Forage tithing

By Mike Rankin, Managing Editor

tithe tith n : a tenth part paid or given

It’s usually about this time of year when churches across the U.S. begin their pledge campaigns to meet the ensuing year’s budget. You know how it works, either the head clergy or some other poor sacrificial lamb has to stand before the congregation and make the case for more giving than the previous year. In the pews, people’s heads turn to the floor, exits, or they fumble through the hymnal pages for the next selection. Somewhere along the line comes a Biblical reference to a money, time, and talent tithe.

“Is it just me or does nobody want to talk about alfalfa anymore?” said the person on the other end of the phone. “We have nobody who knows forage crops at our local co-op, and there’s no forage specialist anymore at our state university.”

The caller was right. The battalion of human forage resources has diminished — significantly in many places. Some who are still around will be retiring in the not too distant future. It’s not just university personnel either; long-time forage companies are merging or are simply calling it quits. We lose forage expertise with each scenario.

Oftentimes when university forage specialists leave or retire they are replaced with people given a much broader scope of responsibility — for instance, cropping systems and biofuel production. Or, as was the case in Iowa that has nearly 4 million head of beef cattle alone, there is no state extension forage specialist replacement. With much tighter university budgets, position on the totem pole matters, and many times forage expertise is mistakenly viewed as expendable.

Moving forward, we’re going to need forage tithers: industry personnel, producers, scientists, organizations, and media. Each giving their time, talent, and resources for the benefit of moving forage education, technology, and research along at the pace being set by our grain crops brethren. It’s going to have to be all for one, and one for all.

While on a recent trip to Washington, I had a chance to visit several commercial hay farms. Two of the operators, Brian Eddie and Drex Gauntt, each talked of their production practices, but also made a point to relate how they felt giving back to the industry was important. Eddie serves as the current president of the Washington State Hay Growers Association (WSHGA). The Moses Lake producer noted the importance of being involved and getting others involved. The WSHGA sponsors one of the largest forage conferences in the U.S. and sanctions alfalfa variety trials that are conducted by Washington State University. Eddie’s son, Andrew, helps on the farm and is the person behind WSHGA’s marketing initiatives and social media presence. Both father and son are tithers.

Gauntt is another tither and an early adopter of new technologies on his Burbank operation. He serves on the National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance (NAFA) board. Like Eddie, he believes growers have an obligation to the larger industry; that’s why he is a big proponent of the new Alfalfa Checkoff Program and the research it will ultimately fund.

These Washington growers are only two examples of forage tithers. There are many more out there, but the forage industry is going to need all hands on deck to maintain university specialist positions, research programs, and to cultivate and train the forage experts and leaders of the future.

This editorial appeared in the November 2016 issue of Hay & Forage Grower on page 4.

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