Alfalfa and corn are widely grown in western New York, as elsewhere. Though they generally yield well and produce high quality forage, in some places, e.g. on poorly drained soils, their yields are not good. Further, both crops require a fair amount of attention, which may be difficult to provide on sloping land, and in the case of alfalfa, yields can be expected to fall off a few years after the initial planting. For these reasons Mr. Beckerink believes that grasses may in some circumstances make more suitable forage crops. He undertook the present project to demonstrate that grass forages can be grown with less expense, effort, and environmental pollution than are entailed in the production of alfalfa and corn, and with no sacrifice in the quality of the forage.
Mr. Beckerink enlisted the cooperation of about a dozen farmers in Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties, New York, who wished to learn more about grass hay farming. They each took forage samples from several fields seeded to grasses (Timothy, fescue, reed canarygrass, and orchardgrass), at each of three cuttings over the course of the summer. The samples were subjected to analysis for protein and neutral detergent fiber (NDF). The results were shared with the farmers, and management recommendations were made on the basis of these results.
The testing showed respectable crude protein and NDF levels, the former ranging from about 15 to 24%, and the latter from about 50 to 60%. The testing also showed the value of making the first cut early—cuttings taken the week of May 10-16 tended to have higher protein levels than those taken a week or two later; the value of early second and third cuts was less evident.
Mr. Beckerink reports that the participating farmers saw their incomes increase, because of the lower costs for seed, fertilizer, and pesticides involved in grass hay production; indeed, they had no need of herbicides or insecticides at all. They also report that the grass hay responded better to manure fertilization than did alfalfa. This is important to them since, as dairy farmers, disposal of manure is a concern.