Three forage specialists have been hired to key state positions in Alabama, Michigan and Texas.

Jennifer Johnson is now Alabama Extension’s state forage specialist based at Auburn University. She holds the position left empty after Don Ball’s retirement in 2010.

Kim Cassida joined Michigan State University’s (MSU) staff at the end of 2012 with a split Extension, research and teaching appointment and is at the East Lansing campus. She replaces Richard Leep, who retired in April 2011.

Chuck West, Texas Tech forage specialist, takes the position left empty with the 2011 retirement of Vivien Allen.

“This is my dream job,” says Johnson, who started her post-secondary education at Western Kentucky University, received a doctorate at the University of Kentucky and completed post-doctoral work at the University of Georgia.

The daughter of Ken and Karen Johnson, beef producers from Tompkinsville, KY, she literally grew up in the industry. “I saw Don (Ball) and Garry Lacefield (University of Kentucky Extension forage specialist), and I wanted to do what they were doing, having an impact on producers.”

Johnson plans to emphasize the importance of improving forage quality and incorporating new varieties. “Fora

ge production is not about quantity, but is all about quality,” she says. She’s also a “big proponent” of intensive rotational grazing.

Cassida plans to expand the MSU forage-variety testing program with tests for productivity and grazing tolerance of alfalfa, perennial grasses, annual forages and alternative legumes.

She brings 20 years of experience in forage research and Extension, with a University of Maine bachelor’s degree in animal science, a master’s in nutrition from Penn State University and her doctorate in sustainable agriculture from the University of Maine.

Cassida has been a USDA-Agricultural Research Service agronomist in West Virginia, a University of Arkansas forage specialist and worked on research grants in Texas and Michigan.

“My experience with forages across a wide variety of environments will be really useful towards my goal of developing forage systems that can help buffer productivity against unpredictable extremes of weather or markets,” Cassida says.

West is internationally recognized for his comprehensive research on tall fescue and a symbiotic fungal organism, an endophyte that improves drought tolerance of the grass. He was formerly with the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and has taught and conducted research in environmental restoration and bioenergy crops. He’s documenting requirements for growing switchgrass as a possible bioenergy crop.

West received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agronomy from the University of Minnesota. His doctorate in agronomy is from Iowa State University.