Twenty farm advisors will learn to conduct whole farm nutrient balances (NMBs) for dairy farms. Eight will adopt use of NMB assessments, conduct balances and discuss results with two dairy farmers each. Ten farmers will conduct the NMB a second year and show intent to continue beyond the project.
Sustainable solutions for agriculture and environmental management on dairy farms require improved nutrient use efficiency across the entire farm, both for the animals and the cropland. However, when it comes to whole farm nutrient management, nutrient cycling can be very complex and management tools available to farmers often focus on one aspect of management only (e.g. milk urea nitrogen to evaluate crude protein ration management; corn stalk nitrate test to evaluate nitrogen management for com, etc.). In an adaptive, learning-based, approach for whole farm nutrient management, farm records are kept in such a way that one can assess the nutrient status of the whole farm, pinpoint the areas where improvements can be made, and then track the progress of those improvements from year to year. A whole-farm nutrient mass balance (NMB) assessment can help farmers and farm advisors do this effectively and efficiently.
A NMB is the difference between the amounts of N, P, and K imported onto dairy farms as feed, fertilizer, animals, and bedding, and exported via milk, animals, crops, and manure. We can express a NMB per tillable acre to indicate the potential for recycling nutrients in the land base, an environmental indicator, or per cwt milk, a milk production efficiency indicator. Large positive NMBs per acre suggest high risk of nutrient losses to the environment (reflecting imbalance in land versus animals), while large positive NMBs per cwt reflect low nutrient use efficiencies (inefficient use of nutrients to produce milk), and potential economic loss for the farm as well. Negative NMBs (resulting from exports exceeding imports) reflect mining of soil P and K resources, and will eventually reduce crop yields so negative balances are not sustainable either. Annual NMB assessments give farmers a chance to compare the farm against peers in the same milk production group, and to evaluate the impact of management changes on nutrient use efficiency and production. Farmers that conducted their NMB typically improve their balances over time.
Recently, research has led to the identification of the optimum operational zone for nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Farms that manage these nutrients in the optimum operational zone (referred to as the “green box”) recycle nutrients on their land base and produce milk efficiently. Here we propose to develop curriculum and teach farm advisors (crop consultants, nutritionists, extension) the ins and outs of the NMB assessment. Twenty farm advisors will learn to conduct whole farm nutrient balances (NMBs) for dairy farms. Eight will adopt use of NMB assessments, conduct balances and discuss results with two dairy farmers each. Ten farmers will conduct the NMB a second year and show intent to continue beyond the project.
Workshops were held with major consulting firms that advise farmers in crop management and nutrient management, with a group of Soil and Water Conservation District employees within the Upper Susquehanna Watershed Coalition (headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay), and with the New York City Watershed Program and CCE of Delaware County. In addition, zoom meetings were held with representatives in four major companies including the Caring Dairy Program of Ben and Jerry, Land-O-Lake, a collaboration of Chobani and the World Wildlife Fund, and Newtrient. Sessions consisted of a presentation on the concepts and input materials necessary for completion of an annual NMB, as well as discussion of output and results. We followed up with those had questions via phone calls and with additional visits. Farmers who completed the NMB received a personal NMB report with presentation of the farm data compared to all farms in the database as well as the “green box”, and a table that included opportunities for improvement over time.
Milestone 1. The project team will develop Extension materials and curriculum to share with farmers and farm advisors. The materials will cover the process of deriving a whole farm NMB, interpretation of results, and benefits of conducting NMBs for adaptive management over time. (Completion date: December 1, 2016)
In the winter of 2016 we developed two 45 min training sessions, one to explain the concept of the whole farm mass balance, and one to explain how to use the calculator for the assessment. The first presentation described the idea of the mass balance calculations: the farm is considered as a system with an internal nutrient cycle (feed-cow-manure-soil), and for any feasibly measurable product that enters (feed, fertilizers, bedding, etc.) or exits (milk, animals, manure, etc.) this system the amount of N, P, and K is recorded. The difference between the exports and the imports is defined as the Nutrient Mass Balance. This balance is expressed per tillable acre and per hundredweight (cwt) of milk exported to provide indicators of sustainability and efficiency respectively. To provide targets for farms to aim for, the concept of the “green box” was introduced, derived from a dataset with 102 farms. Farms that operate within the feasible balances per acre and per cwt are in the green box. In addition to balances, a table of indicators to find potential areas of improvement was provided.
The second presentation contained a description of the required inputs to calculate the mass balance and how to use the calculator that is available on the website of the Nutrient Management Spear Program. In short: to gather the required data, a four-page input form can be downloaded. In addition to basic farm information, such as number of animals and amount of acres, details on the different imported and exported commodities are needed. For instance, for imported (or exported) feed and manure, the calculator needs the total imported weight, the dry matter content, and the crude protein, P, and K concentrations. For animal purchases or sales, the type of animal, number, and average weight per head is required. Next to information on imports and exports, the software requires information on homegrown feed (acres, average yield, dry matter, and nutrient contents). Although this information does not contribute to the balance, as it is neither imported nor exported, this data is used to calculate efficiency indicators that are included in the opportunities table that is included in the report.
The first training sessions with these powerpoint slides were held with farmers in the Caring Dairy program of Ben and Jerry’s in January and in March. The training reached about 30 farmers from the coop. Very similar training sessions were done throughout 2017 with consultant audiences.
In collaboration with Agricultural Consulting Service (ACS), we evaluated integration of mass balance assessment with record keeping, which resulted in ACS incorporating the assessment into their fields and crops record keeping system. This evaluation was published in a journal article:
- Van Almelo, J., Q.M. Ketterings, and S. Cela (2016) Integrating record keeping with whole farm nutrient mass balance: A case study. Journal of Agricultural Science 8: 22-32. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5539/jas.v8n6p22.
An additional extension article and impact statement were generated on this project:
- Impacts of Cornell’s Nutrient Mass Balance Diagnostic Tool:An Industry Perspective. http://blogs.cornell.edu/whatscroppingup/2016/05/19/integrating-record-keeping-with-whole-farm-nutrient-mass-balance-a-case-study/
- Integrating Record Keeping with Whole Farm Nutrient Mass Balance; A Case Study. http://nmsp.cals.cornell.edu/publications/impactstatements/ACSmassbalance.pdf
In addition, in 2017, we added two publications on trends in mass balances in New York and the Upper Susquehanna Watershed that was in part funded by NESARE (incorporates many mass balances):
- Cela, S., Q.M. Ketterings, M., Soberon, C. Rasmussen, and K.J. Czymmek (2016). Upper Susquehanna watershed and New York State improvements in nitrogen and phosphorus mass balances of dairy farms. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 27:1-11. doi: 10.2489/jswc.72.1.1.
- What’s Cropping Up? Series: Phosphorus and the Environment Article 4: Greatly Improved Nutrient Efficiency Demonstrates New York Dairy Farmers’ Environmental Stewardship.
Additionally, we are currently in the progress of updating the NMB calculator to include extra farm efficiency indicators and to make it more user-friendly. To do this, we are working with a software programmer and with Cornell University animal nutrition specialists.
Milestone 2. Forty interested farm advisors and eighty farmers receive the educational materials electronically through the NMB website (http://nmsp.cals.cornell.edu/NYOnFarmResearchPartnership/MassBalances.html) and listservs. (Completion date: January 31, 2017)
We used the materials developed for the training with the Caring Dairy Program for meetings with consulting firms and farmers. Meetings were held with several individual farms, with consulting firms of WNYCMA and ACS, with Northern New York consultants, with the extension office of Delaware County, and with the Soil and Water Conservation Districts united in the Upper Susquehanna Coalition. This resulted in an audience of 69 farm advisors, with 18 mass balances completed in 2017 (excluding the Caring Dairy initiative). Talks were given at the Northeastern Plant, Pest, and Soils Conference (about 25 people), in Philadelphia, PA, at the Agronomy, Soil and Crop Science Society of America meetings in both 2016 and 2017 (about 100 people total), at the Northern New York crop meetings (about 70 people), and as part of the Center for Dairy Excellence Seminar Series (about 30 people) to reach a multi-state audience. In addition, recognizing the importance of involvement of nutritionist with NMB assessments, a presentation was given in 2018 at the Cornell Nutrition Conference for an estimated attendance of 250 people. The 2017 presentations resulting new grants with NMB assessments included by counterparts in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Connecticut, and Maine.
In New York itself (outside of Ben and Jerry’s Caring Dairy program), we were able to complete 18 whole farm nutrient mass balances for 2016 and 23 balances for 2017, working with farmers directly and with farm advisors. The Caring Dairy initiative added 39 farms for the 2015 growing season, 55 for the 2016 growing season, and another 55 farms are currently being processed for the 2017 growing season. This assessment will be completed early 2018. The activities in 2018 expanded the number of service providers who participated to 62.
Milestone 3. Twenty dairy farm advisors learn how to conduct whole farm NMB assessments and interpret the results through four on-location group meetings (two meetings/year in different locations) and webinars, which can be used for reference and self-study after workshops. (Completion date: June 31, 2017)
Six New York meetings were held with several individual farms, with consulting firms of WNYCMA and ACS, with Northern New York consultants, with the extension office of Delaware County, and with the Soil and Water Conservation Districts united in the Upper Susquehanna Coalition in March through May of 2017. This resulted in an audience of 69 farm advisors, with 18 mass balances completed in 2017 and 23 balances in 2018 (excluding the Caring Dairy initiative). This is in addition to the two Caring Dairy meetings that were held in January and early March 2017. Mass balance counts here exclude 39, 55, and 55 Caring Dairy farms that participated with 2015, 2016, and 2017 balances so far.
Milestone 4. Eight farm advisors who agree to complete NMBs and discuss the results with two farmers each will receive follow-up farm visits from the project team to support their work. Mass balances will be completed for sixteen farms for two years (2016 and 2017 calendar years). (Completion date: April 30, 2018)
Eighteen NMBs were completed in 2017 (2016 calendar year). In 2018, 23 farms completed a balance for the 2017 calendar year, and for one of these farms we were able to conduct an additional balance for 2016. In total, 18 farms, have completed balances for both the 2016 and 2017 calendar years, as for one of the farms obtained in 2017 we were not able to get the 2017 data in 2018. In addition, the Ben and Jerry’s Caring Dairy initiative added 55 balances for the 2016 growing season on top of the 40 farms we analyzed for 2015. We are currently processing the data for an additional year (2017) of balances for their farms (55 farms). Discussions are ongoing with other states and industry groups, such as a collaboration between Chobani and the WWF for inclusion of additional NMBs.
Milestone 5. The eight farm advisors working with two farmers each will identify two areas of possible investigation/improvement on the farms as a result of the NMB assessments and discussions with farmers. (Completion date: April 30, 2018)
The calendar year 2016 was a challenging year for many farmers (drought). Each farm received a list with farm indicators that could be used to determine opportunities for improvement over time. Such indicators should be evaluated for at least two years in a row and will be continued in 2018 (for 2017 data). The year 2017 was a very different year (extreme rainfall in many areas in the state) and this will likely impact the balances as well. We discussed the 2017 results for five different farms during farm visits over the first half of 2018. We plan to further discuss the farm results over the past three years (2016-2018) over the first half of 2019. During these visits we will collect feedback to improve the NMB software. Additionally, we are using the calculator as an education and scenario tool. We work with farms that use double cropping systems to analyze the effect of implementing this on more acres. With help of Cornell University animal nutrition specialists we are assessing the implications on feed rations and thus on the necessary feed imports and the whole farm balance.
Milestone 6. Eight farm advisors and sixteen farmers will respond to project verification surveys and report on their experiences conducting NMBs, farm management practices investigated and/or changed as a result of NMBs, and intention to continue conducting NMBs (as advisors and as farmers). (Completion date: July 30, 2018)
We will follow up with producers and crop consultants with a more formal survey in the summer of 2019. Individual interviews were done with two of the farms. These interviews were published as impact statement on the NMB website of the Nutrient Management Spear Program (http://nmsp.cals.cornell.edu/NYOnFarmResearchPartnership/MassBalances.html):
Milestone Activities and Participation Summary
Educational activities and events conducted by the project team:
Beneficiaries who participated in the project’s educational activities and events:
We currently have 18 farms with 2-years of NMB data. Progress in reduction in NMBs over time for the larger database was shown in an assessment between 2004 and 2013. This trend study shows that, in 2004, the Upper Susquehanna Watershed farms averaged an N balance of 77 lbs/acre and a P balance of 9 lbs/acre. In 2013, that average decreased to 46 lbs N/acre and 5 lbs P/acre. Similar reduction were shown for the statewide dataset (http://blogs.cornell.edu/whatscroppingup/2017/07/28/series-phosphorus-and-the-environment-4-greatly-improved-nutrient-efficiency-demonstrates-new-york-dairy-farmers-environmental-stewardship/). These reductions represent a significant effort of successful nutrient conservation by the farms in this time period.
Performance Target Outcomes
Performance Target Outcomes - Service Providers
Twenty farm advisors will learn to conduct whole farm nutrient balances (NMBs) for dairy farms. Eight will adopt use of NMB assessments, conduct balances and discuss results with two dairy farmers each.
Farm size ranges from small, non-regulated operations to large regulated Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.
Eight service providers worked with farmers to conduct the NMB. This represents five different firms/consultancies. Farms will will be visited in 2019 to discuss results, gather feedback, and conduct surveys.
Performance Target Outcomes - Farmers
Additional Project Outcomes
2016: We are very happy with the involvement of the Caring Dairy program of Ben and Jerry and collaboration with other states around us (Vermont, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine) and the collaboration with ACS that allowed us to implement the software into their record keeping system. This will allow us to move forward with working with this consulting firm and others that use the Fields and Crops software. The impact for the latter development was documented in two extension articles:
- McMahon Family’s Clear Vision Brings E-Z Acres Farm to Economic and Environmental Sustainability. http://nmsp.cals.cornell.edu/publications/impactstatements/McMahon2018.pdf.
- Impacts of Cornell’s Nutrient Mass Balance Diagnostic Tool: An Industry Perspective. http://blogs.cornell.edu/whatscroppingup/2016/05/19/integrating-record-keeping-with-whole-farm-nutrient-mass-balance-a-case-study/
- Integrating Record Keeping with Whole Farm Nutrient Mass Balance; A Case Study. http://nmsp.cals.cornell.edu/publications/impactstatements/ACSmassbalance.pdf
2017: We did workshops with additional consulting firms in 2017 to reach all major consulting firms in the state (a series of 6 on-site workshops). We also expanded through collaborative efforts with neighboring states through a regional USDA-CIG grant. This allows us to compare NMBs across state boundaries as the database grows over time. The drought of 2016 and extreme wetness in 2017 will impact balances but some year to year variability is expected. Industry interest in the NMB approach as a sustainability stamp is growing and visible through interest by both Ben and Jerry and Land-o-Lake in evaluation NMBs for participating farms.
2018: We did on-farm visits for 5 farms that participated in 2016 and expanded the number of farms that participate in the NMB project. Throughout 2018 we worked with the Caring Dairy initiative to complete NMBs for another 55 farms. Currently we are processing the 2017 data for 55 farms as well. Many of these farms overlap, which means that for approximately 35 farms, we will have data for 2015, 2016, and 2017. Other industry parties (Land-O-Lakes, Chobani) have showed interest in the NMB concept. In collaboration with farmers and Cornell experts, we started using the NMB as an evaluation tool to assess management changes on the farm.
The interest in the NMB approach as a stamp for sustainability and method to identify areas for improvement is growing as reflected in requests by Ben and Jerry and Land-o-Lake to talk about the approaches and possible adoption of the tool. The approach has also been incorporated into the software used for nutrient management planning in Vermont and colleagues in Virginia are engaged in NMB assessment for phosphorus as well.
One of the participating farms received a Sustainability Award form the Innovation Center for US Dairy this year: https://www.usdairy.com/sustainability/us-dairy-sustainability-awards/2018-winners. This farm is featured in a new impact statement: http://nmsp.cals.cornell.edu/publications/impactstatements/McMahon2018.pdf.
Trends in NMBs over time for the state of New York and farms in the Upper Susquehanna Watershed between 2004 and 2013 were published recently in a What’s Cropping Up? article: http://blogs.cornell.edu/whatscroppingup/2017/07/28/series-phosphorus-and-the-environment-4-greatly-improved-nutrient-efficiency-demonstrates-new-york-dairy-farmers-environmental-stewardship/. This article documents the improvements in NMBs for both the state and the watershed.
The development of the “green box” that represents feasible balances for dairy farms in New York was essential for communication of farm information as well as opportunities for improvements over time. The close contact between farmers and farm advisors or campus staff is important (trust relationship) for obtaining multi-year records. This includes farm visits and discussions about results. In the coming months we will focus on improving the indicators reported in the opportunities table in the NMB report in collaboration with nutrition experts, and visiting of farms with 2 years of NMB data.