BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Ron White, a Benton County, Ark., rancher, has been named Arkansas’ 2004 Quality Forage Program “Grower of the Year.”

White is an investment trust specialist with A.G. Edwards in Rogers, Ark. He and his wife, Charlotte, own Whitehouse Paint Horse Ranch near Garfield, Ark., in northeast Benton County.

Rogers would not be considered a typical bermudagrass hay producer, at least by some standards.

After learning about the University of Arkansas-sponsored Quality Forage Program, which began in 1998 with emphasis on production of top quality bermudagrass hay, Ron decided to get involved.

“Our horse program needed better quality hay than we were able to buy at the time,” he recalled. “From everything I could determine, this program and its producer support group seemed to offer an opportunity for me to learn how to grow my own quality hay. We got on board in 1999 and haven’t looked back.”

After seeing his first hay analysis results in the fall of 1999, Ron felt the same as he would on any day the stock market suffers a big drop.

“Our producer group sort of labeled me as their ‘Poster Child for Hay Improvement.’ But along with their lighthearted jabs, they continued to furnish good advice and encouragement, which made me feel that I could produce top quality hay.”

Beginning in 2000, gradual improvements continued to be made and Ron achieved his first milestone in 2001 when one hay sample scored a Relative Feed Value of 102.6.

According to Jim Singleton, fellow producer and Quality Forage Program Chairman, “An RFV of 100 is considered equal to mid-bloom alfalfa and is a rarity in the production of bermudagrass hay.”

To commemorate RFV as their “Golden Fleece,” the Quality Forage group initiated presentations of “The 100 Club” membership certificates to any producer achieving this goal.

“I would almost guarantee that Ron had his 100 Club certificate on the wall at A.G. Edwards the next morning, before other associates arrived for work,” Singleton said.

In the following years, Ron’s overall hay quality across all seasonal cuttings improved, along with production tonnage per acre. Beginning in 2003, Ron altered his harvest schedule from three to four cuttings per year, increasing the probability of even better hay quality.

At the 2004 Quality Forage Awards program held recently in Decatur, Ark., Ron felt that something was in the works when his hay samples received the award for Highest Energy Level, followed by the award for Best Overall Sample of the 129 bermuda hay samples entered.

In making the final announcement of the recipient of the Grower of the Year award, Benton County Extension Agent Robert Seay recalled, “I couldn’t help but think of Ron’s 1999 hay sample, which scored an RFV of 69 and how well he handled our lighthearted humor at the time.

“He certainly provides a lesson in persistence because, here we are in 2004 and, with a score of 97.5, Ron has the highest RFV average across all four hay cuttings of the entire producer group and the best overall sample, which achieved a score of 116.”

Seay said the Quality Forage program in the county has established an unprecedented record with producers winning the national AFGC Bermuda Hay Contest for four consecutive years.

“Some mistakenly call this a hay contest, but I like to refer to the Quality Forage Program as a collective effort by producers and a supportive group of sponsors, which has enabled us to recognize the nation’s best producers, who happen to be producing the nation’s best bermuda hay.”