Shenandoah Valley Farmers Forming Graziers’ Network

4/6/2013 7:00 AM
By Andrew Jenner Virginia Correspondent

First Meetings Coming Up in Rockingham, Augusta Counties

They’re not farmers of feathers, but they’re still flocking together in the Shenandoah Valley to talk forage, grazing and other ruminant-related topics as part of a new Virginia Graziers’ Network.

Inspired by similar groups in Maryland and several other states, the graziers’ network will allow livestock producers to learn from and support each other while working together to improve forage and herd management techniques.

(The term “grazer” refers to an animal that grazes; a “grazier” is a farmer who grazes livestock — hence, the “graziers’ network.”)

At least two dozen farmers in the valley have already expressed interest in joining the network, which has been promoted throughout the winter by Virginia Cooperative Extension, NRCS and other farm and conservation agencies.

The new group’s first meetings will be held Wednesday, April 10, in Harrisonburg and Thursday, April 11, in Verona. Both meetings are open to the public, include a light dinner and will run from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Rockingham and Augusta County Extension offices, respectively.

By joining the network, livestock producers will benefit by learning from other farmers’ experiences, lessons and mistakes, said Matt Booher, an Augusta County Extension agent helping organize the groups in the Shenandoah Valley.

“There are so many farms out there where people have great ideas and have overcome challenges on their operation, and there might be a guy right down the road who could really benefit from that,” Booher said.

A statewide network that Booher and his colleagues hope to develop will be made up of smaller, local groups like the two now forming in the southern and central parts of the valley.

“If you’re going to have a functional graziers’ network, there’s a limit to how far people will travel and get together on a regular basis,” said J.B. Daniel, an NRCS agronomist who is also helping spearhead development of the Virginia group.

Eventually, Daniel and Booher hope, other local groups will form elsewhere in the state where sufficient interest and active leadership exist. Each group’s goals, meeting agendas and activities will be largely self-directed, based on the interests and needs of its members. The main objective of the upcoming first meetings will be to plan activities and meetings for the coming months, Booher said.

This past winter, Daniel helped lead a series of forage field days on two farms in the valley to promote fescue stockpiling and strip grazing as a winter pasture management strategy. He said that the graziers’ network groups may organize similar events to explore new techniques, visit successful farms, try out new forage species, bring in outside speakers and otherwise improve their abilities to raise livestock profitably and sustainably.

“This is a way that (farmers) can get plugged in, get involved and get around to visit other farms It will ultimately save them a lot of time and help them accumulate a lot of knowledge,” Daniel said.

Preliminary work to establish the Virginia Graziers’ Network was partially funded by a $2,600 grant from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. That group has also supported the Maryland Grazers Network, which operates a mentorship program pairing new graziers with more experienced ones.

Farmers interested in attending the meetings in either Harrisonburg or Verona are requested to RSVP by Monday, April 9. To RSVP or for more information, contact Matt Booher at 540-245-5750.

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