By Fae Holin
Managing Editor, Hay & Forage Grower

Forage producers should be optimistic about their future, said Matt Boatright, a former Missouri state representative, longtime grazier, vice president of FCS Financial in Sedalia and keynote speaker at the American Forage & Grassland Council's annual conference last month in Springfield.

Boatright, who owns a beef cattle and meat-goat operation near Sedalia, said farmers have the advantage of having a marketing margin. “This marketing margin is all about trading what you have for what someone else wants. We live in a hungry world, folks. We have a lot of people out there whose main goals in life are to increase their standards of living enough to graduate from a bean and rice diet to a meat protein diet. If you look at statistics the world over, and one major area of this world, Asia, you see the prediction of about 300 million more consumers coming into a middle-class lifestyle ... when they move from $300/year annual income to $1,000/year annual income.

“Folks desire animal protein and as soon as they have the opportunity in their budgets, they will buy it.”

He assured the audience of university and company researchers, farmers and forage industry people that “forage land is always going to be available. We see pressure from government regulation. We see pressure from development ... We have neighbors who moved into our neck of the woods who don't want to do anything with anything. But with all the changes in our neighborhoods, let me tell you why I'm so optimistic – we're going to have a lot of opportunity.”

That opportunity is waiting for neighbors with five to 10 to 20 acres of land to tire of mowing that land. “Go welcome them to the neighborhood and say, ‘I'm a farmer and anytime I can ever be of assistance, I want to do that. But if you ever desire me to bring some animals over here to help you graze some of this pasture, I'll be pleased to do so.’ ” The second year, give the neighbor the same offer and maybe an example of what your forages produce, he suggested.

“That third year – there's your opportunity,” Boatright said. “The guy drives into your driveway this time and says, ‘That grass over there? You got any cows you can put over there?’

“It wouldn't be funny if it wasn't true. I have three pieces right now I don't pay a penny for. They can be a little bit harder to manage, but think about that. Think if you had a manufacturing plant in town. You made widgets. And the guy who had the wood store said, ‘I'm so excited that you're here I'm going to bring you all the raw materials for your widgets’ All you have to do is make the suckers. Wouldn't you have an advantage?”

He asked the group to not see neighbors as threats, but as opportunities. Last fall, a couple Boatright had rented ground from for the past 15 years sold him land under its value because they liked the way he managed it.

“We're going to have grazing and forage land available for a long time. It's worth developing. But sometimes you have to look at some of the non-traditional areas to grow your operation. I guarantee you that they're there.”

Boatright said his partnerships with university and research institutions, Natural Resources Conservation Service personnel and others helped make his operation grow. “I encourage you to look for partnerships and ways to do the same.

"We have research farms that actually study forages. We are blessed in this state because we have a multitude of species that we can grow. We even have something in Missouri that most people cuss. It's a forage called tall fescue. And if you don't manage it right, it can be a real problem. But I like the stuff. It really fits in well with my forage program and I've learned how to manage it.”