Va. Foragers Learn A Lot About Soil Health

2/8/2014 7:00 AM
By Jane W. Graham Virginia Correspondent

WYTHEVILLE, Va. — Foragers from across the state learned much about soil health and its role in their industry during a series of meetings presented by the Virginia Forage and Grassland Council the last week of January.

More than 150 farmers gathered in Wytheville Jan. 28 for the second of four sessions with the theme, “Soil Health: The Foundation of Profitable Ruminant Livestock Production.” The same programs were held Jan. 27 in Blackstone, Jan. 29 in Weyers Cave and Jan. 30 in Brandy Station. Attendees learned about soil health and some of the impacts it has on forage production and livestock operations.

Experts addressing the farmers included Joshua Dukart of Bismarck, N.D., who talked about “Principles of Soil Health: What is it? How Does it Apply? And Why Should We Care?” and Ed Rayburn, Extension forage specialist from West Virginia University, presenting an “Introduction to Pasture Ecology.”

Dukart urged farmers to ask questions, expressing the hope they would have more questions when they left the meeting than when they arrived. He talked about using land to its full production potential, achieving profits with low risk and producing highly nutrient-dense products.

Rayburn, a student of Dr. Roy Blazer, recognized as one of the pioneers in animal science and forages at Virginia Tech, said it is important to know the principles involved in pasture-based livestock production, something he sees as “a near miraculous process.”

He traced the “interplay of sunlight, plants, soil and animals that are the parts of pasture ecology” saying that “the livestock producer who understands plant, soil and animal ecology is prepared to be a better pasture manager to understand how to adapt to changes in weather and interpret how research and farmer experiences from other areas apply to their farm.”

He discussed four living components of the pasture ecosystem: plants, grazing animals, soil community and human community.

Both speakers spent time outlining the population of living things that exists under the soil surface, touching on the jobs they do in creating a healthy soil. Rayburn also pointed to solar energy as part of the equation.

Also at the Wytheville meeting, Patty Johnson, president of the Virginia Forage and Grassland Council, presented two awards to people who have played a big part in the forage council.

The Harlan E. White Memorial Award went to Virginia Tech Professor Emeritus E. Scott Hagood Jr. Hagood joined the Virginia Tech faculty in 1981 and worked in the department of plant pathology, physiology and weed science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and was a weed management specialist for Virginia Cooperative Extension.

The second award went to J.C. Winstead of Craig County, Va., who was named the Virginia Forage and Grassland Council Producer of the Year. During the afternoon session, Winstead outlined one of the practices he has followed that has led him to grazing management as the best tool he has found in his livestock operation.

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