2014 Northeast Pasture Consortium Annual Meeting Northeast Pasture Research and Extension Consortium 2014 Annual Meeting, State College, PA, February 4-5, 2014

We had an all-time high of 90 people registered for the 2014 Northeast Pasture Consortium Annual Conference and Meeting. Again, we had to suffer through some winter snow and ice, but nearly all of the people preregistered did make it to the conference and meeting even if it turned about to be later than they originally planned.

A snow storm hit Pennsylvania on Monday, February 3, making travel most difficult for those coming in from the east or south. The snow was heavy especially in south-eastern PA. A second storm hit Tuesday evening, February 4 and early Wednesday, February 5, making roads either icy or snow packed depending on direction of travel from State College. A few of us who drove to State College stayed over Wednesday night so that road crews could get the roads free of ice and/or snow.

The Ramada Conference Center hosted the Conference as they did in 2011. The Executive Committee of the Consortium had to do an extensive search to find a low-cost host this year as we no longer receive funding through Agriculture Research Service due to federal budget cuts. We did receive some funding from a Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Innovation Grant through the University of Vermont’s Vermont Pasture Network to pay for farmer member hotel bills.

The high turn-out was due in large part to the first technical session, Managing Pastures in Riparian Areas for Water Quality and Forage Utilization. The Chesapeake Bay Program that seeks to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment loading to the Bay and its tributary streams has caused some state agencies to call for livestock exclusion from stream bed and banks in pastures. This would impact many livestock farmers in the Bay Watershed that pasture their livestock in bottomland areas and small valleys.

Most often the fencing required is a permanent fence that is prone to flood damage since the setback requirements seek to minimize loss of pasture area in an effort to reduce the impact on the farmer’s use of his land. However, this is still a worrisome issue for most farmers that would have build a fence on both sides of the stream, most often provide at least one constructed stream crossing, and then be faced with maintenance issues every time the stream went out of bank. Permanent fencing costs can be expensive especially when fencing off a long and narrow and usually meandering stream corridor.

The NRCS and Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) need to formulate alternatives to streamside livestock exclusion. There are other more cost-effective and water quality effective alternatives. Pennsylvania NRCS employees turned out in large numbers for this first session.

Farmer attendance was down sharply. Due to the loss of funding support, the Executive Committee charged a nominal \$50.00 conference registration fee to farmer members this year for the first time. However, with the unsettled weather that mirrored what took place in New Hampshire in 2013, the weather may have played more of a role in the low farmer turnout this year. Some of our charter farmer members are also aging and find it more difficult to travel or leave the farm if short of help.

Fifteen poster papers were formally submitted this year, another all-time high. Four poster papers dealt with horse pastures, 3 papers were on factors that affect forage growth in pastures, 2 papers were on inventory and monitoring pasture conditions, 2 other papers dealt with livestock agricultural impact on the region’s environment and economy, 2 more papers delved into the nutritional quality changes of milk when on pasture versus fed in confinement (there are differences in fatty acid profiles), and the last 2 papers were on ruminant nutrition on pastures. Two 45-minute poster paper sessions were held.

Full NEPC2014 Report in PDF form