Biofuel’s encroachment into forages to be addressed by grazing experts

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Anyone concerned with the nation’s energy future should attend an upcoming joint national conference on pasture land and animal feed set for June 24-26 at Penn State’s University Park campus.
The conference will bring together nationally renowned researchers in pasture and forage production with the agricultural producers whose livestock graze on the grasses.
Implications. But the nation’s increasing interest in biofuels could have major implications for how sheep, cattle and other grazing animals are fed, according to Marvin Hall, the Penn State professor of forage management who is coordinating the conference.
Hall points out that the growing national quest for ways to generate ethanol has expanded from working with corn to include grasses and forages such as alfalfa and switchgrass – crops that are grown as cheap feed for livestock.
“Lots of things will be shaken up because of research emphasis in cellulosic ethanol production,” Hall said.
“All of the work going into making forage better for ethanol also improves its digestibility for ruminant animals. The chemical processes, the enzymes that researchers are looking at to break cellulose away from lignin fibers, are the same as those in the rumen of grazing animals.
Trickle down. “There’s a trickle-down effect from our work. The improved varieties make the forages more digestible, so animals eat fewer nutrients, create less manure and cause less run-off of pollutants.
“Corn, of course, can be used for humans, but forage can’t, so the potential is there to grow forage on slopes and ground where corn shouldn’t be grown.”
The conference will include sessions on: the new farm bill, biofuels, the future of hay genetics, marketing grass-fed beef, organics and nontraditional markets.
Another session will cover carbon-credit trading, which is new in Pennsylvania.
Carbon credits. “Carbon credits are commodities now being traded on the Climate Energy Exchange in Chicago,” Hall said.
“Pennsylvania farmers in forage production can increase their farm’s profit by trading credits. A big power plant that doesn’t have money for scrubbers could actually buy carbon credits from farmers, so there’s a lot of potential for doing good in the long run.”
Tom Richards, director of Penn State’s Biomass Energy Center, will present the conference keynote address.
Forage growers and other producers unable to attend the entire conference can attend a special Producers Day June 26 for a reduced registration fee.
Fees. The $285 registration fee covers tuition, breaks, reception and banquet. Registration information is available at \ www.AFGC.org or from the American Forage and Grassland council at 630-941-3240.
Walk-in registrations will be accepted as space permits.

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