Oregon produces approximately 70% of the world supply of cool season grass seed. This includes tall fescue and perennial ryegrass. Although this is a publication on tall fescue, when straw from the Pacific Northwest is discussed, both tall fescue and perennial ryegrass and their associated alkaloids must be addressed. About 225,000 ha of grass seed currently are in production in Oregon. Traditionally, the seed was harvested in June and July and the straw residues in the fields were burned in July and August of each year.
The commercial grass seed straw industry is relatively new to the U.S. Pacific Northwest. The straw residue after seed harvest, typically burned in the seed production fields to reduce weed seeds and insect pests, now cannot be burned. In 1991, under pressure from environmental advocates, the Oregon Legislature mandated a field burning phase-down from a maximum 100,000 ha to a cap of 16,000 ha. In reality, since the phase-down was implemented, grass seed producers consistently have burned less than the maximum allowed by law. Recent initiatives indicate that field burning will be completely eliminated in Oregon in the future. The state of Washington has already banned all field burning. Idaho courts have issued a similar ruling.
The Oregon Ag Fiber Association was created as a representative of grass seed straw producers to find commercial uses for the straw residues in response to the cessation of field burning and the rapidly increasing number of turfgrass cultivars developed to be high in endophyte. From 1980 to 1987, there were fewer than 50 E+ cultivars for which seed was produced. The demand for highly infested turfgrass cultivars (see Chapter 26) resulted in a steady increase in the number of such cultivars, reaching more than 230 in 2006. The presence of Neotyphodium coenophialum (Morgan-Jones and Gams) Glenn, Bacon, and Hanlin in tall fescue and Neotyphodium lolii Latch, M.J. Christensen and Samuels in perennial ryegrass presents a dilemma to the seed industry. The endophytes provide benefits to the host plant by reducing the effect of environmental stresses (see Chapter 4 and Chapter 23) and some pests (see Chapter 8, Chapter 9, and Chapter 10), but endophyte presence (see Chapter 12) above threshold levels is toxic to herbivores. Therefore, endophytes are advantageous for users of turfgrass seed because they promote low-cost stand maintenance, but are detrimental to users of seed crop residue for animal production.