A cohesive industry effort is needed to increase forages’ visibility to legislators and help secure sorely needed forage funding and staffing, according to speakers at the American Forage & Grassland Council Annual Conference, Jan. 7-8.

The 225 participants were urged to “look at the opportunities facing us and our industry” by Garry Lacefield, University of Kentucky Extension forage specialist, as he opened the Covington, KY, event.

Since 1984, the number of land-grand researchers conducting forage work has decreased by 60%, and the number of forage or livestock teachers is down by 40%, Lacefield pointed out.

“Since 1998, we’ve lost about 30% of the Extension forage specialists with another decline expected,” he said.

Farmers make up less than 1% of the U.S. population, and there are fewer dairy and beef operations in business today. At the same time, the world population is expected to increase to 9 billion by 2050. Public opinion against farming; increases in farming inputs, including fertilizer and fuel; and the high cost of farmland “have dramatically impacted our forage production abilities and the competition for our forage land,” said Lacefield, in photo right.

“We no longer have the luxury of substituting cheap grains and cheap protein supplements for poor-quality forages. But the good news is, we don’t have to,” he added. “We are very fortunate that we can grow our own. We can utilize our forages in a higher-quality state by our grazing methods. We can use the genetics that are out there. We have the technology and more technology coming to do an outstanding job, and we can compete with other countries.”

But other speakers, including Jimmy Henning, University of Kentucky associate dean for Extension, talked of the challenges ahead for the forage industry,

“Our research and Extension efforts have got to … better communicate our value to the state and the public.” He suggested that “tremendous applied research opportunities” would be available if Extension could garner “maximum value” of county agents.

More focused, responsive Extension and research programs could use the help of local forage councils, Henning added. All available resources, including webinars and other Internet or social-media avenues, should be leveraged.

The forage industry must act now, stressed Neal Martin, director of USDA’s U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center in Madison, WI. Martin, who retired in January, discussed the center’s dairy facilities, the type of research being conducted and the need for additional resources.

“We work as a multidisciplinary team,” he said, studying plants, how changes in them react in a cow’s diet or affect manure, emissions and the environment – and how crop management, harvest and storage affect the environment. At the same time, the cow teaches researchers how plants perform – and in what areas improvements can be made.

“That is the premise of the Dairy Forage Research Center. We do it very well and I would say it’s a valuable asset to have,” he said.

“But we are at risk of losing our core science, which is dairy nutrition and rumen microbiology, at the dairy forage center. We want our research driven by what the cow tells us needs to be done in terms of utilization.”

The need for forage research, teaching and Extension has “never been greater.” Martin added that dairies expanding to the West in the 1950s look to be moving back toward Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and New York.

“But our fear is … there is not going to be enough land to produce the amount of feed that’s going to be needed to feed those dairy cows.”

He suggested that a checkoff program may be a way to gather research funds and urged AFGC members to take forage concerns to their congressional representatives without delay.

There is a continued need for independent, university variety testing, said Joe Bouton, retired Noble Foundation researcher. “Farmers do not want all of their information from industry.” He urged researchers to keep those programs going.

The decrease in public-sector funding may mean universities need to “stratify the market,” or focus on progressive producers. “The people at the top are the ones who are going to make changes; they’re going to listen to you. Focus on the top.” He also reminded AFGC members that their goal is to teach and that they should “embrace distance learning.”

Public-private partnerships have worked in the past and could in the future, Bouton said, and a research database may help legislators see where research funds currently are used and valued.

Beef producer V. Mac Baldwin talked of research findings his family used on their grass-fed operation near Yanceyville, NC. Noble Foundation research on year-around grazing using winter and summer annuals has been “life-changing,” Baldwin says. The foundation developed grazing rye and Red River crabgrass, which Baldwin Family Farms implemented in its grass-fed beef operation.

The research was practical and communicated in a way that showed Baldwin how he could make use of it, he says (see “Converting Pastures To Crabgrass").