Alternative Continuous Cover Forages 2 (ACCF2) is a unique cropping system based on soil health management designed to produce good yields of high quality forages for dairy cattle. It is designed as an alternative to the traditional crop rotation of silage corn for 3 or more years without use of cover crops. The traditional rotation has become more challenging for the small dairy farm as labor and environmental constraints become more severe on these farms. The ACCF2 system is designed to provide more crop production options to dairy farmers that allow them to harvest dairy quality feed with greater planting and harvest timing flexibility as well as cropping systems which provide greater soil cover and nutrient retention benefits.
Under the ACCF system, the crop sequence, species utilized (winter small grains and summer annuals) and harvest timing all contribute to achieving increased soil organic matter levels, enhanced crop uptake of nutrients, weed control and retention of soil and its nutrients. The unique aspect of ACCF is the combination of its facets as a whole system approach. The soil is never bare for more than 3 weeks, every crop grown produces desirable forage, pesticide use is minimized, the harvest system is flexible (suitable for either grazing or mechanical means) and traditional equipment is employed
ACCF crops include winter rye or triticale grown alone or in combination with a summer annual such as corn or sorghum sudangrass. The ACCF crop sequence can begin in late summer/early fall with winter grain planting in corn stubble or plowed ground that was an unproductive sod. The following spring, the winter grains are in the vegetative stage and are either grazed throughout May and into early June, or mechanically harvested for silage or for straw. Either after straw harvest or anytime in June the field is plowed and fitted, followed by reseeding to a perennial forage or planting to annuals such as Brown Midrib Sorghum-sudangrass (BMRSS), or corn. BMRSS can be grown either as a grazing crop or for harvest mechanically (silage). BMRSS may be inter-seeded with perennial clover and grass or planted alone followed by another season of winter grain or a late summer seeding of perennial forages. The end goal of the ACCF system is to establish a perennial stand that initially establishes with less weed pressure and greater plant viogor and persists for seven to eight years of intensive production.
The ACCF2 project was implemented with a two pronged approach. The first of these prongs is through engaging cooperating farms to deploy the ACCF system on their farms where data will be gathered on soil health, crop performance, forage quality, environmental measures (nitrogen leaching), and economics. The project will also record farmer experiences with the crops. The second implementation prong is dissemination of information on the ACCF system to the target audience through traditional field days, workshops, and written media. Emphasis is placed on farmer to farmer exchange.
The ACCF2 project engaged seven farmers primarily in Delaware County, NY over a three year period to implement various versions of the ACCF crop rotations and crops and with a mix of grazing and mechanical harvest. Through these seven cooperators data was gathered on forage quality and yield, soil health, and on two farms, financial and cost of production. The New York nitrogen leaching index was applied to three ACCF sites in addition to submission of soil samples for chemical and physical property analysis. The Cornell Net Carbohydrate and Protein System Model v. 6.1(CNCPS) was used to predict milk production performance from diets including ACCF forages. Forage quality analysis of ACCF crops (winter rye and brown mid-rib sorghum sudangrass indicated that these crops could be meet neutral detergent fiber (NDF) thresholds for lactating dairy cattle quality (NDF less than 58% of dry matter). Fiber digestibility of both crops was excellent, exceeding 55% of NDF dry matter for 24 hours incubations for both crops. Crude protein levels were modest, often averaging less than 15% of dry matter. Despite this, CNCPS predicted protein allowable milk production was greater in diets containing ACCF forages when compared to the same diets using high quality grass silage. Soil through ACCF rotations maintained a “very high” soil health rating and intermediate nitrogen leaching indices. Over 375 farmers and agribusiness professionals attended educational workshops and field meeting that focused various aspects of the ACCF system. Over 200 local farmers and agriservice personnel received five different articles or fact sheets discussing soil health or ACCF crop topics, and over 17,000 northeast dairy farmers and agriservice received an article on winter rye and oats for forage production that appeared in the Northeast Dairy Business magazine. Twenty five farmers are known to have adopted one or more aspects of the ACCF crop system. One local seed supplier experienced a 230% increase in the amount of winter rye they sell in 2007 over the previous two years, and enough rye seed was sold in the county to protect 7% of the entire corn silage acreage in Delaware County with winter rye cover crop. Much of this was harvested for forage or for straw. Economic analysis the implementation of the ACCF system on two cooperator farms indicated that the various ACCF systems could produce a increase to net farm income between $250 and $530 per acre on those farms. A modeling study of the effect of implementation of winter cover crops on corn acreage on typical Delaware County farms indicated that sediment bound phosphorus losses could be reduced 49%, for an average of 2.5 kg per acre.
35 farmers will change the basis of their crop system decisions. The soil will be viewed as the farm’s foundation resource, with management of its health a continual priority. Crop species selection, nutrient applications, tillage and harvest methods and timing will be rooted in the production and maintenance of optimal soil health. Evidence of this achievement will be adoption of one or more of the following four key components of ACCF on 10% of their acreage.
1. Assessment of soil health status through soil testing and/or use of field tools
2. Establishing perennials by interseeding with summer annuals.
3. Planting of winter annuals with subsequent spring harvest as dairy quality forage
4. Use of manure as the primary nutrient application on summer annuals along with selection of healthy soil-status sites for such nutrient needy crops.
To date, 25 farms (71% of performance target) are known to have made the cropping system changes as discussed above where project staff has had direct contact and can verify these changes. Outreach under this program has been broad and has employed the use of multipliers (extension agents and agriservice personnel) so full impact is not known. We are aware, for example, that publication of an article in Northeast Dairy Business Magazine (see Appendix) resulted in a central NY dairy far from the main project site adopting winter rye for dairy forage production. Beyond the performance target, there has been additional impact as discussed in results and discussion/milestones and outcomes.
Cooperating ACCF Pilot farms:
The ACCF2 project was implemented with a two pronged approach. The first of these prongs was through engaging cooperating farms to deploy the ACCF system on their farms where data will be gathered on soil health, crop performance, forage quality, environmental measures (nitrogen leaching), and economics and farmer experiences as follows:
• Soil Health Measures: samples were be pulled and analyzed for soil quality and nutrient analyses through Cornell Nutrient Analysis Laboratory to determine crop nutrient needs prior to establishment.
• Environmental measures: Cornell Nutrient Management Spear Program’s web-based N leaching assessment tool was completed for all fields in the spring and the fall of 2005 and 2006.
• Crop Growth/Health: All project fields were monitored weekly or as appropriate for growth, vigor, weed, insect and disease presence throughout the growing season. Yield measurements were completed for all mechanically harvested crops. Estimates for grazed crops were made where possible.
• Forage Quality: All harvested forages were sampled at harvest and/or after fermentation or stabilization. NIR analysis with wet chemistry for minerals and fiber digestibility characteristics were performed through the Dairy One laboratory. Cornell’s Net Carbohydrate and Protein System model was applied to the feeding of the forages to determine suitability for dairy production purposes.
• Economic Benefits: Economic sustainability of the ACCF system was verified by cost of production analysis for at least two of the four project farms. This analysis will include machinery expense determined from the individuals’ equipment, labor, land taxes or rental fees, and the annual costs such as seed, fuel, fertilizer and lime. Analysis was conducted using the partial budgeting procedure.
Education and Outreach:
The second implementation prong is dissemination of information on the ACCF system and cooperator experiences to the target audience through traditional field days, workshops, and written media. Emphasis was placed on farmer to farmer exchange. Specific forums that highlighted one or more of the ACCF concepts included; field days (4), winter crop schools (2), winter rye production school (1) fact sheets (2) and articles (3) In addition to outreach to the target audience directly, presentation was made to audiences comprised of agribusiness and agency (NRCS, Cooperative Extension) personnel that could serve as a multiplier to other small farm operators at the Northeast Certified Crop Advisor Annual Training in 2006. This marked the second time (2004 and 2006) that we addressed this audience with this topic. In general, outreach/education focused on one or more of three topics; soil health and fertility, specific crop management, and grower experiences. Although not planned at the outset, outreach efforts were enhanced by collaborating with two initiatives that have developed in Delaware County NY, a precision dairy feed management program, which integrates crop and ration management for environmental and economic benefits and a no-till crop production program which has help Delaware county farmers adopt no-till methods through education and access to no-till equipment. The educational efforts of these programs, including workshops and field meetings, afforded opportunities to advance ACCF concepts in the context of feeding and no-till production management. The no-till initiative an excellent opportunity to implement soil health concepts and crop central to ACCF on farms using no-till equipment.
One approach that was used to engage the target audience in 2007, which proved very successful, was to provide rye seed to interested Delaware County farmers for planting as a fall cover crop. Through other grant funding, we were able to provide rye seed (2 bu per acre) for up to 15 acres for each farm in fall of 2007. This method worked well to encourage other farmers to try growing the ACCF crop and expose more farmers beyond the ACCF cooperators. Ten farms participated in this program (six growing rye for the first time)
Cooperating ACCF Pilot farms; Cooperator profiles and results:
The following eight farm profiles highlight the ACCF2 process of several participants. These examples illustrate achievement of the performance targets outlined in the ACCF 2 project proposal.
Fermata Farms: Gerald Ruestow
Fermata Farms is a mixed livestock and forage enterprise. Beef cattle and dairy replacement heifers (about 40 head) are raised on rotationally grazed pasture. Forage crops are sold locally. From 1995 to July 2006, the farm included a 60 cow dairy herd owned by Tom Reynolds who rented the barn and land. Gerry managed the crops, including the pasture system and feeding program during their participation with SARE ACCF 2. Tom sold the cows due to personal health issues in July of 2006.
Gerry has a history of achieving yields above the county average for his mechanically harvested crops. The land resource consists of various classes of silt loam soils, primarily very stony and highly erodible with “C” slopes of 8-15% Prior to SARE ACCF 2 participation Gerry was dissatisfied with his pastures .The issues were twofold. The pasture acreage of native grasses provided a limited yield as it was comprised mostly of bluegrass which has limited growth and a non-productive summer dormancy period. The improved pasture acreage had been seeded to Tall Fescue in the 1980s and proved to be somewhat unpalatable to the cows, particularly past the cool weather of early spring.
Fermata Farm’s ACCF2 Goals:
1)Provide a summer annual grazing crop high in nutrient quality and moderate-to-high in yield to substitute for current pasture in mid-summer.
2)Provide grazing forage earlier in the spring than mid-May to extend the grazing season
3)Establish a labor efficient and cost effective method to replace existing native grasses and Tall Fescue with a sustainable and palatable sward.
1)Five acres of native bluegrass pasture was plowed and planted with BMR Sorghum sudangrass in 2005, providing over 3 weeks of grazing.This was followed with an August planting of winter rye.
2)Rye was grazed 3 times, April 11th through early June 2006. Afterwards, Will Ladino clover and orchardgrass were interseeded with BMR Sorghum-sudangrass in August.
3)An improved perennial pasture was successfully established. The crop sequence as described above provided several weeks each year of high quality forage at critical times during the season. Evaluation of the 5 acre pasture in 2008 indicates about 59% clover in the stand.
ACCF2 was also applied in 2006 on four acres of newly acquired pasture ground that had been severely over-grazed. A fall seeding of winter rye provided grazing forage for the cattle over a month long period in 2007. Afterwards, a sward of grass with some native clover grew up through the rye stubble on its own. This is deemed to have plant density and feed quality consistent with the herd’s quality and quantity needs. As an anecdotal observation, the heavy weed population prior to the rye was greatly reduced through rye growth competition and cattle grazing.
Through ACCF2 Fermata Farms has adopted a new approach to managing the pasture land resource that meets the farm’s goals while protecting soil and water resources. Gerry plans to renovate about 5 acres of Tall Fescue pasture per year with the application of year-round forage crop cover that has worked so well on two of his key pasture areas.
Reta Youngs and Kevin Dibble
Reta and Kevin have a 40 cow (primarily Jersey) dairy herd and replacement animals. They grow all the forage and practice management intensive grazing. Corn acreage varies from year-to-year, averaging about 50. Hay is grown on 100 to 120 acres, with about 38 acres close by to the barn. A management focus is flexible, dual use of this ground for pasture and /or harvested hay crop. Much of the home farm is a variably drained soil type. Land used for harvest of stored forages has moderately deep soils that vary from better drained silt loams with slopes of 5-8% to moderately to poorly drained silty clay loams with only 3-5% slopes. Corn silage and high moisture corn are important forages to this farm as they are committed to keeping purchased feed costs low while maintaining high production and cow health.
Youngs and Dibble Farm’s ACCF2 Goals:
1)Improve yield and quality of dual-use hay/grazing fields on the home farm
2)Manage labor resource and crop loss risk by increasing the harvest time window through production of diverse forage crops
3)Maintain or improve soil health while achieving goals 1 and 2
4)Gain experience with grazing and harvesting BMR sorghum-sudan, winter rye and share information with others via outreach participation.
1)Three dual use fields that were low productivity native sods (17 acres) had the ACCF concept applied to them. Increased yields and forage quality were accomplished.
a)2 year sequence BMR SS/winter rye, 1 year corn silage, festulolium and clover seeding in year 4. Economic analysis is included in this report: $ 531 per acre advantage over 3 years of corn silage using 2007 figures.
b) BMR SS/clover/grass interseeding with successful seeding establishment.
c)1 year BMR SS solely for grazing, winter rye/clover interseeding and resultant moderate stand of clover.
2,3) The crops grown provided forage when pastures were not yet ready or were in summer dormancy. Milk production was either maintained or increased at up to 3 lbs per cow per day, along with a decrease in baleage/haylage consumption. Labor resources were spread out by having diverse planting, machine harvest and grazing times. There were no labor conflicts with corn planting or harvest. The ACCF rotations significantly increased home farm productivity at a good economic return while protecting the soil resource.
5)Both data and producer experiences were shared through presentations, articles and producer meetings from 2003 through 2008 and Reta is informally a neighborhood mentor to other farms.
Reta and Kevin have implemented the ACCF concept on other acreage. It is an important management strategy for them. Rather than following set rotations, the growing conditions dictate whether and when each crop is planted, with anticipated harvest timing part of the crop choice planning to avoid labor allocation conflicts.
Blue Meadows Farm: Charles Cerosaletti
Blue Meadows Farm was a 100 cow pasture based dairy owned and operated by the late Charles Cerosaletti. This farm is a valley floor farm, situated at a 1200’ elevation with mostly gravelly silt loams on 0 – 5% slopes. The soil can be droughty at times. The farm was split into two milking herds located on nearby farms, both with intensive rotational grazing systems. The main farm, which housed about 60 milking cows, did not have adequate pasture acres, approximately 0.5 acres per cow, making pasture productivity a critical need. In addition to pasture, the farm consisted of haycrop land, owned and rented. Some recently rented river flat land, largely productive soil, was in need of reseeding to more productive species. Since 2002, no corn was grown on this farm, and haycrop was harvested as haylage and round bale silage.
Cerosaletti Farm ACCF2 goals:
1. Introduce some annual species to extend the grazing season (at beginning and mid summer) in the home farm pasture season.
2. Reseed the home farm pastures to more productive grazing type species (improved orchardgrass and white clover)
3. Use a non corn annual crop (winter rye) to quickly rotate recently rented river flat back to a more productive perennial species (red clover and orchardgrass/tall fescue), while protecting soil from erosion during seasonal flooding.
1. BMR sorghum sudangrass was grown on 5 acres of pasture, providing two weeks of grazing during August summer grass slump. Cows increased milk production 2 lbs per cow per day while grazing BMR SS.
2. Winter rye was planted after BMR SS and harvested mechanically the following spring providing as round bale silage 0.80 tons per acre of dry matter yield. This silage was fed out later during the summer when pasture production started to slow. Oats were then seeded with perennial seeding of orchardgrass, festulolium and ladino clover. Oats were grazed in late July and new seeding was successfully established.
3. River flat was plowed and seeded to winter rye in August of 2005. Winter rye was harvested in May 28 2006, yielding 2.1 tons of dry matter per acre of rye round bale silage that was used for heifer forage. In June of 2006 this field was severely flooded by 500 year flood, with 6+ feet of running water over the winter rye stubble. No visible erosion occurred in the winter rye stubble. A summer seeding to red clover and orchardgrass/tall fescue was successfully established in August of 2006.
Rollercoaster Farm, Douglas Hitchcock
Doug has a 60 cow dairy herd operation plus replacement heifers. Farm labor consists primarily of Doug, with part-time milking and occasional summer help during crop harvest. The dairy cows get the majority of their forage from semi-intensive rotationally grazed pasture during the growing season. Forage is harvested for winter feed and summer supplementation from 98 acres of hay and about 40 acres of corn. The hay acreage is around 30% less than is typical of farms of similar herd size in the area. The land resource consists of moderately productive, acidic silt loams dominated by slopes of 8-15%, classified as highly erodible. Over half of the cropland is at an elevation of 2000’. Labor constraints are a driving force to find efficient and cost effective methods to enhance forage yields while protecting the soil resource. Doug maintains a strong commitment to feeding a diet of over 60% forage to the cows.
Rollercoaster Farm’s ACCF2 Goals:
1. Add diversity by exploring new crops and access technical support throughout this process.
2. Address erosion concerns on corn ground and need for forage volume through double cropping of corn and winter rye.
3. Implement late summer versus springtime seedings of perennial hay. Reasons: spring labor crunch and erosion risk (seedling loss) from intense spring rainstorms.
1. BMR SS was planted on two 2.5 acre strips of tilled sod in July 2008. Winter rye planting will follow BMR SS harvest. Soybeans were planted on four 2.5 acre strips to initiate a rotation of 1 year each of corn-soybeans-small grain, followed by several years of perennial forage.
2. September 19, 2006 seeding of winter rye on 3.5 acres that had a failed crop of corn silage. In 2007, the rye was harvested as baleage, yielding 5.6 dry matter tons of dairy quality forage. In mid-October,’07 fourteen acres of corn ground was planted to winter rye after corn harvest via no-till. Rye was harvested in June 2008 to supply heifer forage.
3. Rye and red clover were inter-seeded on 2.5 acres of open corn ground in mid-October 2007, 4-8 weeks past the recommended timeframe. Unusually mild weather caused November germination of the clover, jeopardizing winter survival. Visual assessment in July 2008 indicates a 20% clover stand. Doug will try this again when he can readily plant at an earlier date. On July 22, 2008 he interseeded BMR SS with alfalfa as another strategy to achieve this goal.
Through ACCF2 Doug received the technical support to experiment with crops and rotations that were new to him. This upholds a primary business objective of sustaining his operation with a variety of homegrown forages that keep purchased feed and fertilizer inputs low while protecting the soil resource.
Herondale Holsteins, Ron Palmer
Herondale Holstein farm is a 40 cow herd of registered Holsteins, expanded from 30 cows over the past 2 years . The forage system was all grass hay, harvested solely as baleage. In 2007 Ron began to grow corn by hiring custom planting and harvesting. His soil resource includes 30 acres of fairly level, deep silt loams. The remainder is acidic, stony, shallow silt loams with slopes from 5-30%. To feed his high producing herd a high forage diet of the quality that sustains production and cow health, Ron is committed to producing energy feed in the form of annual crops. He had viewed Doug’s rye in the spring of 2007 and was impressed by the height and density of the crop. After learning the feed quality achieved he decided to try it on his farm. Recognizing the soil limitation and environmental concerns, he initiated the ACCF2 rotation of BMR SS followed by winter rye both via no-till planting in 2008. This is part of a planned crop rotation to utilize the steeper ground for energy-rich forage while protecting soil and water resources.
Haney Hill Farm, Steve Haney
Steve operates a 50 cow dairy plus replacement heifers with part-time milking help and assistance from his father during crop season. The soil resource is moderately productive, acidic stony silt loams on slopes that vary from 5-15%. Additional rented ground is a level, deep loam river flat, 4 miles from the farmstead. This land is essential to the crop program as the home farm acreage is limited by seasonal wetness and difficult accessibility. Steve had been growing corn silage on the deep loams by the creek and managing the home farm as permanent hay land. In 2006 a disastrous flood occurred on June 26th and 27th due to rainfall of over 13” in a 48 hour period. Steve lost 25 acres of corn in that flood. He contacted Cooperative Extension for help following this disaster. ACCF experience and data were utilized to help Steve formulate a strategy to compensate for the corn crop loss. In August, when the creek lands drained enough to bear equipment, Steve planted oats on 8 acres. Although finding a good harvest window in the fall was a challenge, a month’s worth of feed was produced in the form of baleage (“oatlage”). This forage source was critical, as it stretched the supply through to next spring’s harvest.
This emergency measure coincided with a sustainable strategy to improve forage production at the home farm. Six acres of low-productivity native grass hay were plowed and planted to winter rye on August 24th, 2006. The rye was harvested as baleage on May 22, 2007 yielding 1.2 tons to the acre. This comprised about 60% of the dairy herd’s forage for over 3 weeks.
The rye field was planted to silage corn in early June. After 2 years of corn it will be re-seeded for inclusion in the rotational grazing system that Steve set up in May of 2008. Winter rye will be planted on fields along the creek on the river flat to renovate flood damaged sod and provide high quality forage next spring. Steve’s experience with annual grains as forage through ACCF2 gave him the confidence to implement this system as a routine part of his crop plans.
Moo Juice Farm, Ronan Robinson
Ronan has a 40 cow dairy. His wife Susan helps in the barn and he barters labor with friends to achieve timely harvest of corn silage and hay as needed. The home farm consists of about 45 acres of hay land and 10 acres of pasture. Another 15 acres of rented hay ground are also close to home. These are moderately productive, stony, shallow acidic silt loams with slopes ranging from 5-15%. Additional land is crucial to provide adequate forage supply to feed this herd a high forage diet without the burden of purchasing in hay. Deep, well-drained river flats 2 miles away are rented for production of 26 acres of hay and 20 acres of no-till corn silage. Prior to 2007 Ronan did not grow corn and had only 33 acres of hay land on the home farm. He worked additional hillside land about 4 miles from home. Ronan lost 46 acres of hay crop in the flood of 2006. Labor and fuel cost made traveling 4 miles away unsustainable. He decided to renovate about 12 acres of brush land at home to gain productive acreage. Winter rye was planted on October 2nd 2007, providing both forage and straw in 2008. The experience with this crop convinced Ronan to plant winter rye for cover on his corn ground for both winter cover and spring forage. He also no-till planted Brown Midrib Sorghum-sudangrass on 10 acres of flood damaged sod.
Through ACCF 2 resources and information, this limited labor operation has found a cost-effective and sustainable way to produce the needed forage supply while protecting soil resources.
This 100 cow dairy plus replacement heifers and vegetable farm is a contrast to our other participants. It is a multiple generation operation with ample labor. The soil resource consists of very deep level loams with some gravelly loams. Both corn silage and alfalfa hay are grown as rotated crops. In 2005 the farm acquired some additional acreage that had low organic matter and fertility status. Winter rye was planted there to condition the soil’s surface structure and add needed organic matter. The goal to utilize the rye was to provide straw bedding for the dairy herd. Although most of the established crop land has a highly productive soil, the excessive rainfall and flooding of 2006 impeded timely harvest, reducing. the forage supply. Local ACCF experience with rye forage encouraged the Johnsons to shift to earlier harvest, yielding 1.3 DMton/acre of forage as silage (ryelage). This provided feed for 50 dairy heifers for several weeks.
This experience led the Johnson Farm to adopt the practice of winter rye as a cover on their corn ground. The environmental impact is significant, as much of their cropland is along a tributary to the Susquehanna River. The rye cover prevents loss of topsoil nutrients from the field into water resources. Forage and straw obtained from the rye reduce crop acreage needs, saving fuel and machinery use as well as the labor consumed in road travel.
Results and Discussion/Milestones: Cooperator Farm Soil and Crop Data Summary
Forage quality data collected over four years (going back one year before the start of the present ACCF project) for both grazing harvest and mechanical harvest of winter rye is summarized in Tables 1 and 2. Table 3 presents the progression of forage quality of winter rye through the month of May 2006 in one ACCF cooperator field. In general, forage quality of grazed winter rye forage was better than that of the mechanically harvest rye, due to an earlier average harvest date. Mechanically harvested rye NDF content average of 58% of DM, is consistent with guidelines for high quality grass for lactating dairy cattle rations. Crude protein levels of mechanically harvested rye (13% of DM on average) were generally less than expected, but can vary highly depending on the amount of nitrogen applied to the rye crop before harvest. When the quality of the rye forage is compared to the average quality of grass, mixed mostly grass and small grain silages analyzed through the DairyOne forage laboratory (http://www.dairyone.com/Forage/FeedComp/MainLibrary.asp) for the period May 2000 – April 2008 (Table 4), the ACCF winter rye was lower in crude protein, (13% CP vs 14.8, 15.5, and 13.4 respectively), similar in NDF content (58% NDF vs 58, 57 and 57% respectively), higher in 24 hour NDF digestibility (59% vs 49, 47,and 51% respectively), and in predicted net energy of lactation content (0.63 Mcal/lb vs 0.55, 0.55 and 0.56 Mcal/lb respectively). This suggests that the ACCF winter rye forage was of similar, if not better quality than average forages harvested mechanically in the northeast US (the primary coverage area of the DairyOne lab).
Brown Mid Rib Sorghum Sudangrass (BMR SS):
Selected forage quality measures for the BMR SS crops grown in the project appear in Table 5. As with the winter small grains, it is appropriate to compare the forage quality of the BMR SS to standards for perennial grasses for lactating dairy cattle. Although BMR SS is a warm season grass, it is harvested at a vegetative state and therefore would not be appropriate to compare it to standards for corn silage, another warm season grass which is harvested when grain formation is nearly complete. For grazed BMR SS, the perennial cool season grazed grass NDF standard for lactating cows (38-46% of DM) is not an appropriate benchmark due to the high digestibility of the fiber. For BMR SS, whether grazed or mechanically harvested, 50 – 60% NDF content is an acceptable benchmark. On average the BMR SS harvested in this project was at the high end of acceptable NDF levels. Thirty percent of all samples did exceed the 60% of DM NDF level. Most were in the 55-60% range (data not shown). Mechanically harvested BMR SS was much taller at harvest than grazed BMR SS, but had only slightly higher NDF levels. One field in one year did get grazed when the BMR SS was taller (72-84 inches) than the desired 48 inches, but the cows refused the bottom 24-30 inches of stalk, which resulted in improved forage quality of the portions they did consume.
NDF digestibility was similar to the winter small grains and as expected exceeds the averages reported by the DairyOne lab (Table 4) for several forage categories. Crude protein levels varied widely and may again be attributable to nitrogen availability and stage of maturity at harvest. Sugar levels were lower than those in the winter small grains.
As was expected from previous experience and research, dry matter content of BMR SS in this project was low. From a practical standpoint this posed a challenge in getting adequate water removal in a timely manner for proper fermentation under mechanical harvest systems. Of the five project farms that grew this crop for mechanical harvest three had complications in getting the crop as dried, two had compromised fermentation, and one had feed that was unusable because it had taken too long to dry and was too poorly fermented. While one project farm has repeatedly mechanically harvested and fermented BMR SS successfully over several years, grazing proved the most consistently successful harvest method because weather was not an issue and crop drying was not required.
Table 6 presents predicted milk production from diets simulated with the Cornell Net Carbohydrate and Protein System model v. 6.1, where diets containing ACCF forages (winter rye or BMR SS silage) were compared to the same diet with high quality grass silage. This simulation shows that ACCF forages were able to sustain similar or higher levels of protein allowable milk (first limiting) as compared to high quality grass forage (67, 68, and 72 lbs per day grass, BMR SS and winter rye), despite having lower crude protein levels than the grass (13 and 14 vs 18% CP for winter rye, BMR SS and grass silage respectively). This corresponds with ACCF cooperator experiences that cattle typically responded with 1-3 lbs more milk per cow per day while being fed ACCF forages.
Table 7 includes key soil characteristics of three ACCF2 project fields selected from 3 different farms. The data is a good indicator of ACCF rotation effect on soil health characteristics as sampling was done prior to initiation of the ACCF crop sequence and again after re-seededing to perennial species. Soil health ratings retained “very high” status during the ACCF rotations, with organic matter and aggregate stability showing minimal decreases, or even slight increases during the ACCF rotation. New York nitrogen leaching index measurements for these fields indicate that the ACCF rotations presented only intermediate risk of nitrogen leaching, an indication of the environmental soundness of the rotations.
Results and Discussion/Milestones: Education and Outreach:
• 100 farmers in the target audience will be reached at winter Extension meetings with presentations that illustrate and explain ACCF.
• 40 of the target audience will learn to evaluate soil health in hands-on field exercises. They will understand the impact of soil health on crop yields and production costs.
• 40 of the target audience will grasp the feed and soil fertility/health value of the non-traditional forage crops, winter rye and ladino clover.
• 40 of the target audience will learn how to produce good yields and quality of BMR SS primarily with manure and native soil fertility rather than inorganic nitrogen
All of the above milestones have been achieved or exceeded. As of June 2008, approximately 327 producers and agribusiness professionals have attended educational workshops (5) and field days (4) that included the ACCF concepts. Of that total, 72 were reached though hands on exercises in field meetings. A circulation of approximately 200 farmers and agribusiness professionals have received five (5) articles or fact sheets regarding ACCF concepts, and a circulation of approximately 17,000 northeast US dairy farmers and agribusiness professionals received the article written for Northeast Dairy Business magazine by project staff regarding ACCF crops (see Appendices). Twenty (25) farms, primarily in Delaware County, that we have been able to verify have adopted one or more of ACCF crops for their forage value and soil health properties, and/or implemented soil health/fertility concepts espoused in ACCF. This represents over 70% of the performance target originally set forth for the project. There may well be more farms that are adopting these concepts that we do not have documentation for. Through the Delaware County no-till initiative, more farms are learning about soil health and quality and managing for soil health, even if they do not necessarily implement one of the ACCF crops.
One unexpected event that provided a unique outreach opportunity for the project was the devastating flood experienced in upstate NY (including Delaware and surrounding counties) in June 2006. This flood destroyed many acres of crops, especially corn planted for silage. Having grower experience and recommendations though the ACCF projects, we were able to put together fact sheets on emergency crop options using ACCF crops for farmers to consider.
The fact sheets were mailed out to all farmers and agribusinesses as well as distributed through agency flood response personnel. Several farms in Delaware County adopted the ACCF emergency crops options outlined in the fact sheets.
Through the winter rye cover crop initiative, we were able to provide rye seed (2 bu per acre) for up to 15 acres for 10 farms in fall of 2007, with six of these producers for the first time.
The outreach efforts of the project have been described in the methods and materials sections. All methods (meetings, fact sheets, articles, field days) were effective, and we believe necessary. Outreach (education) must be approached as a “campaign” when trying to establish a concept like ACCF. The more that the concepts are put forth, in a variety of means, the more successful the campaign is long term. Our approach was to build the ACCF concept on a foundation of soil health; techniques and crops were employed as tools to manage soil health long term, while producing valuable crops in the short term. Field days and meetings with farmer to farmer exchange were a highlight of the outreach program. This farmer to farmer exchange encouraged other farmers to adopt the ACCF concepts and techniques, which may not have been accomplished through fact sheets alone. An ACCF production school held in spring of 2008, employed a technique of presenting case farm (cooperator) data and photographs chronicling their ACCF implementation while having the cooperators present their views and experiences. This approach was successful in stimulating engaging discussion among meeting participants.
Additional Project Outcomes
Impacts of Results/Outcomes
Through the Delaware County no–till program in 2007, fifteen (15) producers tried no-till planting methods for the first time in Delaware County resulting in 500 new acres under no-till management. This represented a 250% increase in the number of farmers using no-till management in the county. This number has grown to 30 farms using no-till methods in 2008, and over 800 acres in no-till, with a 74% increase in no-till corn over 2007. These farmers all received soil health training as part of the no-till initiative in cooperation with the ACCF project.
As a result of the no-till/ACCF program effort to encourage adoption of rye as a cover crop after corn silage, one local agribusiness reported that their winter rye seed sales in fall 2007 were 230% higher than the previous two years. This one vendor alone sold enough winter rye seed for 250 acres, and at least another 100 acres of winter rye was planted through other vendors. Much on this would be planted in Delaware County. This acreage is significant as the average dairy farm in Delaware County may have only 200 tillable acres. According to the 2007 New York State Agricultural Statistics, there were about 5,000 acres of corn silage planted in Delaware County. The 350 acres of winter rye were planted after corn silage harvest in Delaware County, represents 7% of the total corn silage acreage for the county under winter rye cover.
We have seen more widespread adoption and implementation of ACCF concepts in the last 1.5 year of the project than we saw in the first 1.5 years. This adoption curve represents a momentum of interest and implementation that is a result of the programmatic efforts under the ACCF 2 project and other programs, and represents the kind of adoption “wave” that builds through a successful research, demonstration and education program.
A cost of production analysis of the ACCF project follows in Tables 8-10. The first example is from the H farm, the second example is from the Y farm, and the third is a generalized analysis applied to the concept of double-cropping. These analyses were completed on a per acre basis. It should be understood that in the spring of 2008, exponential increases in fuel and fertilizer prices occurred. Concurrently, the value of forage also increased dramatically as feed costs soared. This change in the industry makes projecting economics for two to three years in the future a challenge. The numbers may not hold true, but the net economic margins should be sound due to the correlation of production costs and forage values.
H farm ACCF2 crop rotation
The H farm had been growing corn for several years in a row on a given field prior to project participation. All of the farm’s cropland is classified as highly erodible, and soil loss resulting from the corn crop had become a concern. After harvesting a successful crop of winter rye on a 3.5 acre field in 2007, he decided to implement the ACCF concept. Winter rye was planted into corn stubble on 15 of the 42 corn acres. In 2008 he expanded the application of ACCF to include 19 of his 38 acres of annual crops, 50% of the acreage. A goal of this participant was to try a few crops that were new to him. His plan is to have flexible rotations with a choice of 2 or 3 annual crops that will provide good quality feed for the dairy cows, double-crop with winter rye to maintain continuous soil cover, and re-seed to perennial hay after two to three years of the annual crop sequence. The following economic analysis presents a partial budget, contrasting a traditional rotation choice with the ACCF rotation. The traditional choice is corn silage for 3 years, perennial seeding in the 4th year and maintaining the perennial for six to seven years. The chosen ACCF rotation is a sequence of 2 summer annuals (corn and Brown-Midrib sorghum-sudangrass), and winter rye, with the perennial seeding as a summer seeding in the 3rd year plus six to seven years thereafter. Another choice is soybeans, which he grew for the first time in 2008. This crop will fit into the rotation in place of either of the 2 summer annuals listed above, illustrating the flexible application of the ACCF2 concept. The figures are directly from thorough farm records provided in 2006 and 2007.
Y Farm ACCF2 Crop Rotation
The Y farm participated in ACCF1 and decided to continue as cooperators to gain further experience and for outreach involvement. A primary goal of the farm was to improve both yield and quality of forage on the home farm. Initial project fields where data was collected were dual use for both mechanically harvested hay and intensively managed pasture. Adding crop diversity was also important to this farm. This has spread harvest labor over a wider time window and reduced crop loss when excessive rainfall occurred. The partial budget analysis contrasts their traditional rotation of 3 years of corn silage rotated with either alfalfa or clover-grass with a chosen rotation that was successfully implemented in 2003 on a pasture/hay field of low producing native grasses, clover and various weeds. Brown midrib sorghum-sudangrass was planted and grazed, followed by winter rye which was grazed in 2004. The sequence of annuals was repeated once more and again used for grazing the dairy herd. The field was combined with an adjacent corn silage field in 2005 and seeded to festulolium and ladino clover in 2006. This has yielded about 4 dry matter tons per acre per year as dual use for grazing and harvested haylage, more than double the original yields from the native sod. The Y farm has continued to grow both BMR sorghum-sudangrass and winter rye as part of their crop production. Forage needs, field conditions and harvest planning all drive the crop choice in a flexible management strategy.
Generalized Economic Analysis
The partial budget in Table 3 illustrates the typical scenario of adoption of year-round cover by corn growers and can be applied to 20 -30 farms that now grow rye cover as forage or straw. Planting a winter cover crop results in a net gain when it is harvested for forage or straw. Two of the Farm Profiles (“Results and Discussion: Milestones” section of this report) provide producer descriptions that are representative of local farm experiences.
Winter cover, with its live root system and growth initiation prior to spring improves soil physical characteristics that enhance growth of subsequent crops. Although this benefit is widely recognized and well understood, placing a dollar figure on the value of such soil factors was not feasible within the scope of the project.
Farmer adoption, a primary performance target and outcome measure for this project, has been discussed at length in results and discussion as well as impacts and outcomes. We believe that long term this project has given dairy farmers more tools to produce high quality forage at a time when growing season climate has become quite variable. Increases in fuel costs are resulting in more dairy farmers implementing grazing, and the ACCF crops have proven very successful in grazing situations, especially in extend the grazing season at both ends of the season.
Additionally, long term adoption of no-till and year round crop cover will reduce soil erosion and nutrient loss to water sources. A modeling study conducted by USDA Agricultural Research Service in collaboration with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Delaware County in 2007 (not part of the ACCF project) predicted that winter rye cover crops on corn silage acres could reduce sediment bound phosphorus loss to water courses 2.5 kg per acre per year (49% reduction). No-till production was estimated in this same study to reduce sediment bound P loss 4.4 kg/acre per year (84%). This is an important environmental benefit in Delaware and surrounding counties due to efforts to protect the New York City Drinking water supply and Chesapeake watersheds, and represents the kind of site specific quantification of environmental benefits that local communities need to manage quality in a proactive manner.
Areas needing additional study
This study did not explore the use of winter triticale as a winter grain. Previous experience indicated that winter triticale is not as winter hardy in the ACCF project location, so a decision was made to use winter rye. Other plot based research elsewhere in New York State (http://counties.cce.cornell.edu/rensselaer/Agriculture/field_crops.htm) indicates winter triticale could out yield winter rye as a forage crop. Further study of winter triticale varieties for winter hardiness under a broader range of New York conditions is warranted, especially in consideration of the shortage of winter rye seed in the market at present.