you ever stopped to think about how important forage crops are to our
state and our nation? It is probable that most folks have not, yet a
good case can be made to the effect that forage crops are among our most
valuable national resources.
you detect an apparent contradiction here? How could something be
important but generally not recognized as such? The answer is that the
contributions of forage crops are many and varied and that many of these
contributions are indirect and more difficult to recognize than those of
many other commodities or products.
forage crops are important because they provide most of the nutrition
for domestic grazing animals. It has been estimated that forages provide
63 percent of the feed units consumed by dairy cattle, 84 percent of
those for beef cattle and 90 percent of those consumed by sheep and
goats. The significance of this for all Americans (not just livestock
producers) is evident when we consider that close to one-third of the
food that the average American consumes per year is of ruminant animal
origin. Since forages are the primary source of nutrition for the
animals from which these animal products come, it is clear that no other
commodity even comes close to forages as a contributor to the human
diet, even though the contribution forages make is indirect.
course, forages also contribute to the diets of other domestic animals
as well. Swine, horses and even poultry consume substantial quantities
of forage on some farms. One can also add to this the forage consumption
of non-domestic animals such as deer and rabbits, which may or may not
have the permission and approval of the landowner (thousands of acres of
forage crops are planted specifically for wild animals each year).
Forage crops also provide cover for many types of small animals and
birds. These include, but are certainly not limited to, many game
major contribution of forage crops is their value in protecting the land
from wind and water erosion. Yet another is the huge amount of income
generated for American farmers through seed production of many different
types of forage crops. In addition, forage crops are an important source
of nectar and pollen for the bee industry, and the aesthetic
contribution of attractive fields of forage crops is of inestimable
value, but is certainly worth a great deal to many people.
you know that grazing lands occupy over half the agricultural land area
in the United States, and for that matter, in the world? In Alabama, for
example, we have over four million acres devoted to the production of
pasture, hay, and silage. This is more open land than all other
agronomic and horticultural crops combined!
it possible that a commodity that contributes so much at present could
contribute even more than it now does? The answer, of course, is that it
certainly is possible. A large percentage of the land that is
currently devoted to forage production could be much more productive if
it was managed more intensively. Furthermore, there are millions of
acres in the USA, especially in the Southeast, that are currently unused
or producing little of value, but that would make excellent pasture or
hay land with proper