July 18, 2021

Forages and Pastures Symposium II

Forages and Pastures Symposium II

Larry Redmon began the symposium with a presentation about “Where Should Forage Courses Be Housed”. According to him, in forage, there is often separation between the animal and plant science aspects of the field. In many cases in forage teaching, boundaries are not crossed to work with cooperating departments such as animal science. There is also uncertainty as to which department forages should be housed in. The strengths of being housed in the plant science department include support courses for soils, soil fertility, and plant physiology and breeding. Weaknesses include little emphasis on how forages interact with digestive systems of animals or animal utilization and performance. Strengths of housing forages in the animal science department includes an emphasis on animal performance and utilization. However, weaknesses include a lack of background courses that would be taught in plant science. In a random sampling of departments where forage discipline is located, most were found to have courses within plant science. In Redmon’s view, an alternate approach should be taken. Courses can be cross listed across both departments and team teaching can be utilized. Guest lectures can also be used from several fields. The advantage to accruing exposure to both departments is that students can be exposed to all aspects of forage selection, establishment, management and utilization. However, Redmon posed the question of if there be enough emphasis on forages in the future to matter where the courses are housed. He found that research, teaching, and extension for forages is declining. Additionally, forage teachers often do not have extensive expertise in forage. Overall, there should be efforts to more closely link the discipline of animal and plant science in teaching forage and the declining number of forage scientists must be addressed. 

John A. Jennings followed with a presentation entitled “Forage Agronomists are Needed in Animal Science Departments”. He is a department head of animal science with a relationship with the crop soil and environmental science departments. Despite a need for forage agronomists in animal production in the U.S., there are a limited number of forage agronomist positions and graduates in the fields. Forage agronomists need expertise in chemical and physical characterization of plants, forage management, grazing management, and animals. Whole animal research is needed to best study the ruminant-forage interface, but research is expensive, there is little funding in this area, and it is a large time commitment. There is also less of a priority in both agronomy and crops in animal science departments in general due to other specialized research focuses. In addition, the demographics of students have changed. More are from an urban background and have interests other than traditional agriculture. Additionally many people are unfamiliar with the research area, the majority of farms and ranches are small-scale and less likely to implement extensive management, and job demand is limited in the field. To expand the knowledge of forage, plant identification should be a larger part of introductory courses, there should be pasture management as a part of ruminant management courses, management courses should also be a required part of the curriculum and requirement. Additionally, it would be beneficial to have forage agronomist speakers in career preparation classes.Graduate student funding focusing on forage and agronomy is also beneficial as well as integration of extension faculty into graduate student training to have more exposure to application of technical knowledge within livestock producers. Integration of a forage agronomist can be done within animal science to result in astrong beef cattle and forage programs. The inclusion of forage courses within animal science allows involvement with instruction and implementation of extension demonstration. Currently, departments in agronomy and crops focus on row crop production which is different from livestock production where forage agronomists spend a majority of their time. Too few forage agronomists are being trained and animal science departments should prioritize it within the department. However, for a complete education, cooperation between departments is essential. 

Dr. Harley D. Naumann spoke next about “Techniques in Teaching Forages to Animal Scientists”. He teaches forages at the University of Missouri in the plant sciences department. The division of plant sciences focuses on corn and soybean production and forages is an elective course which covers physiology, production and management. Dr. Naumann has a diverse perspective as an animal science student as an undergraduate and has a range of animal, research, and forage experiences. He recalls not recognizing the importance of a soil science class as an animal science major. The connection was never made for him early on. His approach in teaching forages to animal science students and keeping them interested includes an approach with empathy. He introduces himself as an animal scientist who works in the plant science department. In his class, Dr. Naumann prefers to use visuals such as pictures or data rather than words in order to guide conversations. The first week of class, he ensures that he teaches students the jargon that is important to the field. He also holds students accountable to learn plant physiology which can be difficult. However, he makes physiology relatable to student experiences on their own farms because it is necessary to build working systems and reduce costs. Additionally, he brings in case studies and scenarios to provide examples for students and uses videos in class to reinforce concepts. In teaching topics that are not of interest to animal science students such as forage mineral nutrition, he puts it in a livestock context that they will understand. He has also found it useful to have images of livestock on screen to capture their attention. Research examples are also given in class and system management techniques from livestock standpoint are taught. A lab portion is offered that includes pasture walks, forage analysis, and nutritive value analysis. These allow students to learn from mistakes and problem solve. Overall, Dr. Naumann uses a variety of strategies to successfully teach forages to animal science students. 

Dr. Leanne Dillard concluded the symposium with a presentation about “Extension Programming in Forages: Opportunities and Challenges”. At Auburn, she is in the departments of both agronomy and animal sciences. In the U.S, extension capabilities are decreasing all over and particularly in forages. There has been a decline in forage faculty positions in the last 15 years. Additionally, the new generation of forage extension faculty that is emerging are younger and less experienced. A challenge in the field is the regionality of forages. Each region has unique forage varieties and growth periods which limits the ability to share information and resources. Older or technology-limited audiences can also present a challenge due to the need for virtual farm visits and extensions committees. Virtual meetings could lead to benefits such as increase in participants and out of state and international attendees. It also decreased meeting cost and enhanced ability to attract different speakers. Producers do not often consider themselves forage producers either so it is hard to convince them to spend money on promoting their pastures. Additionally, many administrators or grant review panels are biased by other commodities, so it is necessary to talk to them about economic and environmental sustainability to obtain their interests. Virtual and hybrid meetings can help overcome challenges of travel cost but technology can be unpredictable. Online courses can be used to attract people into extension on topics such as forage basics and beef basics. Opportunities demonstrations and on-farm demonstrations and field days can also be beneficial tools. Partnerships with other universities, stakeholder groups, extension specialists and faculty from other commodities such as forestry and wildlife or biosystems are also beneficial opportunities. Social media and online presence are opportunities that do not require many tools and allow for effective communication and spread of information. Overall, the use of free or lost cost resources are important to increase visibility as funding and resources will decline, and there needs to be flexibility and increased partnerships in extension programs.