North Florida dairy farmers are increasing their use of grazing and hay areas thanks to the hybrid, perennial, warm-season Tifton 85 bermuda grass, tested extensively by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ Forage Extension and Research programs.
Yoana Newman, an Extension Forage Specialist with the Agronomy department, described Tifton 85 as a highly nutritious grass that was developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture more than 20 years ago but has become a ‘game changer’ now because of its high quality, greater yields and some environmental advantages.
Newman has been working with farmers and Extension county faculty in North-Central Florida for the last seven years. She said the expansion of Tifton 85 is, in great part, thanks to a UF/IFAS extension program, which advises dairy and beef farmers to make the best environmental and productive use of their lands.
“For IFAS and the University of Florida, this is a true impact,” said Newman. “When you go to the dairies and they tell you, ‘Wow, this grass really makes a difference,’ and you see the planted acreage that was not there seven years ago, it’s clearly the result of the extension program.”
Florida has about 123,000 head of milk cows on two concentrations of dairy farms. Newman said several North Florida dairies supply close to 10 percent of the milk in the Southeastern United States, with Florida milk sales totaling more than $500 million in 2012.
Joey Ricks, the general manager of Alliance Grazing Group based in Trenton, said using Tifton-85 means the difference between his dairy making a profit or just getting by. According to strict environmental guidelines, by using this grass, they can run four and half cows per acre on their 2,000-acre dairy, as opposed to three cows when using regular bahiagrass.
“It allows us to ship 24,000 more pounds of milk per acre, which means 36 million more pounds of milk for the farm, which gives us more than $7.5 million dollars more in revenue a year,” Ricks said.
He added that this grass can grow up to two inches in a day during the summer. It also keeps the cows healthier because it is more nutritious than annual grasses and it reduces mud in the pastures, which keeps the cows cleaner and cuts down significantly on mastitis, a potentially fatal infection of the udder.