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— After local producers received a recent newsletter regarding management practices dealing with fescue toxicity, it’s no surprise that I received a few questions about it.

It’s also no surprise that many of the questions came from farm women. Besides having a working presence on most Arkansas farms, women serve as the principal operator on 13 percent of them. Nationally, the percentage of farms run by women grew from 5.2 percent in 1978 to 8.6 percent in 1997, according to USDA. Today women run 165,000 farms nationwide. And though they are in the minority of owner-operators, their numbers are growing.

With Senator Blanche Lincoln now serving as Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, my guess is there will be more recognition of the important role women play in agriculture, and I expect the growth of women owner-operators will continue at a healthy pace.

Like their male counterparts, they will continue to ask good questions about fescue toxicity and other production issues. While tall fescue comes close tobeing the ideal forage due to ease of establishment, adaptability to various soils and growing conditions, and its tolerance of abuse, it is the most widely used forage in Arkansas. After that acknowledgment, we have to admit that fescue has its share of problems, the primary one being its toxicity to animals.

“How do we know that 85 percent of all fescue fields are infected with the toxin?” and, “Can we test individual fields to determine toxicity level?”

The 85 percent infection is a national average established a couple of decades ago, resulting in an estimated loss to livestock producers of $1 billion dollars per year. The problem with fescue is that once infected, it’s always infected.

Yes, individual fields can be tested. Based on year-to-year observations, producers may be aware that animals perform better or exhibit few symptoms of toxicity on certain fescue fields. Fescue samples taken through November can provide that information.

In the meantime, if you want to test the toxicity level in a fescue field, contact your County Extension Agent for specific details.

‘Til next week!

News, Pages 8 on 11/04/2009

Print Headline: Agriculture’s women ask the best questions

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