LAFAYETTE, La. — Southern dairy producers may have a new source of stored forage for their cows based on research conducted by the LSU AgCenter and presented at the recent annual meeting of the American Forage and Grassland Council here.

Mike McCormick, a researcher at the LSU AgCenter's Southeast Research Station in Franklinton, reported that bahiagrass, a summer perennial, can be harvested and stored as baleage — hay baled and wrapped in plastic.

McCormick and colleague Brad Venuto compared baleage with both hay stored indoors and hay stored outdoors.

"Outdoor-stored hay had a greater loss in quality," McCormick said, explaining all the hay was evaluated six months after harvest and storage.

Baleage, on the other hand, proved similar to indoor-stored hay in terms of storage losses and quality, McCormick said.

"The savings in baleage compared to outdoor-stored hay saved half the cost of the plastic used to wrap the hay," he said, adding that the loss didn't include hay that was unusable due to spoilage and deterioration caused by weather.

"If producers don't have covered storage, baleage is an affordable alternative," he said.

McCormick said the research was prompted by producers' desire to have an alternative to ryegrass hay, which is produced during the cooler seasons of the year.

Bermudagrass, another warm-season forage, may be an alternative to row crops in marginal soils where irrigation is available, according to research presented by Gary Hill, an animal and dairy scientist at the University of Georgia Coastal Plain Experiment Station in Tifton, Ga.

Hill said farmers can generate income from contract grazing beef cattle if they invest in low-cost fencing and use irrigation already in place.

Hill said beef cattle have not done well on summer bermudagrass pastures in the past because of low grass productivity. If the grass was irrigated, he said, the quality could be high enough to produce weight gain in young cattle, called stockers.

"Farmers might be able to use it in stocker programs successfully," Hill said of irrigated pastures. "Stockers can gain all summer in these conditions."

Hill and McCormick were among more than 40 people who presented papers or posters at the meeting.

More than 350 researchers, producers and industry representatives from throughout the United States and Canada attended the meeting, according to Ed Twidwell, a pasture and forage specialist with the LSU AgCenter and general chairman of the event.

Topics for the sessions included hay marketing, pasture management and variety development.

According to the latest Census of Agriculture, Louisiana has about 7.8 million acres of land in farms. Pastureland accounts for about 29 percent of that total — or about 2.2 million acres. Hay normally is produced on about 400,000 Louisiana acres and has an estimated value of more $40 million.

Recent estimates place the total value of Louisiana's farm-grown forages at more than $260 million, which includes production from beef cattle and calves raised on pastures, milk production and dairy slaughter animals, and wool and lamb production.

The value of forages to the state's extensive horse industry is unknown, but these statistics on animal-related industries illustrate the critical position of forages in the agricultural economy of Louisiana, experts say.

The American Forage and Grassland Council is made up of affiliated councils in the United States and Canada with a total individual membership of about 4,000. Its primary objective is to promote the profitable production and sustainable utilization of quality forage and grasslands.

Rick Bogren writes for the LSU AgCenter.