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Role of Forages in Pennsylvania Agriculture

The forage industry is the major agricultural enterprise in Pennsylvania and in the northeastern United States. Nearly 60% ($1.9 billion) of the total cash receipts from the sale of agricultural products in Pennsylvania is derived from meat and milk sales. In Pennsylvania there are 720,000 milk cows, 216,000 beef cows, and 134,000 sheep. Forage crops constitute the major feed component in the diet of these animals, making forages the backbone of Pennsylvania's agriculture and rural economy.

Pennsylvania is the tenth largest producer of hay in the United States, producing 4.7 million tons of hay annually on nearly 2.1 million acres. Alfalfa is the state's largest single forage crop, making up slightly over 800,000 acres and more than one-half of the total hay production. Pastures make up over 3 million acres of Pennsylvania forage production acreage. In the Northeast United States, pastures constitute over 8.5 million acres (Fig. 1).

Forages are environmentally friendly in that they can reduce soil erosion, pesticide usage, and fertilizer application. In addition, forages can increase soil structure and organic matter and enhance agricultural profitability. In conclusion, Pennsylvania agriculture is synonymous with forages and their production and use.