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VFGC Launches Grazing Efficiency Project

Crop and Soil Environmental News, December 1997

Paul Peterson, Extension Specialist, Forages
Glenn Johnson, State Agronomist, NRCS

In September, the Virginia Forage and Grassland Council Board of Directors learned that our proposal to the EPA for a statewide extension effort on grazing management was funded. Considerable progress has been made since we got this good news.

The funding comes from the Ruminant Livestock Efficiency Program of the EPA. Their interest lies in efforts that can improve the efficiency of cow-calf operations in the southeastern US. Their concern is the number of cows maintained in this region that do not produce a weaned calf annually.

Our proposal promoted the concept of controlled grazing management as a means of improving nutrition and management of the herd to achieve better weaning percentages. While EPA's primary interest is the cow-calf operation, they also support working with dairy and stocker operations as well to improve their grazing management.

The initial phase of the project is an attempt to better understand the needs, motivations, and perceptions of livestock producers across the state. The VFGC, VA Cooperative Extension, and NRCS promote controlled grazing management as a means to improve profitability and lessen environmental impacts of livestock production. Yet the fact is that only a small percentage of livestock producers actually practice controlled grazing. We want to know why so we can better promote adoption of controlled grazing principles across the state.

We figured the best approach was to go to producers with our questions. To do this, thanks to extension agents, NRCS personnel, and Farm Bureau, we've compiled a list of over 500 livestock producers across the state. This list includes dairy and beef producers but is comprised mostly of part-time cow-calf operators who represent the majority of the ruminant livestock industry in the state.

These producers will be contacted first by a letter and then with a phone call in January by Virginia Tech's Center for Survey Research. Several questions will be asked including the producers' willingness to get together for a later discussion. These discussion groups will be held in February and March at a number of locations across the state. With the help of a skilled facilitator, we hope to gain a better understanding from producers of how we should tailor our extension efforts in the area of grazing management to facilitate their adoption of controlled grazing.

Intensive regional workshops will follow beginning in April 1998. They will be conducted by experienced graziers and extension and NRCS personnel. These workshops will include training materials and methods patterned after what we've learned from the earlier discussion groups.

Controlled grazing demonstrations will be set up across the state and will be a critical part of the training process. Local grazing networks will be established around demonstration sites for workshop participants.

Another key focus is youth. The VFGC plans to offer opportunities for Vo-Ag, FFA, and 4-H projects to encourage youth involvement in demonstration projects

With this grant, the VFGC has a tremendous opportunity to impact ruminant livestock producers in a positive way. Controlled grazing is a true "win-win" practice that improves pasture productivity, profitability, and the environment.

We want this funding to work for positive benefits for Virginia's livestock producers. Please contact a VFGC board member if you have any ideas or comments on the project.

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