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The Role of Forages in Maryland

Dr. Lester R. Vough: Forage Crops Extension Specialist (301) 405-1322

About 28% of Maryland's farmland is devoted to production of forage crops - 235,000 acres of hay crops, 70,000 acres of corn silage and 280,000 acres of pastureland in 2000. Hay ranks fourth in cash receipts for Maryland crops. Cash receipts for hay amounted to $21,870,000 in 2000. However, only a small percentage of the forages grown in Maryland reach the market place directly as hay or other forage; they are largely marketed through milk, meat, and other livestock products. As a result the total value of forage crops is difficult to assess. An indirect method of assessing the value of forage crops to meat, milk and wool production is to look at the contribution of forages in feeding programs.

  • About 65% of milk production costs are feed, and forages provide 63% of the feed consumed by dairy cows.
  • About 85% of the cost of producing beef is feed, and forages make up 85% of the feed consumed by beef cattle.
  • About 95% of the cost of producing sheep is feed and forages make up 95% of the feed consumed by sheep.

This indirect method of assessing the value of forage crops is presented below to estimate their contributions to meat, milk and wool production in the state. Forages make further contributions to the economy of the state, but their specific dollar values could not be determined.

Farm value of milk produced in Maryland in 2000 amounted to $182,385,000. On the basis that 65% of production cost is feed and forages provide 63% of feed consumed by dairy cows, the value of forages to the dairy industry of Maryland was approximately $74,687,000.

Gross income from cattle and calves in Maryland amounted to $72,640,000 in 2000. On the basis of 85% of production cost being feed and forages provide 85% of the feed consumed by beef cattle, the value of forages to Maryland's beef industry was approximately $52,482,000.

Gross income from sheep and lambs amounted to $1,149,000 in 1998 (the last year estimates were published). On the basis of 95% of the cost of production being feed and forages providing 95% of the feed consumed by sheep, the value of forages to Maryland sheep industry was approximately $1,037,000.

When the value of forage fed to dairy, beef and sheep are added to cash receipts for hay, estimated forage value amounted to $150,076,000. This equals approximately 10% of the total agricultural cash receipts of all livestock and crop products. The value of the contribution of forages to meat, milk and wood production plus the cash receipts from hay sales makes forage crops the single most important crop in the state and approached the combined cash receipts for corn and soybeans ($177,171,000).

Added to these values are the substantial contribution of hay and pasture to the pleasure horse and racetrack industries of the state. Figures are not available for the horse population of Maryland, but estimates in excess of 100,000 head have been made. These horses consume large amounts of forage.

In addition to providing livestock feed, forages are important conservation crops. They reduce soil erosion and nutrient leaching, provide biologically fixed nitrogen, add soil organic matter, provide moisture protective soil mulches in no-tillage cropping systems, and provide weed, insect and other pest control options. With increased concerns for the environment and water quality, forages, including winter cover crops, will play an increasingly important role in nutrient management systems for both cash grain and livestock enterprises.


University of Maryland