John H. Fike
Associate Professor and Forage Extension Specialist
John Fike grew up on a dairy farm in Franklin County, VA. After receiving his BS in science education (Wake Forest U.) and a brief period of international travel, he returned to the farm. Through these experiences he began to wonder why dairy farms were managed so differently - and why farmers took vacations! - in other parts of the world. This led to additional study in forage agronomy (MS, Va Tech) and dairy science (PhD, U. Florida). John joined the Va Tech faculty (Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences) in 2000 as research and teaching faculty. At the request of a colleague in Forestry, he began working with silvopastures in 2001. John and his students have researched forage production and nutritive value, fodder quality, and sheep performance in silvopastures and, after some initial skepticism he became a proponent of these systems. In 2012 he took on an extension appointment, and this has allowed him to increase efforts to develop silvopasture demonstration sites and encourage producer adoption.
Ph.D., Ruminant Nutrition, University of Florida, 1999
M.S., Forage Agronomy, Virginia Tech, 1995
B.S., Science Education, Wake Forest University, 1988
2006 - Present - Associate Professor, Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences, Virginia Tech
2000 - Assistant Professor, Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences, Virginia Tech
1995 - 1999 - Research Assistant, Dairy and Poultry Sciences, University of Florida
1992 - 1995 - Research Assistant, Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences, Virginia Tech
- CSES 5544 - Soil-Plant-Animal Interrelationships in Grasslands
- CSES 5554 - Ecology of Grazing Land Systems
- FOR 4334 - Agroforestry - guest lecturer
My research efforts have two distinct focus areas:
- Biofuel crops and cropping systems
- Forage-livestock systems, especially in the context of agroforestry practices.
Biofuel cropping research currently is focused on testing the aboveground primary productivity of different potential feedstock candidates and their environmental suitability. Management effects (including fertility and harvest timing) on productivity and downstream processing are critical issues to the value of these fuels and central to our efforts. We are also exploring ways to utilize bio-energy process co-products to improve soils and increase both system output and economic viability. Forage livestock research is directed toward understanding soil-plant-animal interactions in forage-livestock production systems. The bulk of this work has placed emphasis on measures of pasture system performance (e.g., forage production and nutritive value and animal output). Incorporating trees into forage-livestock systems offers great opportunities to improve animal well-being, bolster environmental quality, increase system output, and strengthen farm economies. These efforts reflect my current and long-term goals of finding production methods for pasture systems that are environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable.
Role of Graduate Students
Graduate students are the heart of my research program. Tianyu Lei (MS) is exploring the function of biochar from different feedstocks and their capacity to improve soil quality and to supply nutrients (P and N) in dytrophic mine spoil and highly weathered Piedmont ultisols. Chris Fields-Johnson (PhD) is investigating burn condition effects on biochar production in situ - while working full time and developing silvopastures for small ruminants. Tim Mize (MS) is working to determine factors that are limiting silvopasture adoption, particularly within the agent community (to which he belongs), and Gabe Pent (PhD) is researching forage nutrition and animal production in deciduous silvopasture systems.
Future research will focus more on the potential environmental impacts and benefits of a coming bioenergy industry. With a colleague in biological systems engineering, I have recently put in biofuel plots to compare effects of bioenergy crops vs. traditional land use (pasture) in terms of the volume and quality of water runoff. Additional efforts in the bioenergy arena will focus on crop system management and the impacts on carbon cycling. For silvopasture research, our challenge and goal is to find new tree-forage combinations that support high forage production and quality while also increasing land equivalency ratio.
My extension program is driven directly by my research efforts in silvopasture and bioenergy production systems, which I routinely speak about with agency personnel and producer groups. I also provide training in traditional pasture management as part of a broader, forage-livestock based extension program. These new production systems offer many opportunities for Virginia farms to increase outputs, diversify production and income streams, and to improve economic and environmental outcomes. They also present several questions and challenges. It is my great pleasure to work with producers, industry, and agency professionals to answer questions and to help deliver programs that can support these emerging practices and production systems. I also serve as an academic adviser to the Virginia Forage and Grassland Council. I greatly enjoy these activities; the exchange of ideas gives me new insights for enquiry and furthers my understanding of the challenges facing producers.