Forage Production in Suwannee County.

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Forage Production in Suwannee County.
Series Title:
Writings and Speeches 1891-1920
Rolfs, Peter Henry
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Physical Location:
Articles, Speeches and Other Writings
64. Forage Production in Suwannee County.


Subjects / Keywords:
Rolfs, Peter Henry
Farmers' Institute
Forage Production


A lecture on forage production for Suwannee County given by P. H. Rolfs at the Farmers' Institute in 1919.

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University of Florida
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University of Florida Archives
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Copyright Board of Trustees of the University of Florida
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UFDC Membership

Peter Henry Rolfs
University Archives


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By P. H. Rolfs.

The above lecture was delivered at the Parmers' Institute

held at Live Oak on the 13th and 14th inst.

yorage production for Florida is of principal importance

for the development of her agricultural interests. Tho possibilities

in this State for soil improvement and improvement of .ur fc-rms

generallyare so gre,.ot that :.o cannot fully coriprohend. wiat can be

done. Ilort2horn c..pitalists and cattle raisers .Trc t-urning their

i.att: tt) torrd the 'outih f'-r the production of chOcap live stock

and. cheap live rt c iroclucts. The ilxpe-ritant Station h..b proved

beyond que:-tion of doubt that we can proi...ce more fori..e 'or scre

per yeL-r in Florida tan ct.n be prdLuced in the 6.-Cairy states

of the llorth. Th information i, having a ve.ry ubstntii:al

"i effect in direct ie attention of the careful investor to the

possibilities of FlUiida as a live stock State.

There is no other way in vwhch our coil c n be so rapidly

and permanently improved as by the feeding of for.,ge mad concentrates

to live stock. The newly introduced forage*crops give us much

larger yielded thanll.waic. ever expected froa the crops that are grown

in the North. It is neodesary for the Florida farmer to secure

the very best producing orops. This will require a considerable


amount of readjustment to the surrounding conditions, but these

readjustments are going on so rapidly that the average man does

not realize the fact.

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Stock-growing is certain to be one of the great agricultural

industries in Florida, and its foundation must be the production of

abundant and nutritious forage. Without forage stock-growing will ulti-

rra,tely become unprofitable. The cheapest forage is usually that which

is produced on the spot. Some of the high-priced concentrates, such as

cottonseed meal, can frequently be profitably shipped a long distance.

The judicious dairymen of Denmark and Holland have been importing our

cottonseed meal, feeding this to their dairy stock and competing with us

for the markets of butter and cheese. By importing these concentrates

they have enriched their soil until now the average production of wheat

Super acre is double the production of some of our wheat-groving States.
As long as Kansas, Nebraska, Dakota and Texas depended upon

wild grasces for beef production, the cattle industry was uncertain.

The native grasses provided just sufficient feed to fatten the cattle

for the production of beef, and to carry them through the winter alive.

Under range conditions thousands of animals perished every year, and

the longhornss" became a conspicuous feature on the landscapes. As the

population increased in these States the large ranges had .to be broken

up into smaller holdings, and the plow took the place of the range cattle.

These same States are now growing nutritious forage plants, and sending

the finest beef to the market and producing large quantities of the best

butter. All of this, however, is done, not with the native vegetation

as a base, but by the use of introduced and domesticated forage plants.

In every country of the world it becomes necessary to change the character

of the vegetation before the domestic animals can be sufficiently fed to

get the profits required in an intensive industry. Florida is no excep-

tion to the rule. The native grasses and other pasture plants of Florida

give just sufficient feed to enable the cattle to live through the summer

and make a fair growth. The winter, however, is a season of scarcity,

and in extreme years thousands of animals die for want of food.

Cattle cannot live on Climate.

The argument is usually advanced that the Florida climate is so

mild that it is unnecessary to provide extra food in winter or shelter as

a protection against freezing to death. This is true, but unfortunately

it takes more than climate to make good beef. Good forage crops must be

" produced or be found wild. As long as we had vast areas of native cane-

brake and only a few cattle to the square mile, it was possible for those

cattle to migrate into the cane-brakes and pass the winter in a compara-

tively good condition.. In recent years the fires have done much to

destroy the cane-brakes, and what little of them was left the cattle

devoured, and finally the cane-brakes were no longer there to support

cattle for the winter. The vegetation that grows in the pine woods is

so scanty and so hard during the winter that the cattle cannot subsist

upon it. They are therefore forced to congregate in the hanmiocks, along

the river sides, and around the lakes. These locations afford some

shelter, as well as a-varying amount of fairly suitable forage. Notwith-

standing such favorable conditions, there are not enough suitable localities

for the entire stock of most cattle owners to pass the winter without a

large mortality. Frequently when the spring grasses begin to make their

appearance, the cattle are in such emaciated condition that they are un-

able to migrate to food, or to properly digest the food that is at hand.

This winter starting period so stunts the young animals that they never

attain their normal size.

The experiments conducted hy Professor Scott at the Experiment ,

Station have proved conclusively that notwithstanding the lone number

of years during which the cattle have been subjected to this kind of
treatment, their inherent quality for producing fair-sized animals has

not been lost. As a matter of fact, native cattle when placed in

suitable pasture for the winter have made as good gain in pounds as did

the half-breed animals from beef strains. The native animals of course

were deficient in the quality of beef and in the size of the desirable

cut ..

^., Sandy Soil made the Scapegoat

We are often inclined to be lazy, and are prone to blame the

other fellow or our environment for our misfortunes. It so happens

that Florida has an abundance of sand in nearly all of its soil. As'this

is different from what people are used to in the hilly and mountainous

regions, the sand in these soils is .qadLe the scapegoat for our indiffer-

ence either to work or to active thought. Before the cattle industry

assumed large proportions in Denmark the peninsualjwas thought to be too

sandy and poor to be of value to anybody. As soon as the Danes secured

heir independnce they had nothing but the poor sandy soil upon which
o ive an ally they usea tir brains and their muscles to make a

living. They soon discovered that by introducing stock-raising and

butter-making they enriched the soil and increased its capacity to

producee forage, in turn producing m ore butter and beef. The forage


again enriched the soil enabling them to produce more butter and beef.

By continuing this for decades their country has developed from a sandy

waste to one of the most prosperous spots in the world. Some of the Florida

farmers are doing the same thing. They are starting in with a sandy soil

that is nearly worthless as it is, but by good farm management the soil

fertility is not only conserved but increased. Even without stock-raisingn

there would be no difficulty in increasing the soil fertility by proper

rotation of crops. However, by means of stock-raising the work is made

doubly easy.

Stock feeds mainly on Air

*' The bodies of plants which are eaten by animals are made up
almost entirely of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, and it so happens

that the atmosphere which we breathe is made up approximately by weight of

76 parts nitrogen,..23 patts of oxygen, a few hundredths of one percent of

carbon dioxide, and the remainder water vapor and a small portion of various

other gases among them a trace of ammonia, which is chemically made up of

nitrogen and hydrogen. In analyzing the animal body the chemist finds that

it is made up of exactly these same elements. In other words, plants are

merely canned air and sunshine; the animal eats this and converts it into

valuable food materials for the human race. A. number of our most concen-

trated feed stuffs, such as velvet beans in the hull, contain only a very

small percentage of mineral matter. Potassium is one of the chief constit-

uentsamaounting to only 1.59 per cent. A ton of velvet beans in the hull

would contain in round numbers thirty pounds of potash or as much as would

be carried in sixty pounds of nuriate of potash. Phosphorus is present

in a smaller amount or only sixty nine hundredths of one per cent. Expresses

in whole numbers it would be fourteen pounds of phosphorus in a ton'of velvet


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beans in the hulls. The rest of the velvet beans is made up of the chem-

ical elements of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. The nitrogen

composes about 2W per cent of the velvet beans. The elements potassium

and phosphorus are about the only ones that need be supplied by commercial

fertilizers. The nitrogen may be obtained by leguminous plants from the

atmosphere and therefore can be obtained free. We have then only to

supply the potash and phosphoric acid. (It is possible that sulphur may

be sometimes needed, as also calcium.)

Carbon, hydrogen and oxygen when combined in the proper forms

make butter, starch, sugar, and nearly all of the foods which we eat. A

j ma umt of nitrogen occurs in the tissues of plants combined with

carbon and oxygen, and then is known as protein. Protein builds

up the animal tissues but to a smaller degree than the compounds of carbon,

hydrogen and oxygen. We have seen that nitrogen may be obtained- free from

the atmosphere. The water which is so largely needed by all animals is

composed of oxygen and hydrogen. Aside from the, elements we have mentioned

above, animals need a cert-iin amount of calcium, sulphur and magnesium, and

a trace of iron. These minor elements enter into the economy of the plant

or animal in so small quantities that a sufficient amount is present in

nearly all cases.

If you have followed me closely you will have seen that the great

mass of the' animal body is made up of the elements carbon,. hydrogen, oxygen

and nitrogen- all present in the atmosphere either as gas or as water. The

total amount- of mineral elements present in the animal body amounts to five

per cent. or less in a lean steer, and about one and a half per cent. in a

fat pig. Animals must depend on plants for their food to build up the

body tissues.


Cattle can Forage for Twelve LMonths in the Year.

The fact that the climate will permit cattle to forage for

twelve months has been known since Florida was discovered. Nutritious

wild grasses grow in abundance from about the middle of i.arch 'Antil late

in the fall. During this season of plenty cattle increase rapidly in .-

size and put on a conisderable amount of flesh. After that the pastures

gradually become poorer, until during the winter season there is scarcely

enough to keep the cattle alive. It is during the fall, winter and early

spring that they should be provided with good nutritious forage from

cultivated fields.

a When our knowledge of agriculture was rudimentary, it was somewhat

of a haphazard undertaking to grow untried plants or to introduce new ones

for cultivation. This was notably so for Florida, but with our present

1kowledge no one need hesitate longer in taking up this line of work for

want of inforraationi. As a matter .of fact we have. so many suitable crops

that we are really surfeited with them and hardly know which to choose.

It reminds me of the donkey in Aesop's fable who stood half way between a

sheaf of oats and a sheaf of wheat; whenever he made up his mind to eat

from the sheaf of oats his remembering how sweet the wheat tasted caused

him to hesitate and make up his a ind to eat the wheat. But before eating

the wheat the inclination to eat the oats becarme so great as to cause him"

to desist. In his dile;ama the poor donkey died in hesitating between the

two desires.


The Experiment Station introduces new Crops.

Hundreds of different grasses have been tried on the Experiment

Station. Of course in this large number only a few canu be expected to

succeed. The introductions, however, are made from regions that are in

many respects similar to Florida. This makes it anything but a hap-

hazard undertaking., The question is only of introducing a sufficient

number and possessing a sufficient amount of perseverance to secure

the best things that can be grown. Among the crops belonging to the

grass family that we have introduced within the last few years may be

mentioned Ilatal grass, which grows so luxuriantly and abundantly from

S central Florida southward.

The Rhodes grass was introduced some 5 or 6 years ago and has

proved itself well adapted to almost all parts of Florida. In soie parts

of the State it is grown in large areas. The planting this year is

limited by the possibility of getting seed. This is one of the most

promising meadow and pasture grasses that has been introduced.

Molasses grass has also.been introduced. It makes a very large

crop, and under Florida conditions is quite valuable. It is an annual

and makes a good late fall crop.

Para grass has been tested and distributed to many different

places. It. shows itself well adapted to moist farm lands and gives

abundant and nutritious grazing and also an abundance of good hay.

Guinea grass would be considered .a most valuable acquisition, were it

not for the fact that so many others that do better have arrived. This

does well from the centraL1 portion of the peninsula southward.


Japanese Cane

This plant belongs to the grass family and is very closely

related to the common sugar-cane. For a number of years it was

largely advertised as a syrup and sugar producing cane and under these

conditions was "boomed into disfavor." At the present time we may

call it the king of forage plants in Florida. It will produce large

quantities of green forage just at the time it is most needed. Stock

can be placed on it early in the fall or early winter. It is most

profitable t: reserve the cane until at least the middle of December,

since the amount of sugar increases rapidly the last few weeks. As

high as 27 tons of green matter per acre have been produced at the

Experiment Station on land that would ordinarily growv only 15 or 20 bush-

els of corn. To state what could be grown under the most favorable

conditions would give such a large figure as to make it seem untruthful.

The original stock of this cane was introduced into the country by

General Le Duc from Brazil over 40 years ago. It is not likely that the

first introduction gave us the best of the varieties that can be grown;

we have therefore made new introductions and have received 4 varieties"

from Japan whiMh are now being tested. Seed canes of eight varieties

from Ceylon have also been received. These will be tested out and if

any of the varieties are superior to the old well-established variety,

seed canes vill be distributed with a view of replacing the old variety.


Sorghums grow most luxuriantly in the tropics. Some hew

varieties have been introduced from Africa and other tropical countries;

many do extremely well in Florida. The long-lived varieties are the best,

though some of the early forms, such as Early Amber and Kaffir Corn, can

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be used to good advantage in special ones. The Experiment Station ha

tested so nethinp like 60 different varieties of these Sumac and Goose

ieck have generally given the best satisf-.ction. Durin,- certain years

other v-arieties hav. v given better crops, but on the average these two

varieties seeu to give larger yields.

Let-me s

SThe le&uwiinous crops are the very best f:oraige that c ntr be

grown in any agricultural section. 1Tot only do they prod-uce ubund.Lnt

andi nutritious forage, but the have the power of extracting nitrogen

froma the atmosphere anld enrichinC. the soil with it. This ii.:.:-s it pos-

sible to g'rov a crop of le,.u.jes, and remove them from the soil anid still

leave the land mor.: productive th.,.n before the leg ue.- were lantted.

And since-nitrogen is the most ex:p en.ive element in our fertilizer it ;is
Sdoubly desirable to grow.r leg-les not only for for:agi but for enriching

the soil. Le&'gut-ies properl- handled on l-'lorida soils vr ll enable the

' f farmer to c ut his fertilizer bill in h'ilf.


T he Exper-iient Stat ion.has tested between 30 and 40 different

S varieieec; receiving; seed fro.-i Peru, Turkestan, Ioon oli.. and nearly

Severe other alfalfa-producin, country of the vorld. All the seed

eriLiinted well and produced vigorously g'ro ring pliats. Ho ever, the

crop failed to be sufficiently pr&iioctive to be profitable commercially.

This experience coincides ex:actly with the exapea ience of thoru.sands d of

others who have tried alfalfa in Florida. Alfalfa seed crc :;lin ,-tes

promptly, produces vigorous plants, and a fa.r crop the firPt saring;

but during the rainy season most of the plants die aund the amount of


alfalfa hay that can be made in the fall after the dry season begins

is very small. Even the Peruvian variety, which grows pretty well all

winter, has made only an indifferent growth in the spring and cannot be

relied upon to produce a good pasture.

Soy Beans.

Some 80 to 100 varieties of soy beans have been tested from

time to time. A few that originated in South China produced vigorous

growth and gave a fair amount of seed and forage. These are-being

tested, and if anything valuable is among them it will be discovered.

For iorth Florida and West Florida soy bean:: do quite well, but for

Central and South Florida they cannot be recommended at present.


Between 200 and 250 varieties of covpeas have been tested.

This crop ha- been grown for a great many years in Southern United

States, and ha: proved very acceptable to the farmers. There are rmlany

points, however, that must be considered before any particular crop

can be called the best of its class. Two varieties of cowpeas,

Brabham and Iron, have done unusually well i.nd under ordinary circurm-

stances are resistant to rootlknot, but under adverse conditions seem to

be pretty badly affected by this pest. As a whole, cowpeas are declin-

ing in favor in Florida, largely because the velvet bean family produces

a larger amount of ammonia pei acre at less expense. As a general

cover crop they are not sufficiently. long-lived to meet all conditions.

- W J.-

Velvet Bean Family

For nearly a quarter of a century only one ~iea-iber of -Utis family

was knovn in Florida, or what is usually spoken of as velvet bean, or

more properly Florida velvet bean. Originally it was used as an arbor

plant, but was found to grow luxulriantly, and finally a few people had

the courage to try it on their stock. It was found to make a good stock

feed and cane into general use. It now stands seventh in value of our

farm crops. About 20 years ago the Experiment Station began testing

this crop. A vast amount of work has had to be done on it, since not

even the chemical analysis was known at the time it was being considered

as a crop. Experiments on its effect on the soil, its effect on various

animals, cattle, horses, mules and hogs have been tried. Its digesti-

bility has been worked out, snd we now have a fairly comprehensive

lhmknowledge of the velvet bean. Since there is only one Florida, it has

been this Florida that has had to work out this particular problem, and

the scientific end of it has had to be worked out by the Experirment

Station. A good crop of velvet beans should be worth from ,130 to .,40

per acre to the farmer. The beans themselves would readily sell as seed

for ;30. The average production of a good crop would not run below 20

bushels per acre. In addition to this the amount of nitrogen that is

left in the soil is about equal to the amount taken off by the beans.

This will vary according to the vigor of the beans. A good crop of

velver beans when foraged from the field has as good effect on the plant

growth that follows as would occur from the application of 1000 pounds

of cottonseed meal.


Yokohama Velvet Bean..

This variety of tile velvet bean was distributed by the Experiment

Station two years ago and tested by a great many different farmers in

the State. It succeeded unusually well and gives promise of filling an

important niche in our agriculture. The plants ripen seed in about 4

months froui the time of planting provided the weather is sufficiently

warm to cause rapid growth. It is a good crop to plant after the spring

grain crop or after the truck oros have been harvested. It is a much

smaller and weaker growing plant than the Florida velvet bean. The rows

should be made about 30 inches apart and the beans placed from 6 inches to

a foot apart in the rows.

Chinese Velvet Bean.

This is one of our latest introductions from the Orient. One

seed was received by the Experiment Station in the spring of 1910. As

only one seed was received it was given the greatest care, being planted

in the green-house, and after growing to a height of 8 or 10 inches in

a flower pot was transferred to the open ground. All of the seed from

this plant was saved and planted in the spring of 1911. That fall, in

spite of severe ravages of caterpillars, a bushel of seed was harvested.

In the spring of 1912, something over two acres of this bean were planted.

It takes the bean about 6 months to mature, differing in this respect

from the Florida velvet bean, and Lyon velvet bean; the two last bloom

only in late fall, regardless of the time of planting. The Chinese

velvet bean on the other hand blooms early in the year and matures its

pods during October, putting: it at least a month and possibly six weeks

ahead of the Florida velvet beans. In productiveness it seems equal or


superior to the other kinds. In vigor of growth it is the best of

any that we.have tested.

Lyon Velvet Bean.

This was introduced from the Philippines in the sorin, of 1907,

and is thought by many to be quite superior to the Florida velvet bean.

Its behavior, however, is so similar to the Florida velvet bean, that for

ordinary purposes I see no very great reason for planting it in prefer-

ence to the Florida .velvet bean.

The Kudzu Vine

This plant has been grOwn on the Experiment Station since 1907.

Seed may be obtained from the large seed houses .of the north. The

plants produced the first year are not vigorous, but the second year

long vines are produced. These will root at various joints and plants

arising from these rooted joints may be set out to the field.

Under good cultural and soil conditions kudzu will make a

large yield o. nutritious hay. It is recommended by some for a spring

grazing crop.

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