More than 300 people gathered for the biannual Alabama Forage Conference which was held on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009.
The University of West Alabama in Livingston hosted the one-day event, which featured speakers from six Southeastern states.
"We had a wonderful program," said Dr. Don Ball, who helped organize the conference. "For 35 years, I have been working with forage crops in Alabama and this was the best conference yet."
Ball serves as the Extension Forage Crop Agronomist in the Agronomy and Soils Department at Auburn University.
After the conference he noted the material presented proved timely for those who attended the program.
Wade Hill, who served as the moderator for the afternoon equine session, agreed fully with Ball.
"Many people are struggling to find more efficient methods of providing feed for their animals," Hill said. "Proper forage management can prove to be very economical for many producers."
Hill serves as the NRCS district conservationist for Winston and Marion Counties. He and his father raise horses and produce hay for sale, mainly for equine consumption.
More Input Does Not Always Equal More Yield
Ball pointed out that one of the sessions led by Dr. Gerald Evers of Texas A&M University proved to be quite thought provoking.
Evers presented material concerning low, medium and high-input beef pasture systems for blackland soils. The low-input category included no improved management practices while the high-input category featured Bermuda grass with nitrogen.
The most surprising result, according to Ball, came from the medium-input category, which highlighted Dallas grass with white clover as the input.
Ball stated, of course, the high input showed improvement, but, for the money, the best level of input came from the middle.
"When it came to economics, the medium input offered the best value," Ball said.
Evers is a Regents Fellow and professor with Texas A&M University. He has been involved in numerous forage and livestock research projects.
Advances in Fescue
Ball was particularly interested in the research results presented by Jimmy Ray Parish of Mississippi State University.
Parish discussed tall fescues of the future. He has been working on improving the durability of fescue while resolving its toxicity.
Ball explained that Kentucky 31 fescue, which had become endophyte-infected, was proving to be non-beneficial and even harmful to cattle.
Parish’s data revealed a novel endophyte that can increase the durability and weather-tolerance of the fescue without producing the harmful effects, like inhibiting reproductivity and hurting animal gain.
Ball noted, even though Parish has only gathered grazing data for one year, everyone should keep their eyes on this research.
"This is really exciting news," Ball said. "It sounds as if in the future we can have fescue even more productive in terms of yield and animal performance, and it can be grown in an area where we can’t currently grow fescue."
This year marked the first time an equine session has been included in the forage conference, which has taken place biannually since 1997.
Hill explained that the organizers included an equine session because of the increasing effect horses are having on the state’s economy.
Dr. Mary Goodman of Auburn University talked about the effects of overgrazing pastures. Hill explained the concept was the same for all grazing animals.
"She explained how grasses operate," Hill recalled. "She talked about photosynthesis and what it takes to make the grass grow."
Goodman discouraged overgrazing because there is not enough grass left for photosynthesis to take place. If no photosynthesis takes place, then the plant cannot grow back as it should.
Dr. Betsy Wagner, also of Auburn University, discussed nutritional issues related to horses on pasture.
Wagner pointed out that a horse is a grazing animal and it is possible to properly feed a horse with nothing but forage.
"This is possible if we provide the right type of forages at the right time," Hill said, noting forage-only feeding takes time to research and effort to provide the proper nutrition.
The final speaker in the equine session was Tom Keene, who has managed horse farms in Kentucky and has worked as a hay broker. He currently works for the University of Kentucky assisting producers with marketing their hay.
Keene discussed hay as a proper component of a horse’s nutrition.
Alabama Hay Contest
On a personal note, Hill said one of the most exciting portions of the conference was when the winners of the Alabama Hay Contest were announced.
Hill and his father placed first, second and third in the legume producer category.
Other winners included:
• Grass producer - Butch Frye, first place; Ben Burleson, second and third places.
• Grass buyer - Kim Romaine, first and second places.
Hill hopes the contest inspired more producers to test their hay, even if they don’t enter the contest.
Hill noted one of the entries in the buyer category was dissatisfied with her hay. She concluded she was paying too much for what nutritional value she was getting from the hay she purchased.
"That’s the whole point," Hill explained. "Producers and buyers need to know the nutritional value of their hay. The only way to know is to have it tested."
Hill noted Auburn University now tests hay samples.
"For many years people have sent their hay to Georgia to be tested," Hill stated. "Auburn does the same kind of testing."
Auburn’s hay tests cost $10 to $25 and provide a similar analysis to Georgia tests.
Dr. Gobena Huluka of Auburn’s Soil Testing Lab said the $10 basic test suits the needs of most producers.
Persons interested in submitting a hay sample for testing should visit: www.aces.edu/anr/soillab/ and click on the forms and publications link. They may also contact their local extension office for help in submitting a sample.
Alabama Farmers Cooperative sponsored the prizes for the hay contest. First place winners received gift certificates for $150, second place received $100 and third place received $50. The gift certificates were redeemable at their local Quality Co-op.
Persons interested in entering next year’s hay contest may call Hill at (205) 921-3103 or may contact their local Extension office.
Susie Sims is a freelance writer from Haleyville.