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American Forage and Grassland Council embraces the science

Progressive Forage Grower Editor Lynn Jaynes Published on 31 January 2014

“Embrace the science” resonated throughout the 2014 American Forage and Grassland Council (AFGC) annual conference in Memphis, Tennessee, as an unstated but apt theme. Click below to view a slideshow from the event.

The amount of researched and trial-proven information available to producers can be daunting and producers might be tempted to hang onto past practices rather than wade through the information.

But AFGC directors, agronomists, producers and university extension staff assisted 257 attendees in understanding and applying the science and exploring management practices to optimize production.

Presentations provided user-friendly information of successes and challenges appropriate to farmers with as few as 10 acres and a few animals to the large land-base farmers with thousands of animals.

That’s the AFGC’s strength: its diversity. Partnering with land-grant university staff – whether a producer grows grasses, alfalfa, sorghums, corn silage, sheep, goats, cattle or dairy – a presentation (or several) at the annual convention had your name all over it.

The kickoff session included forage improvement (Dr. Garry Lacefield), establishing for stand (Dr. Marvin Hall), producing for yield (Dr. Scott Flynn) and harvesting for quality (Lacefield/Undersander), as well as a producer panel featuring Clayton Geralds (Kentucky/commercial hay), Robert Shewmaker (Virginia/beef), Terri Hawbaker (Michigan/dairy) and Mark Kennedy (Missouri/goats and sheep).

Clayton Geralds
Geralds stated there were five elements necessary for his success: customers, recordkeeping, equipment, technology and family.

Geralds produces alfalfa hay, grass hay and mixed stands for the commercial horse markets, using small square bales and producing 106,000 bales in 2013, which he says “makes some people break out in hives.”

He stated simply, “Customers are everything.” His goal is to gain an average of one customer per year, and currently has customers who have been with him for the past 18 years.

Geralds says recordkeeping is essential to production and marketing, and he keeps a lot of them. From 23 fields, he records dates, products, application and planting rates, harvest and even weather events affecting harvests – tracking all data much like a cattleman would for each cow.

His bales are marked and stacked according to field and cutting, so that customers can request a very specific product and he knows which of his three hay barns it’s located in and where to access it.

He also extensively manages his hay equipment – tracking fuel usage, efficiency, and whether it works with the other equipment he has.

Geralds claimed to have saved $1,600 per year with the purchase of self-propelled mowers, as opposed to pull-type mowers – which he would only have known through recordkeeping and data management.

Geralds also is a proponent of technology and offered self-guidance systems, variable rate sprayers and Roundup Ready alfalfa as examples.

And bringing it all together, Geralds says, “It’s impossible to put up top quality hay without top quality people.” He credits his family and their dedication to the bottom line of his success.

Robert Shoemaker
This producer has a cow/calf grazing operation in Virginia and, as a participant of the grazing panel, recommended investing in good fencing and watering systems. Since grazing cattle are the harvesting equipment, a sound infrastructure is crucial to success, he says.

His principles of grazing management include early turnout, creep grazing, summer stockpiling and winter stockpiling. He stated a producer can’t just wake up one day and decide to buy seed, and plant on Day 2; it takes planning to achieve the right system.

Although his operation predominantly grazes, Shoemaker buys hay to strategically feed where the pastures need fertilization. His goal is to achieve long rest periods for pastures.

Shoemaker recommended understanding and appreciating the benefits of soil health, which can be improved through rotational grazing over time.

He also recommended buying a good sprayer but not substituting chemistry for rate, timing and placement – getting the boom height right, nozzles right and timing applications right.

Terri Hawbaker
Hawbaker and her family having a grazing dairy operation in Michigan. As a participant on the producer panel, Hawbaker recommended five key practices for profit: managed grazing, good fertilization practices, weed and pest control, properly harvesting supplemental forage, and ‘getting out of the box.’

Her managed grazing practices include planned rotations, use of native grass and seeded legumes and optimizing stocking rates.

To assist with adequate fertilization, Hawbaker uses soil sampling to determine application rates of lime and nitrogen.

The dairy also utilizes compost-bedded pack barns as a housing system for lactating dairy cows.

Weed and pest control on the farm is accomplished with field scouting. Hawbaker stated they clip the pastures once per year after the cows graze, after which the cows can keep up.

For stockpiling, forages are cut at the bud stage and wrapped as quickly as possible to optimize moisture.

Finally, Hawbaker proposed ‘getting out of the box’ as far as trying new ideas, new varieties, new practices, and staying up to date by attending education meetings and networking with other producers.

Mark Kennedy
Kennedy is a retired NRCS advisor and a current producer. He recommended management-intensive grazing, choosing the right animals for the resources available, improving soil fertility and health, creating a diverse forage system and stockpiling.

A key component of his presentation was matching the right animal to the pasture, noting that sheep are more selective than cattle, and goats are browsers. Animals should be chosen depending on what native forages are produced.

Kennedy recommended maintaining legumes to increase gain and weaning weights, and reduce the need for fertilizer.

He also uses stockpiling and strip grazing with a 2-strand polywire and maintained this system reduced equipment cost, reduced time and labor and produced high quality forage. In defense of the reduced labor, Kennedy stated he could move polywire faster than starting a tractor, fetching and feeding a hay bale.

Conference competitions
Refreshingly, especially in today’s aging agricultural demographics, dozens of young people pursuing agricultural careers attended the conference and presented research in the Young Scientist competition.

They competed on university teams in the Forage Bowl, including teams from Kentucky University, University of Tennessee – Martin, and Penn State.

An essay contest, photo contest, forage spokesperson contest and trade show rounded out the slate of events.

2014 AFGC award winners included:

  • National Pastureland Conservationist of the Year: Greg Brann, Tennessee

  • Distinguished Grasslander Award: Kenneth Johnson, Tompkinsville, Kentucky

  • Merit Awards: Dr. Rocky Lemus (Mississippi State), Dr. Chris Teutsch (Virginia Tech), Dr. Troy Downing (Oregon State University), Fae Holin (Hay & Forage Grower), Dr. Woody Lane (Roseburg, Oregon)

  • Medallion Award: Dr. Gary Pederson, Griffin, Georgia

  • Presidential Citation: John Rodgers, Belleville, Pennsylvania

  • Forage Bowl: First place – University of Kentucky (team members: Veronica Bill, Elizabeth Langlois, Cecilia Purtee, Meredith Tapp, coach Caitlin Timberlake and assistant coach Jessica Williamson)

  • Emerging Scientist: Lisa Baxter, University of Georgia

  • Photo Contest, by category: Dennis Hancock in Education; Gordon Jones in Grazing; Dennis Hancock in Wildlife and Conservation; Kenny Simon in harvested forage; Kenny Simon in both the Open and Best of Show categories

  • Forage identification: Lisa Baxter, University of Georgia

  • Essay contest: Korbin Leddy took first place in Category 1 and Sawyer Gilbert took second; in Category 2, first place went to Kadin Leddy, second place to Paul Shanks and third place to Emilee Mendel; Category 3 winners were William J. Carmack in first place, Sarah Claude in second place and Christine Gelley in third.

  • Forage spokesperson: First place was Kendall Guither (sponsored by Illinois Forage and Grassland Council); second went to Myron Ellis (sponsored by Kentucky Forage and Grassland Council); and Hugh Soape (sponsored by Texas Forage and Grazing Council) placed third

John E. Baylor was memorialized as a pioneer in the forage industry, and his wife Henrietta accepted the memorial on his behalf during the program.

Chad Hale, outgoing AFGC president, handed off the presidential gavel to E. Ray Smith of Kentucky who will serve as 2014 AFGC president.

Full conference proceedings will soon be available on the AFGC websiteFG