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Different, but the same

FG Editor Lynn Olsen Published on 29 June 2012

My husband and I recently returned from a visit to the island of Puerto Rico. I’m not much of a world traveler and that isn’t a place I ever really imagined myself going, but when I heard that the 66th Southern Pasture & Forage Crop Improvement Conference (SPFCIC) was to be held in this tropical paradise, I decided I needed to try and work it into my show schedule for this year.

In addition to visiting the beautiful beaches and historic cobblestone streets and fortresses of Old San Juan, we also got an opportunity to learn about Puerto Rico and the challenges it faces as a country when it comes to food production.

We were also able to tour a dairy, beef and hay/silage farm (click here to view related story) on two distinct areas of the island.

According to a presentation by Dr. Guillermo Ortiz, the 2007 census of agriculture indicated that there were just over 110 forage producers that supplied forages to the approximately 350 dairy farms in the region (that number has dropped slightly in the years since).

Most dairy farms, in particular, do not have enough land to provide adequate forage for their cows, so there should be an excellent opportunity for forage producers to provide a needed and necessary crop.

However, there are some very distinct challenges for agricultural producers in the area. For those attempting to grow forage, you certainly can’t just seed a field with alfalfa or some of the more common grasses typically grown on the mainland.

Selection of varieties that are adapted to tropical (hot and humid) growing conditions are a necessity, and proper management is essential for optimal growth.

Many of those varieties are less productive or contain lower nutritive value than some of their counterparts, and input costs (fuel, fertilizer, etc.) are extremely high.

During one of the presentations, Dr. Antonio Sotomayor-Rios outlined some of the other issues facing forage producers in Puerto Rico today.

They included continued use of old varieties with a lack of genetic diversity, no adaptation to on-going climate changes (e.g. drought, heat) and the need for new management systems and a teamwork approach for continued success for all agricultural producers.

As I marveled at the diversity of plant life around me (yes, there were some species I have never seen or heard of before) and thought about how different things were in this Commonwealth of the United States, I started to realize that even though the problems and challenges were somewhat unique, at the heart of it they were basically the same as what a producer anywhere would face.

Every year a producer has to decide how to best utilize his or her available land space and what crops or animals to grow.

They have to choose from a limited number of plant varieties and animal breeds and then do the best they can to adapt their practices to the constant challenges of weather and other factors.

They have to deal with high-priced inputs for often low-priced returns. They have to factor in choices about quality versus quantity and other decisions about management.

No matter where you operate, the key to success is to always look for ways to do things better. Build yourself a good team, including those that know about soils and fertilization, seed varieties, pest and weed control, cutting and harvest management, marketing and business management.

Be smart and rely on time-tested experience, but also don’t be afraid to try something new on a small scale to see if it can benefit your farm in the long run. Keep good records of both your successes and things that maybe didn’t work out so well.

And definitely take advantage of any learning opportunities that come your way, whether it be a hay and forage conference, a pasture walk or a silage demonstration. You never know what something or someone who does things a little differently could teach you.  FG

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Lynn Olsen
Progressive Forage Grower