Dairy farms in Gilchrist and other north Florida counties supply close to 10 percent of the milk in the Southeastern United States, with Florida milk sales totaling more than $700 million in 2014. North Florida dairy farmers are increasing their use of grazing and hay areas thanks to Tifton-85, a hybrid, perennial, warm-season bermudagrass tested extensively by UF/IFAS’ forage Extension and research programs.
Joey Ricks, the general manager of Alliance Grazing Group based in Trenton, said using Tifton-85 means the difference between his dairy making a profit and just getting by. According to strict environmental guidelines, by using this grass, they can run four and half cows per acre on their 2,000-acre dairy, as opposed to three cows when using regular bahiagrass.
“It allows us to ship 24,000 more pounds of milk per acre, which means 36 million more pounds of milk for the farm, which gives us more than $7.5 million dollars more in revenue a year,” Ricks said. The grass can also be grown for hay, which adds to farm revenue. The expansion of Tifton-85 is, in great part, thanks to a UF/IFAS Extension program, which advises dairy and beef farmers to make the best environmental and productive use of their lands.
Dairy cows grazing on Tifton-85 Bermudagrass. UF/IFAS File Photo