The pressure was intense as the young contestant hesitantly chose the 400 level in the “About Alfalfa” category and these words flashed onto the screen:

“At least ___ inches of stubble should be left at the final harvest of alfalfa following a killing frost.”

A teammate confidently hit the buzzer and answered: “What is 6 inches?” And the audience of American Forage & Grassland Council conference participants went wild.

Okay, they didn't exactly go wild. But AFGCers enjoyed last June's Forage Contest, a takeoff of the popular Jeopardy! quiz show, as they have for years. They've also valued meeting young people interested in the industry.

But that contest and opportunity may soon be a thing of the past because of lack of funding, says Ozzie Abaye, an agronomist at Virginia Tech. And that's a shame, she says, because this has been one concrete way the forage industry has connected with the younger generation.

“I can't tell you how big an opportunity it is for the students to go to AFGC,” Abaye says. “AFGC focuses just on forage and grassland and exposes students to a diverse group of people. They meet farmers most meetings they go to don't have producers, researchers, extension people and industry people in one spot.”

Abaye organizes the Forage Contest with forage Extension specialist Ray Smith, University of Kentucky. Lori Unruh Snyder, a North Carolina State University graduate student, now an agronomist at Purdue, came up with the idea.

“I used it for class for various topics,” Abaye says. “One time Virginia Forage and Grassland Council (VFGC) and AFGC were trying hard to recruit younger people into the organization and I put together the Forage Contest.”

One farmer at last June's AFGC meeting answered a student's questions on management and even invited him to visit. The student was “mesmerized,” Abaye says.

Young people need those opportunities, she adds. “That's how I got into it. I was in animal and dairy science at Penn State. I took a single forage course in agronomy and my life changed forever.”

Virginia Tech students received funding from VFGC to attend the 2009 conference. But there have always been problems raising money and finding students to attend the summer meeting. AFGC is talking about moving toward a late winter meeting followed by a fall field tour/meeting, which would make it easier to recruit students, she says.

But the money problem isn't solved and Abaye is asking for financial help. To donate to the AFGC Forage Contest, contact Abaye at 540-231-9737 or cotton@vt.edu.