Alfalfa is often call the "Queen of Forages" and is the most important forage legume in the United States. It possesses the highest nutritive value of all commonly grown forage plants. In Virginia, alfalfa is grown on more than 1.15 million acres. Although alfalfa is commonly thought of as hay, it can also be an important component of pasture swards. Virginia Tech’s Alfalfa Variety Trials tests commercially available varieties at three locations in Virginia. The best varieties will perform well at all locations.
Bermudagrass is commonly considered a weed due to its prolific growth habit. However, bermudagrass has the potential to provide reliable summer pasture. It is drought tolerant, high yielding, responsive to nitrogen fertilization, and tolerant of close and frequent grazing. Bermudagrass hybrids must be established from sprigs (plant parts). This has limited bermudagrass use in Virginia. Recent development of seeded forage bermudagrasses may provide a viable alternative for producers in Virginia. On going research at the Southern Piedmont AREC is evaluating the yield, nutritive value, and persistence of both sprigged and seeded bermudagrasses.
Crabgrass is a warm-season species that is well adapted to southside Virginia. It is commonly considered a weed due to its prolific growth habit. In other regions of the country, improved crabgrass routinely produces between 4,000 and 10,000 lb DM/A. Crabgrass is very palatable and possesses a high digestibility and protein concentration when compared to other warm-season grasses. Little is known about the performance and management of improved crabgrass in Virginia. Research has been initiated at Virginia Tech?s Southern Piedmont AREC to evaluate the performance of improved crabgrass and establish management guidelines.
In Virginia, 200,000 acres of corn were harvested as silage in 1999 (Virginia Agricultural Statistics Service, 2000). In the southeastern United States, the time of the year that corn is grown does not have consistent rainfall. This results in large year to year variation in corn silage yield. In contrast, small grain growth is not normally limited by moisture and therefore has the potential to provide a reliable alternative to corn based silage systems. Research is being conducted at the Southern Piedmont AREC to evaluate production of silage systems based on small grains followed by four warm-season annuals which include corn, sorghum, soybean, and crabgrass.
Research from the Midwestern United States has shown that corn can provide grazing in late summer, allowing for stockpiling of cool-season grasses. It may also be possible to stockpile standing corn for deferred grazing during the winter months. This could reduce hay needs and fill in the gap between stockpiled tall fescue and new growth in the spring. A study currently underway at the Southern Piedmont AREC will track the yield and quality of standing corn and sorghum from September to March.
Corn harvested as silage plays an important role in providing the energy requirements of more than 119,000 dairy cows in Virginia. In 1999, more than 200,000 acres of corn were harvested as silage (Virginia Agricultural Statistics Service, 2000). Virginia Tech’s Corn Silage Hybrid Evaluation Program provides unbiased estimates of yield and forage quality of commercially available corn hybrids. In 2001, corn silage hybrids are being tested at three locations in Virginia one of which is the Southern Piedmont AREC.