BY BOB HURLEY
A Suntainable Grass Farming Summit, a conference-style and farm-tour event for livestock producers that has been in the planning stages for a year, is unfolding this week in Greeneville and Greene County.
"The headline for the event deals with how we want to make our livestock producers better grass farmers," said Russell "Russ" Israel, board chairman of Plastic Innovation, the chief sponsor of the three-day event.
"We are seeing a shift toward the importance of producing grass-fed beef and livestock," Israel said at the conclusion of Wednesday's opening session.
"It has been a wonderfully fulfilling day," he added.
Barbara Miller, marketing director of Package Express Center of Greeneville, which is a subsidiary of Plastic Innovation, said that fewer than 50 people registered for the summit early Wednesday morning at Link Hills Country Club, site of the conference sessions.
"We had hoped for a better local attendance," Israel said, "but our national attendance was phenomenal."
Miller said conference attendees came from several states, including Texas, Missouri and North Carolina.
"This was wonderful," Miller said after Wednesday'slong schedule, that stretched from 8 a.m. to after 7 p.m.
"People were excited, talking about coming back for the other two days of the event," Miller said.
Wednesday morning's keynote speaker was Ian Mitchell-Innes, of South Africa, who has been practicing holistic management for 20 years on his ranch.
Mitchell-Innes is a certified educator for Holistic Management International, which teaches farmers and ranchers to feed animals at high and ultra-high stock density, also known as "mob grazing."
David Krider, of PowerFlex Fence Co., of Seymour, Mo., also addressed Wednesday morning's session on "Fencing Around the World."
Krider and his wife, Connie, have traveled the world to learn various fencing techniques.
Dr. Bruce Shanks, of Belle, Mo., a professor at Lincoln University in Missouri, spoke Wednesday afternoon on South Poll cattle, a relatively new breed of hardy cattle that is known for doing well on grass.
Mitchell-Innes was also the keynote speaker for Wednesday afternoon's farm tour at the Woolsey Family Farm, on Old Baileyton Road.
At the farm, Mitchell-Innes stressed that, he said, animals were created to live off the land, and how "they still can if we will allow them."
TEDDY GENTRY TO SPEAK TODAY
Today's speakers will include Teddy Gentry, a member of the country band Alabama who is also a serious cattleman in Fort Payne, Ala.
"We are thrilled that Teddy Gentry is taking time away from the band's 40th anniversary tour to be with us," Miller said.
Gentry is the driving force behind the development of the South Poll breed of cattle, Miller explained, working with researchers from around the country in an effort to develop a line of cattle that is easy to manage and maintain.
"It is an honor for us to have Teddy Gentry take the time from a very busy summer to visit with us and share his findings on developing and managing a sustainable cow-calf operation based on fescue and hot weather," Miller said.
Another speaker today will be Wesley Tucker, an agricultural business specialist from Bolivar, Mo., who is known for his light-hearted approach to agriculture.
Miller said that Tucker is deeply involved in the advancement of the female role in farming and ranching.
'ENERGY IS MONEY'
Mitchell-Innes' presentations at Link Hills and at the Woolsey farm centered on maintaining and improving animal performance by reducing inputs, reducing the effects of drought and flood, growing more and better grass, and producing more pounds of beef per acre.
"If you make a living off the land," he said, "you are by default in the energy business.
"Remember this: energy is money; money is energy; and time is money."
Mitchell-Innes, often called the "Guru of Grazing" in international cattle circles, will also speak at the sessions of the summit today and Friday.
INTENT WAS TO HELP FARMERS
"When we began planning this summit a year ago," Miller said, "our intent was to help farmers find new ways to make their farms and ranches more productive and cost-effective, and based on the reactions we've heard today, I think this has been a wonderful start.
"People are already asking if there will be a summit next year, and we hope to be able to have one."
Attendees are also being afforded the opportunity to play golf, visit local historic sites and other places of interest in the Greeneville area, or simply to enjoy the beauty of East Tennessee.
"We hope our visitors will take the time to get to know and learn from each other, too," Miller said.
"Life is too short to make all the same mistakes that someone else has already made."