“Producing Cash Hay for Virginia's Equine Industry” is the theme of this year's winter forage conferences to be held in February and sponsored by Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Virginia Forage and Grassland Council.

Nationally recognized speakers will help attendees learn about the equine hay market and gain information about hay production and marketing fundamentals that will help to reduce the risk associated with transitioning to an alternative crop and marketing system.

The workshops will focus on all aspects of producing high-quality hay. The conferences will be held Feb. 7 at the Armory in Chatham, Feb. 8 at the Southern Piedmont Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Blackstone, and Feb. 9 at Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Suffolk. Registration for each session will begin at 8:00 a.m. and end at 3:30 p.m.

As one of the fastest growing segments of Virginia agriculture, the equine industry and its impact will be heavily discussed at this year's conferences. Each year, Virginia's horses consume more than 500,000 tons of hay valued at approximately $100 million; much of it imported from other states.

Speakers will address establishing forages, fertility and pest management, cutting and curing management, machinery management and costs, marketing, and hay transportation on public roads.

Chris Teutsch, Extension forage specialist at the Southern Piedmont Agricultural Research and Extension Center, will share the ins and outs of establishing forages in the southeastern and Southside counties. Wade Thomason, Extension grain specialist, will discuss how to establish a fertility program for high-producing forages. According to Thomason, not replacing the large amounts of nutrients removed by hay will lead to reduced yield, vigor, and persistence in even the best forage stands.

Mike Galbraith, who is a forage quality/preservation specialist with Cargill Animal Nutrition and also serves on the board of directors of the American Forage and Grassland Council, will discuss factors that affect curing time and what hay producers can do to minimize the time between mowing and baling. Scott Hagood, Extension weed specialist, who brings years of experience working in weed management in Virginia, will discuss weed control strategies for high-value forage crops destined for the horse-hay market. He will share Virginia Tech research that demonstrates the significant effects that certain weeds have on forage production and on utilization. “Where hay composition is a primary concern, for example for horse owners, weeds also have a major impact on price,” says Hagood.

Bobby Grisso, an Extension agricultural engineer at Virginia Tech, will discuss what farmers need to know about mechanizing hay harvesting, handling, and transportation. He will also pose the question, what systems are in place to mechanize handling of small rectangular bales without using lots of labor?

Gordon Groover, an Extension economist at Virginia Tech and educational advisor to the Virginia Forage and Grassland Council, will discuss the costs of making and storing hay, and what the trade-offs are between mechanized hay handling and hired labor.

Tom Keene, a hay marketing specialist from the University of Kentucky, past president of the American Forage and Grassland Council, and former hay broker, will share his years of experience working as a hay broker in Lexington's, high-end equine market. Keene says that making high-quality hay is only half the work, getting that hay out of your barn and in the hands of horse owners or hay brokers is the other half. He will discuss how to establish a marketing plan and the characteristics that horse owners want to see in the hay they purchase.

This conference has received significant support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Risk Management Agency. The early registration cost is $5 for Virginia Forage and Grassland Council members and $30 for non-members. The deadline for early registration is Jan. 27. After Jan. 27, the registration cost will be $15 for members and $40 for non-members.

The registration fee for non-members includes a one-year membership in the Virginia Forage and Grassland Council and the American Forage and Grassland Council and subscriptions to the Virginia Forager Newspaper, the Forage Leader Magazine, and the monthly e-mail publication, Forage Progress.

For additional information, contact Chris Teutsch at cteutsch@vt.edu or (434) 292-5331, extension 234.