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Skaggs: Forage crops a key part of Georgia agriculture
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As one drives the backroads of north Georgia, the importance of agriculture becomes clear. Observant drivers and passengers will see many things: poultry houses, beef cattle, horses, fruit trees, vegetables and pasture land.

While raising grasses may seem like a passive activity, it is a vital component in Georgia’s agricultural economy as most of the livestock in the state are supported by forage crops.

In Georgia, forages account for almost 17 percent of the total farm gate value of all Georgia commodities with a total value of over $2 billion in 2009. Forages are grown on about 4 million acres of land in Georgia.

Grassland agriculture is a farming system that emphasizes the importance of grasses and legumes (such as clover) in livestock and land management. Grassland agriculture is a good soil- and water-conserving practice because it reduces soil and water loss as well as stream pollution.

Grasslands provide inexpensive high-quality livestock feed in the form of grazing, hay or silage. Pasture and hay crops can supply nearly all of the feed required for a cow-calf livestock system and can contribute significantly as feed sources for dairies.

In the future, forages will be more widely used in finishing programs for beef cattle as feed grains become more in demand for other uses, as has been the case with corn for ethanol production. Forages can be effectively used in finishing programs to provide the leaner beef that some market segments demand.

Improved pasture and cattle management programs provide additional income for many farms. Pasture and cattle production are easily adapted to part-time farming as well as full-scale livestock operations.

To recognize best hay producers in the Southeast, Cooperative Extension forage specialists from Georgia, Alabama, Florida and South Carolina, in conjunction with the Sunbelt Ag Expo, are preparing for the 2010 Southeastern Hay Contest.

For a fee of $15, hay producers have an opportunity to gain information about the quality of the hay they produce and compete alongside their peers from the three other states.

Hay entries will be tested by the University of Georgia Feed and Environmental Water Lab. The entries will be ranked using the Relative Forage Quality evaluation system, which accounts for protein, energy and fiber digestibility. If necessary, ties in RFQ scores will be broken based on visual evaluation by the four State Forage Specialists.

The contest is open to any hay producer in Georgia, Alabama, Florida or South Carolina that would like to enter. Hay samples, entry fees ($15 per sample), and an entry form must be submitted by Sept. 30. Samples can be submitted through the county Extension office.

For more information, call your local Extension office at 1-800-ASK-UGA1, or visit the website.

Billy Skaggs is agriculture agent and county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, His column appears biweekly on Thursday’s Business page and at