For many of us spring has arrived here on the coast and I think watching the incredible grass growth is one of the most fascinating part of our agriculture production system. Some of you might think watching paint dry would be more exciting, but let me explain. The grass we see growing on our local farms is arguably as productive and important as any grass in the world. It harvests energy from the sun, sequesters carbon from the atmosphere, provides the foundation of feed, and plays a critical role in nutrient re-cycling for local dairy producers.
Grass can provide inexpensive nutrients for growth and production. The grass plant is made of roots, leaves, stems and seed. Roots draw nutrients from the soil for growth and provide nutrient storage for the plant. Leaves catch sunlight for photosynthesis of carbohydrates and the conversion of nitrogen into protein. The stem and seed head allow the plant to reproduce. It is natural for a grass plant to grow rapidly in the spring and produce seed in early summer unless it’s regularly harvested through grazing or mechanical harvest. By cutting the grass regularly, producers not only maximize grass growth (dry matter and total feed grown) but also maximize the quality of the feed produced. In November, when grass is least productive, roughly 18 lbs of grass is grown per acre each day. Growth peaks in June at about 100 lbs per acre each day.
For the past several months, dairy producers who graze have been fixing fences that were torn up by elk traffic over the winter. Many are already getting cows out to pasture. Producers who mechanically harvest grass have been preparing their mowers, choppers and balers for harvest, which often starts in April depending on the weather.
Grass is truly an incredible resource. It’s not only important here in Tillamook County, but globally. It helps drive our local economy by providing an incredibly valuable feedstuff for our dairy industry. I would argue it is especially important in feeding the world.
So the next time you’re out enjoying our beautiful county, I hope you look at the fields of green grass through a different lens. I know our dairy farmers are out watching grass grow and now maybe you will as well.