AFGC honors Virginians at national gathering in Roanoke

AFP Correspondent

ROANOKE, Va. (Feb. 28, 2017) — The American Forage and Grassland Council highlighted Virginia during its annual convention Jan. 22-24. The national group named a Virginian president and honored its Virginia affiliate council and two leading forage educators.
The newly-installed president, Robert Shoemaker of Fauquier County, Va., has long been active the Virginia Forage and Grassland Council and is a former president of that group. AFGC awarded the Virginia council its President’s Award as the Top State Affiliate Forage Council for the year. VFGC is one of 22 Affiliate Councils across the United States.
Virginia Tech’s Dr. Ozzie Abaye and Jerry Swisher, a retired Virginia Cooperative Extension area dairy agent, consultant and farmer, were selected for awards during the convention. Dr. Abaye, a member of the Department of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences, was presented the Allen Award of Illumination. Swisher was presented the AFGC’s Merit Award for superior contributions to some phase of forage and grassland agriculture.
The convention at Hotel Roanoke and Convention Center attracted a sell-out crowd of over 420 members from the affiliate councils scattered across the country, according to Jon Repair, VFGC president.
The program included tours of two Bedford County farms, Dawn Dairy and Tuck Farms. They are both pasture-based grazing operations. Dawn Dairy’s rotational grazing operation dates to the early 1990s while Tuck Farms turned to rotational grazing beef in 2010.
In addition to a number of speakers from across the country, the program included producer competitions in forage ID, poster presentations, the Forage Spokesperson Contest, National Forage Bowl and Emerging Scientist Contest. Shoemaker said these are among the most important parts of the annual events.
Shoemaker noted the national council is getting ready to celebrate 75 years as an organization.
Shoemaker brings impressive credentials to the AFGC having worked to support the industry and farming and having been a VFGC leader. He has been employed for 28 years by the Virginia Division of Soil and Water Conservation Service. He also runs a cow/calf beef herd.
The Allen Award of Illumination presented to Abaye is named for Dr. Vivian Allen, a former Virginia Tech faculty member.
It recognizes individuals who have illuminated in others a passion for grazing lands and grazing animals and appreciation of their essential role in human existence, the councils report.
“It is given to those who inspire others to achieve a greater depth of understanding of grazing lands and to recognize that such understanding comes through teamwork and collaboration across multiple disciplines,” according to a VFGC statement.
“Dr. Abaye has through her teaching efforts instilled in her students at Virginia Tech an appreciation not only for forages and their entire role as a feedstuff for livestock, dairy and equine animals, but the benefit of forages for their overall environmental benefit when used as part of a farming enterprise,” the VFGC continued. “She works with both undergraduate and graduate students. Dr. Abaye is an inspiration to students in the classroom, in the field with demonstrations and research, and internationally with opportunities for student to visit other countries around the world. She has returned to her native country of Ethiopia to further enhance and help farmers there to better utilize forages in their production systems while also demonstrating how forages can improve their overall quality of life.”
The groups said she “has also worked across Virginia with agricultural producers introducing new cropping practices and demonstrating how these practices can enhance existing production systems. She is recognized across the state by all as a true friend and a credible source of production research and its adoption into the agricultural production sector.”
The Merit Award presented to Swisher is given to people who have “earned recognition among their colleagues for work and productivity in forage or grassland agriculture in research, teaching, Extension, production or industrial development,” the councils said.
“Throughout Jerry’s career with Extension and in the private sector, he has worked tirelessly to help educate and assist those in production agriculture to utilize and adopt new and enhanced production practices,” the release said of the Fairfield, Va. resident. “His efforts have helped many to adopt concepts and established research based production practices that have been sound scientifically, production oriented, economical, and with a strong base and balance of commonsense and effectiveness.”
Swisher is recognized for bringing the concept of transitioning conventional dairies to grazing dairies to Virginia in the early 1990s.
“This concept was not initially well received from many of those in industry, education, research, and production,” VFGC said. “Jerry’s educational and hands on efforts over the past 25 years have resulted in approximately 20 percent of all dairies now in Virginia converting to grazing based dairies.”