The International Grassland Congress (IGC) meets every four years to highlight new research findings and discoveries in forage and grassland agriculture. Attendees also discuss policy and social issues affecting forage and livestock producers around the globe. May 14-19, 2023, the IGC will meet in Covington, Kentucky. This is only the third time in the past 100 years the conference will be held in the U.S. To decide if attending this congress may be helpful to you, we polled producers and extension agents that attended in the past to provide some insight on their experiences.
What was your motivation behind attending IGC in the past?
A: My motivation for attending was an opportunity to understand grassland production methods and challenges existing around the world. In addition, being able to spend two weeks reviewing Australian agriculture while interacting with fellow producers and University of Kentucky Extension staff members. —John Litkenhus, producer, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky
A: I attended the International Grassland Congress as part of an extension and producer group. I started my career in agronomic research, so the opportunity to learn about research taking place all over the globe was tempting. —Traci Johnson, extension agent, La Grange, Kentucky
A: Excited to see a new part of the world, and more particular[ly] the forage system(s) for that area. I love to learn and expand my base of knowledge, so I knew that the opportunity would exist to do just that with researchers and farmers from around the world. —Todd Clark, producer, Kentucky
A: Just to see how the rest of the world farms. —Buddy Smith, producer, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky
What was your biggest takeaway from the conference?
LITKENHUS: The biggest takeaway of the conference was understanding the importance of grassland around the world and the challenges of protecting and improving forage output.
JOHNSON: My biggest takeaway was that all forage producers are faced with adversity in some shape or form. The key to their success is their flexibility in maneuvering to address issues or to recognize what’s not working and tackle the problem from a different angle. I think there’s this idea that everyone can attain the same level of forage production if only they do "x, y and z." It’s probably most accurate to say that seeking new knowledge gives producers the wings to try new things and learn what works best in their own management framework.
CLARK: Something for everyone, researchers, farmers and everyone in between. The amount of information and diverse areas of information is staggering.
SMITH: I enjoyed seeing how other countries farm and how they were farming in Australia and learning about a new farming culture.
Would you encourage other producers to attend? If so, why?
LITKENHUS: I would encourage anyone who has the opportunity to attend. There is no question that we all came home with a deeper appreciation of the importance and challenges of grassland productivity, particularly in the undeveloped countries. Of course, the associated tours also offer insight into procedures in the surrounding area.
JOHNSON: Yes. You can’t help but learn something new that will inspire your management decisions. When I attended IGC in the past, it was interesting to me to learn ways producers managed around drought and water issues. Some countries have areas where rainfall is less than 20 inches per year. The kicker is they may get 5 to 8 inches in one rainfall event. That leaves a lot of dry months to cope with until it rains again. Some strategies to deal with this included fallow farming, use of cover crops and bringing more water efficiency genetics into their cattle herd.
CLARK: I think it's an opportunity to network and learn from the best in the world; no reason to miss out on such a chance. Ideas can be gleaned from small and large farmers alike and adapted to any operation in some way if needed.
SMITH: Absolutely. It was the trip of [a] lifetime, and I learned so much. Overall, one of the best learning experiences I have ever had, and I got [to] mix with other farmers and learn what they were doing.
How has what you learned at IGC impacted your operation?
LITKENHUS: My operation was probably not changed directly from what I learned at the conference, but indirectly, seeing the different approaches and operations of Australia and other regions motivated me to be significantly more attentive to overgrazing, rotational grazing and forage utilization.
JOHNSON: As an extension agent, it helped me get past the textbook knowledge and be more open to new ideas. An example, I had a farm manager client who mentioned using dung beetles to utilize manure in pasture to improve nutrient availability/cycling. I had no point of reference for that practice at the time. I was surprised to hear that farmers in other countries have used this technique as well.
CLARK: We grass finish beef, so lots of system-type items were learned in Australia a few years ago. Adapting a grazing system from a dry country to a wet area has its benefits, even in a small way.
SMITH: I tried planting radishes and other things as cover crops as grazing for late fall and part of the winter the year that I returned, like they were doing in Australia.
Do you have any advice to offer to others that are considering attending?
LITKENHUS: My advice to anyone considering attending is to attend if you have the opportunity. I would also advise producers to take advantage of any farm tours offered as part of the conference. Again, this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me.
JOHNSON: It is an amazing opportunity to have the International Grasslands Congress take place in the U.S. I am tickled it will be right in my backyard in Kentucky.
CLARK: Come with an open mind, meet as many people as possible and enjoy the experience. Opportunities to learn and grow will be around every turn.
SMITH: Go with an open mind. It’s a big world, and it’s a lot to see and take in. The people we went with were super nice.
For more information, please visit the IGC webpage.