About UF/IFAS Forages
With favorable climatic conditions and capacity for growing forages year-round, Florida is one of the main states in cow-calf production in the United States, ranking 10th nationwide in beef cow numbers (900,000). From the sandy southern tip of the peninsula to the more subtropical panhandle, Florida hosts over 1.7 million head of beef cattle, over 125,000 dairy cows, and approximately 500,000 horses in over 3.2 million acres of pastureland and 1.3 million acres of grazed woodland. Besides being home to five out of the 10 largest cow-calf outfits in the country, there are almost 18,500 beef cattle ranchers, producing over 800,000 calves being shipped out west every year. This represents over $1.7 billion annually in revenue from livestock products for the state (USDA NASS 2016), helping to make Florida the 7th state in agricultural exports. The beauty of this: it is mostly produced on strong, forage-based production systems. Recently, forages (re)gained new horizons, with the increased use of cover crops and great potential for integrated livestock-cropping systems. Regained because those practices remount back to the primordium of agriculture. New horizons because the diversification of production systems, increased cost of production, and increased focus on environmental aspects have placed forages on the main stage for sustainable agriculture. Forages are important providers of ecosystem services, being a habitat for wildlife, securing atmospheric carbon in biomass and soil organic matter, regulating nutrient fluxes, and conserving soil and water.
The very productive Forage Breeding program at the University of Florida has released over 47 cultivars in the past several years, not including biofuel and turfgrasses. The Forage Team has been an important ally of Florida’s farmers and ranchers, a partnership and a legacy transcendent beyond generations of faculty and producers.
In Florida, it is possible to grow a myriad of forage species: from tropical C4 grasses to subtropical legumes, going through high productivity, bioenergy-type canes to brassicas for small ruminants. The very productive Forage Breeding program at the University of Florida has released over 47 cultivars in the past several years, not including biofuel and turfgrasses. Those releases range from more reliable bahiagrass and bermudagrass cultivars to nematode-resistant clovers and tetraploid ryegrasses, reducing costs and increasing productivity. Rust-resistant small grains helped producers by reducing the need for supplemental feed and creating a new niche for beef cattle producers: backgrounding stockers in integrated livestock-cropping systems. Hay is also an important crop in Florida, with around 300,000 acres being harvested annually. High-quality rhizoma peanut hay has also gained space among horse owners and small ruminant producers as an alternative to imported alfalfa hay.