Forage Tragedy and Triumph

This article was originally published in The Journal  on January 14, 2019.

Last week I was given a wonderful opportunity to attend the American Forage and Grassland Council’s Annual Conference in St. Louis, Missouri. Thanks to the Ohio Joint Council of Extension Professionals, I was awarded a scholarship that covered over half of the travel and registration costs to attend.

As your county Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator, I believe that expanding our knowledge and understanding of how to utilize forages to their greatest potential is of utmost importance. The American Forage and Grassland Council is the only national organization of it’s kind to bring together producers, academics, and industry leaders in one meeting space.

My number one goal when attending a learning and sharing conference is to bring back information that will benefit our community. There was a wealth of information presented at this conference, but two presentations really stood out to me and they were both delivered from beef producers, not academics.

One was a story of forage tragedy and triumph.

Buron Lanier of Piney Woods Farm in North Carolina, presented at last year’s conference about the efforts made to convert his farm from KY-31 fescue to novel endophyte fescue. A significant portion of his farm is dedicated to silvoculture, combining the production of pine trees and feeding stocker cattle. With great effort, he progressed into a 365-day grazing system. He had no need to feed hay and very little supplemental feed. The system was working marvelously.

But this year he had a different story to share. Hurricane Florence hit the East Coast in September 2018. Mr. Lanier had just started stockpiling his novel endophyte fescue for the winter when his farm became submerged by hurricane waters for over 5 days. The water levels were up to five feet in most of his pastures. He lost over 75 percent of his newly converted pastures. His neighbors also lost their KY-31 pastures and many of them lost their homes as well.

Due to his 365-day grazing plan, Piney Woods Farm had no stored feed. Mr. Lanier was devastated by the destruction, but his home was still livable, his cattle alive, and his family safe. Donated hay and feed were his saving grace. He has since learned how to feed cottonseed and plant by-products and low quality hay. Despite the set-back, he intends to re-establish his pastures back into novel endophyte fescue and begin again.

At the end of his presentation he shared that when something this devastating happens, you question all your motives for farming. He had retired as a successful entrepreneur and started a new venture, grazing stocker calves and farming trees. Why was he doing this? He was doing it for the future of his family, agriculture, and our country’s ability to feed itself. He determined that it is worth it to carry on.

You never know when devastation is lurking around the corner. In a business like agriculture, that devastation could be caused by weather or a market crash, or by the most common two factors, death or divorce. Appropriate insurance, business structure, and succession planning can help soften the blow if or when an unfortunate event comes along. Planning for the unexpected can help prevent complete devastation of the family farm, so please make a plan for your farm’s future.

Only two percent of Americans are farmers. They keep farming despite the risks associated and they often do it without the thankful support of the general public. They don’t farm to get rich, they farm to feed the world and our nation is indebted to them for their efforts.

Whether you plan on passing your farm on today or decades from now, it is crucial that you develop a business succession plan. The next local opportunity to attend an Extension program on this topic is in Morgan County. David Marrison will be leading a workshop with two opportunities to attend at the Morgan High School Vo-Ag Room in McConnelsville on January 28 and 31 from 6-9pm. The cost to attend is $20. For more information, call Morgan County OSU Extension at 740-962-4854. Registration is due by January 21.

Next week I will share a summary of another presentation with you. It focused on “getting started farming without inheriting it or marrying it”. Stay tuned.

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