Why Private Forage Study Groups Pay

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Risk management, mob grazing, winter feed costs and alternative forages are topics commonly discussed at free public meetings, pasture walks or by grazing groups.

But private forage study groups examining those same topics gain so much more – despite having to pay facilitators to run them, suggests Woody Lane of Lane Livestock Services, Roseburg, OR.

“At public meetings, the conversations and questions are going to go to the lowest common denominator, because the people who know the least are going to ask the most questions,” he says.

“But this isn’t Forages 101. These are businesses that use forage because forage is a good business,” says Lane of the three western Oregon groups he facilitates.

Williamette Valley Grazing and Nutrition Group (WVGANG), the Forage and Nutrition Group on Oregon’s southern coast and the Umpqua Valley Forage Study Group are advanced groups, with members who come with a solid knowledge base that they’re expected to share with other members, he adds.

But they have a facilitator who organizes and conducts meetings, politely keeps members focused and has some expertise in agriculture. Lane holds animal nutrition degrees and was a University of Wisconsin Extension sheep and beef cattle specialist and an animal scientist in West Virginia.

He is determined to help others become facilitators and set up such groups across the country. This past June at its annual conference, the American Forage and Grassland Council hosted a session run by Lane on how to facilitate forage groups.

Groups, usually around 20 members strong, are closed to the general public and members keep details confidential. Each member pays $200/year and Lane submits invoices for his services. They generally meet once a month for three hours, usually starting with a pasture walk and then discussing one or more technical topics.

“We have folks with different points of view who are sharing information. That is the strength of the group. The head of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association is talking with someone who is an organic dairyman. They are discussing how good sorghum-sudan is.”

But facilitators are the key to viable forage study groups, Lane is convinced. “It’s up to the facilitator to keep it a strength as opposed to being divisive.”

One session Lane was recently planning: a tour of a small operation utilizing a water-catchment system. “I am going to ask people to bring in their specs on how they get their stock water and domestic water and if they integrate with their irrigation water. We will have 15-20 people in the room, so there will be some interesting things coming up.”

At times a speaker is brought in or talks by speaker phone. Subjects are discussed four to six months ahead of when ranchers will actually be dealing with them, Lane says. June’s the best time to talk about what will be fed in January, for instance.

His groups are usually ahead of the curve. They were the first to use K-Line irrigation, he asserts.

“We’re looking down the road. Everything we do should make sense, financially, for the whole ranch,” One ranch was consistently getting “incredible” yields from its orchardgrass, which was well-fertilized with nitrogen.

“But it was clearly not worth it, so they were able to back off and save a huge amount of money (on fertilizer). They didn’t get the yields, but they are much better economically.”

Chad Hale, a Byron Seeds representative by day, is a WVGANG member by night. He offers the group knowledge of cool-season grasses and clovers.

“But I gain a lot also, because I’m talking to cutting-edge people and figuring out what they want and that’s of value to me. If members ask me a question at a WVGANG meeting, they will get an unbiased real answer and no spin. To them, that’s valuable.”

For more information on how to become a facilitator and set up a forage study group, contact Lane at woody@woodylane.com or call 541-440-1926.

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