Grass (the kind cows eat!) is king in Smyth County and southwestern Virginia. Our ability to grow grass makes us competitive with other livestock producing states because it increases the useable value of our sloping lands. We can grow field corn and vegetables, of course, but due to the lack of flat, tillable lands, we will never enjoy the advantages we enjoy with grass.

Interestingly though, research on grass varieties has been all but non-existent. Grass was just something that kept folks out of the mud between corn, soybean and other crop test plots. Why? Mostly because there was a lack of money available from everyone from seed companies to weed control suppliers to do the research. If something was going to happen, we are going to have to be the ones who got it done.

To that end, extension agents along with the staff of the local Agricultural Education and Research Center (AREC) at Glade Spring set about to plant a research quality test plot for cool season grasses popular in our area so our livestock producers could have something to truly help them evaluate the forages used most on their farms.

It is with great pleasure that I share with you that the 2019 Cool Season Grass Variety Test Data has been published and is available for your use. As Phil Blevins, ANR Crop and Soil Agent in Washington County shared recently in an email: “It has taken a while, but please find attached the reports from our cool season variety test at the Glade Spring AREC. For those who supplied seed we are very grateful. The first two seedings failed due to invasion of smooth brome and then a drought. We finally had success in 2017, but the harvester we were using was down in 2018. We would like to thank the Virginia Tobacco Commission, First Bank and Trust, Virginia Farm Credit, New Peoples Bank, Holston River SWCD, Evergreen SWCD, Clinch Valley SWCD, Scott County SWCD and the Abingdon Feeder Cattle Association for the generous support that enabled us to purchase a forage harvester to improve the forage research being conducted. Also, a huge thanks to Lee Wright, Southwest AREC superintendent, for his cooperation and help, and also Dr. Wade Thomason for the statistical analysis of the data.”

As Phil shared, locally, our own Evergreen Soil and Water Conservation District partnered with us to help us buy a very unique machine to harvest the grasses, weigh the plot’s output and hold the sample for nutrient testing. Grass plot harvesters are manufactured in two places in the world, Austria and Utah. While Utah isn’t just around the corner, it was the most reasonable option for us as extension agents to work with in outfitting our machine to harvest the grass and manage the data. A picture of the machine accompanies this column. It is manufactured by Wintersteiger and cost about $150,000.

While that is a high price, the price for not knowing more about the forages that our number-one enterprise (livestock production) of our number-one industry (agriculture) use to produce more meat and milk is exponentially higher.

So, if you are planting a new grass hayfield or renovating a pasture, be sure to check out the varieties that underwent testing at our local AREC.  Like anything else in farming and in life, what you don’t know can hurt you.

Upcoming Events

Feb. 17-- Farm Management Meeting, Farm Bureau Building, Marion. Topic: Woodland Management.

Feb. 21--Deadline to consign calves to the March 25 VQA Calf Sale.

Feb. 22-- Women in Ag Conference, Lebanon.

March 25--VQA Calf Sale, Tri State Market, Abingdon, 7 p.m.

March 28--VA BCIA Bull Sale, Wytheville.

March 30—VQA Steer Take-Up, Tri State Livestock Market.

April 1—VQA Heifer Take-Up, Tri State Livestock Market.

April 24—Watershed Field Day for 6th Graders, Chilhowie High School.

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Dr. Andy Overbay is Smyth County’s agriculture and natural resources extension agent.

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