Growing up on my family's mid-Missouri farm, my brothers and I inevitably found ourselves playing on hay bales.
In the imaginations of three boys, hay bales were a magical backdrop for any game. They were boulders in a sea of hot lava. They were the fort for our stick-gun wars. They were the mountains, and only one of us could be king.
Never did we think of the cost associated with our playground. Sure, we knew the true purpose of hay, but the financial ramifications of growing, cutting and storing, or just purchasing it were entirely lost on us. The ones and zeroes of hay are not lost on the countless ranchers across the United States. If you're in the cattle business, particularly in the Southern Great Plains, you're in the grass business. And if you're in the grass business, you know there are times of the year when quality grass simply can't be produced.
For generations, most ranchers have followed a tried-and-true system: feed cattle grass from spring to fall; then during the winter months (and other lean times), supplement with hay.
The process is not broken; it is just an accepted cycle as are the costs that go along with feeding hay for months on end. Because it is impractical to think otherwise, no one has ever truly considered being able to subtract the hay factor from the cattle production equation. Until now.
The Noble Research Institute launched Forage 365 in 2014. This new research initiative brings to bear all of the Noble Research Institute's expertise in genetic research, plant breeding, economics and agriculture with the express purpose of doing what is considered improbable reducing the need to feed hay.
As you will read in our cover story, Forage 365 will create a system of forages grasses and other plants grazed by livestock that will provide year-round grazing, filling in the gaps left by traditional grass systems. Noble researchers, along with a select group of important collaborators, will improve the hardiness and productivity of four key species readily available to producers. The process sounds simple, but these forages will be stretched beyond their typical growing seasons and remain productive or, in many instances, increase productivity.
The goal is lofty, but the ramifications of success would be widespread. Reducing the use of hay is good for ranchers. It's good for the environment. And, ultimately, it's good for the consumer.
There's just one downside fewer hay forts.