I have to admit, the hardest thing about my job as an editor is keeping my mouth shut. It’s not that I’m especially talkative; it’s just that I like to share what I learn.
Although I slip up from time to time, I’ve learned to bite my tongue, listen hard and ask questions — if necessary. Here’s a taste of what I learned this summer while researching stories, touring farms from Virginia to Iowa to California, visiting with seed producers and equipment company reps and attending media events.
• Western growers who make tight windrows could dry hay faster and suffer fewer bleaching effects if they wide-swathed. Forage specialist Dan Undersander, who’s conducted University of Wisconsin Extension research on wide swaths, has been invited to California to talk about it.
He says growers there form solid windrows to minimize bleaching, but that it takes five days for those windrows to dry. If they make wide swaths — covering at least 70% of a machine’s cut width — they can put up hay in a few days and minimize bleaching.
“The first 24 hours after cutting, as long as there’s water to evaporate, hay doesn’t bleach,” he says. “So make a wide swath. Rake within 24 hours so it doesn’t bleach, and then put it up the next day or day after.
“Western people don’t like that it’s a fluffier windrow” and can suffer wind damage. But growers need to weigh how often they have that kind of damage vs. what they lose from slow drying and wheel-traffic damage to regrowth, Undersander adds.
• It takes extreme patience to be an alfalfa breeder. I sat next to Steve Wagner at a dinner announcing Dairyland Seed’s newest hybrid alfalfa. The alfalfa breeder talked about the many thousands of alfalfa plots he and his colleague, Mike Velde, had to sift through. In 2012, although they were able to use a specially built plot harvester (at right), the two harvested 86,000 alfalfa plots. It took five years of work to bring the third generation of the company’s HybriForce products to market.
• Mob grazing research is as dirty a job as any Discovery Channel’s Mike Rowe has experienced.
Graduate student Anders Gurda, left, is conducting a University of Wisconsin trial in which pastures are grazed at stocking densities of 400,000 lbs of live cattle weight per acre. Although he doesn’t have the scientific data to prove it, he believes there’s something to graziers’ claims that mob grazing provides even nutrient distribution. He’s covered with manure by the time he’s clipped forage samples from those plots.
• Knowing how cool-season grasses grow and develop can help producers manage pastures better. Regrowth on orchardgrass, in its second, third and future cuttings, can be as much as 1” or 1.5” within 24 hours. Timothy may take as much as seven to 10 days to grow that much, said Tom Griggs, West Virginia forage and grassland agronomist, during a cool-season workshop, right.
Orchardgrass is short-shooted and doesn’t elongate internodes on regrowth. That means its apical meristem, or growing point, stays protected near the soil surface when regrowth cuttings are taken. Long-shooted timothy does elongate internodes, putting its apical meristem “up into the cutting horizon. Even when we cut it at a young stage, we’re cutting off the growing points,” Griggs explained.
“So, if you understand these things, you can start to predict the amount of regrowth and know where your feed resource is going to be,” he added.
• Farmers, even though they’re discouraged, do persevere. Cokato, MN, grower Harlan Anderson, below, sent this snippet on the Farm Bill as part of a larger letter to the editor of a regional newspaper:
“What if there were a ‘No Farm Bill?’ What will the farm organizations do? What will all those USDA politically appointed employees do? What will all those farm lobbyists do? I do not know the answer to those questions.
“I do know what farmers will do with a No Farm Bill. Farmers will continue to plant corn; soybeans; wheat; milk cows; feed pigs, cattle, sheep and poultry, etc. — just as they have done in this country long before there was even talk of a Farm Bill.”