, diseases, drought and overgrazing.

Other naturally occurring endophytes give protection but don’t have the vasoconstrictor alkaloid, Roberts said. Through breeding programs, these “novel-endophyte” fescue varieties have become more prevalent in the seed market.

“Replacing toxic fescue with a novel-endophyte variety has huge economic benefit,” he said. “However, it does require a season-long process to kill the old variety and reseed to new fescue.”

Roberts warns that seeding an endophyte-free fescue doesn’t work.

“We tried that in Missouri,” he said. “Fescue needs endophyte protection to survive much past one year.”

While fescue foot can be critical and costly, other losses attributed to the old endophyte fescue are mostly unseen, he added. In fact, fescue foot is third or fourth down the list of losses. Early abortion of unborn calves and lowered daily weight gains pose bigger threats to herd profitability.

“That can mean a big loss on payday,” Roberts said.

Fescue foot cases drop as the weather warms up, but other losses continue in all seasons.

“We know how to prevent losses, estimated at $900 million a year,” Roberts said. “Producers solve problems and increase profits by planting novel-endophyte fescue.”

Shrinking in the middle

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Several years ago, as it became apparent that high commodity prices would give way to much leaner times in agriculture, ag economists predicted an increase in smaller and larger farms. Growth in these segments, they said, would come at the expense of midsized farms. These predictions look to be accurate but complex.

In USDA terms, a midsized farm has an annual gross cash farm income between $350,000 and $1 million. This range represents the typical “family farm.”

According to a report from USDA’s Economic Research Service, between 1992 and 2012, the number of U.S. midsize operations declined by some 6,100 farms—about 5 percent. There are several factors for the reduction, including technological advances in crop production, higher costs of production and increasing profitability of larger farms. These factors, in particular, led the theory that farm-level economics drives consolidation.

However, demographics are at play, too. According to a report by Christopher Burns and Ryan Kuhns, economists with USDA’s Economic Research Service, “Evidence suggests that much of the decline in midsize farms stemmed from farm exits. More midsized farms exited than entered farming during 1992-97 and 2007-12, which kept overall midsize farm numbers down. Many farm exits were linked to the age of the principal operator, as older farmers were more likely to exit farming. A smaller number of farms exited for other reasons, such as business failure.”

Some of the attrition at the midsized-farm level is because the operation moves into another category, shrinking into “small farm” designation or growing to “large.” Higher prices during most of the past decade encouraged some midsized farms to expand rental acres, increasing the size of the operation. The reverse has been at play recently.

And while the farm economy of the past year has been disappointing, the longer trend for farm household income is encouraging. “Between 1992 and 2014, midsize farms doubled their household income and tripled their off-farm income, in real (adjusted for inflation) terms. Household net worth of midsized farms also increased dramatically over the period, driven by greater farmland values throughout the mid-2000s,” reported Burns and Kuhns. Net worth is another trend that has headed the other direction, however.

According to the most recent data compiled by USDA, midsize farms account for about 21 percent of total U.S. farm production and 6 percent of U.S. farms.

Spring could start dry and warmer than average

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s forecast through April predicts warmer-than-average temperatures in the MFA trade territory. Chances for above-average temperatures will recede southward as spring progresses.

Depending on weather between now and then, some areas of the state will face drier soils at planting due to reduced winter precipitation. As of early February, data from the National Drought Mitigation Center showed moisture deficits in parts of north-central Arkansas and central Missouri. Winter precipitation totals were at least 4 inches below normal in these areas. In some places, the deficit reached as much as 6 inches below normal.

Forecasters at NOAA reported that in early 2017, La Niña conditions played a role in temperatures for the region. However, they expect La Niña conditions to fade as spring arrives. Not knowing exactly when or how quickly La Niña will fade reduces forecaster confidence in longer-term summer weather predictions. For now, NOAA predicts slightly warmer-than-average temperatures for the entire 2017 growing season.

Latest precision ag technologies to be features at the 2017 Western Farm Show

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With the rapid adoption of precision agriculture in recent years, it’s no surprise that new technologies that help farmers be more efficient and productive will be prominently on display at the 2017 Western Farm Show.

This year’s event will be held Feb. 24-26 at the American Royal Complex in Kansas City, Missouri, once again offering one of the largest indoor displays of farming and ranching equipment and other agricultural products in the Midwest.  

“Farmers and ranchers who come to the Western Farm Show want to learn as much as possible about the latest products and innovations that can help them enhance their operations,” said show manager Ken Dean. “Advanced new technologies, including precision ag tools, continue to generate strong interest among our attendees.”

Following are examples of the many exhibitors displaying ag precision products at the 2017 Western Farm Show:

  • MFA Incorporated, based in Columbia, Missouri, will display a multi-hybrid planting system that enables farmers to plant two hybrids in the same row, switching back and forth as environments change, to plant the products that will produce the most in each environment. “Yield potential can often vary in the same field, calling for different hybrids in different areas,” said Jason Worthington, MFA Incorporated senior staff agronomist. “This advanced system enables farmers to maximize their yield by planting the hybrid that will perform the best across their whole field.” MFA Incorporated, which is a primary sponsor of the Western Farm Show, will also highlight hydraulic downforce systems designed to provide more consistent crop emergence and stand, with less soil compaction.
  • Record Harvest, of Nevada, Missouri, will showcase the latest drone software which enables farmers using a cell phone or tablet to program a flight plan and create a mosaic of high-quality images across the field. Farmers can use these photos to identify issues like pest infestations or nitrogen loss in corn. With this system, up to 400 images can be captured for a 100-acre field and woven into a single high-definition, geo-referenced image. “We’re very excited to offer farmers this advanced tool,” said Steve Cubbage, president of Record Harvest. “The software is compatible with most off-the-shelf drone equipment and photos can be uploaded and processed within 30 to 45 minutes.”
  • Outback Guidance, based in Hiawatha, Kansas, will display autosteer and variable application rate technologies that enable farmers to eliminate overlaps, reduce hot spots and ensure even application across the entire field, regardless of shape or size. Flexible programming technology controls machine functions for spraying, spreading and anhydrous applications. “GPS technology is no longer just a novelty, it’s become a mainstay in agriculture,” said Bill Hargis, Outback Guidance territory manager. “It not only ensures greater precision and accuracy, but also reduces costs and operator fatigue.”

In addition to precision ag tools, Western Farm Show attendees can browse aisles and aisles of other farming and ranching equipment, ranging from tractors, sprayers and combines to head gates, feeding systems and loading chutes. Construction equipment, seed products, farm buildings and thousands of other ag products and services will also be showcased.

Other show attractions include the Low-Stress Livestock Handling Demonstration, Health and Safety Roundup, FFA Day, Family Living Center and a cooking demonstration. 

The Western Farm Show is produced and managed by Western Equipment Dealers Association, a trade group representing approximately 2,400 farm, industrial and outdoor power equipment dealers in the U.S. and Canada. Show hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday, and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Adult admission is $8 and free for children 12 and under.

For more information, including the full list of show exhibitors, visit Like us on Facebook at and follow us on Twitter at

2017 Western Farm Show in Kansas City

Written by TF Staff on .

The Western Farm Show returns to the American Royal Complex in Kansas City, Mo., Friday through Sunday, Feb. 24-26, 2017, offering expansive displays of new equipment along with a vast array of other products and services for farmers and ranchers.

The popular event (one of the largest indoor farm shows in the Midwest) features hundreds of exhibitors, acres of things to see and do, and the latest in farm and ranch technology and more. In addition to the newest farm equipment, visitors will again have the opportunity to browse crop production and livestock products, farm structures and numerous ag services, including booths from MFA Incorporated.

Highlights of the 2017 Western Farm Show, now in its 56th season, will include:

  • The Low-Stress Livestock Handling Demonstration, sponsored by MFA Incorporated, at 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., also Saturday, in the Scott Pavilion adjacent to the American Royal Complex. The demonstrations, included in the show admission price and led by Ron Gill, Ph.D., Texas AgriLife Extension Specialist, focus on improving the well-being of beef and dairy cattle, as well as their handlers, through humane animal care. Ranchers can learn how to incorporate the economic benefits of improved livestock handling through reduced sickness and labor, and improved weight gains.
  • The Taste of Home Cooking Show at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25, in the Wagstaff Theater inside the American Royal. Sponsored by American Family Insurance, the cooking show is an entertaining audience participation program that features recipes, cooking techniques, practical kitchen tips and simple plating ideas. Taste of Home recipes are practical because they’re from home cooks—not gourmet chefs—and feature familiar, everyday ingredients, clear, beautiful photos and easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions.
  • The Health & Safety Roundup, coordinated by the Missouri Farm Bureau. New for 2017 is free SPOTme Skin Cancer screenings. Free blood pressure and hearing tests, vision screening are also available, including glaucoma, tetanus shots and, for a nominal fee, cholesterol screening.
  • FFA Day, Friday, Feb. 24, when an expected 3,000 FFA students from Missouri and Kansas will participate in the annual Food Drive “Border War” with collections to be donated to Harvesters Community Food Network serving western Missouri and eastern Kansas.
  • The Family Living Center, a special area of the show offering clothing, crafts, food and home décor products.

Tractor pull discontinued

Note: One change for 2017 is that the Western Farm Show will not be hosting the Championship Tractor Pull, with Doug Roberts and the Outlaw Truck and Tractor Pulling Association, at Kemper Arena adjacent to the American Royal. Earlier this year, the city approved plans for the redevelopment of the arena into a venue for amateur youth and adult sports, making the space unavailable for the tractor pull. But that will not affect other Western Farm Show activities held in the American Royal building.

The Western Farm Show is produced and managed by Western Equipment Dealers Association, a trade group representing approximately 2,400 farm, industrial and outdoor power equipment dealers in the U.S. and Canada. Show hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday, and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Adult admission is $8 and free for children 12 and under.

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