Expanding grain production and use on organic dairy farms in Maine and Vermont

Final Report for LNE06-240

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2006: $143,626.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:
Richard Kersbergen
University of maine Cooperative Extension
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Project Information

Summary:

Organic dairy production in Maine and Vermont has been one of the fastest growing sectors in agriculture. With over 60 farms in Maine and 200 in Vermont having transitioned to organic dairy production in the last 10 years, the demand for organic grain concentrates has skyrocketed along with the price. This project utilized University facilities and farmer participants to research and expand on-farm organic grain production. A database of yield potentials for organic winter and spring grains has been developed along with information on small grain silages harvested at various stages of maturity. Researchers have compiled data on various agronomic factors, including the influence of planting date and nitrogen management. We estimate that over 150 organic famers attended one or more of the 22 workshops or field days offered as part of this project. In 2005, organic grain production in the region was estimated at 1900 acres. Currently, using NOFA Vt. and MOFGA Certification Services 2009 data, there are well over 5000 acres of certified organic grain and more than 45 dairy farmers involved with some of that production. This project has spurned investment by producers in infrastructure as well as diversified product production such as organic sunflower oil.

Additional research and Extension projects have been funded to continue work on organic grain production, including $78,000 for machinery and equipment from Maine Technology Institute and $1.3 million from NIFA Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) for organic bread wheat production. The Northern Grain Growers Association has formed as a producer group for information sharing and research http://northerngraingrowers.org/

Introduction:

Maine and Vermont lead the nation in the percentage of organic dairy farms in their states. Organic milk production has been one of the fastest growing agricultural sectors in the Northeast. For this expansion to continue, and for these farms to remain profitable and ecologically sound, organic dairy producers in the Northeast need to shift their farming systems to a more integrated model that relies less on purchased concentrates transported from the mid-west and Canada, (at costs that sometimes reach levels that are 300% that of conventional grain concentrates) and more on an integrated system of high quality forage production and complementary grain.

Momentum for grain production systems in the Northeast began within the organic dairy community, as farmer/grower grant projects, farmer discussion groups, and several projects funded by the USDA Integrated Organic Program. This SARE funded project began by evaluating the barriers to grain production in New England, including an analysis of the current and future supply of feed concentrate to the 160 current organic dairy farms in the region.

Farmer collaborators in both states were recruited for research on their farms for developing a database of production data, including variety selection, agronomic practices, including weed control, fertility and harvest and storage. Basic production data on organic grain systems in the Northeast was collected by conducting strip trials on commercial farms and replicated small plot experiments at sites in Maine and Vermont.

Performance Target:

1) Of the 160 organic dairy farms in Maine, and Vermont, five will become project partners with Extension and ARS researchers to help develop working models of integrated production systems that take advantage of high quality harvested forage, pasture, and complementary on-farm grain production, storage and utilization.
Researchers in both states involved farmer research partners. In Maine, these included Jeff Bragg, Henry Perkins, Steve Morrison. In Vermont, project partners included Louie Rainville , Guy Choiniere, Jack Lazor, Brent Beidler, Spencer Blackwell, Ben Gleason, and Ken Van Hazinga.

Research plots were set up at various sites in Maine and Vermont, including the Experiment station farm at the University of Maine and the ARS research site in Newport Maine. Research on planting date impacts, forage quality of small grains, yield of winter and spring grains (triticale, rye, spelt, oats, barley, and wheat), weed control tactics, and nitrogen management were conducted as replicate plots on these farms. Farmer partners experimented with variety performance, weed control, rotations, intercropping and planting density.

2) Using data from plot research and research partners, forty of the 160 organic dairy farms in Vermont and Maine will successfully invest in growing, harvesting and utilizing grains on over 1000 acres to improve the sustainability of their farm operations through the development of more integrated, profitable and environmentally sound farming systems.

The huge grain price increase that was witnessed by conventional and organic farmers in 2007 and 2008 fostered a lot of interest in producers wanting to grow their own grain for use on their dairy farms. Many also realized increased financial rewards by selling some of their grain into the human food chain market. Well over 5000 acres of certified organic grains are now grown on farms in Maine and Vermont, primarily by dairy farms. Some of these continue to grow small grains for livestock, but many have also diversified into other grains such as oil seed crops like soybeans and sunflowers. Investment in grain processing equipment such as dryers, cleaners and oil seed presses have allowed for high value product sales including food grade oils and organic protein feed for poultry.

A survey conducted at the end of the project revealed that 42% of responses (61 returned surveys from the 270 organic dairy farms in Maine and Vermont) indicate that they are now growing some sort of grain crop for either forage or grain harvest. The farms that returned the survey represented about 1900 acres of grain. Nearly 68% of the responders indicated they attended a grain workshop hosted by UMaine or UVM. When asked “what was the most valuable information used at the workshops?” networking, improved weed control and increased yields were the primary responses. Only 42% of the farms growing grain felt that adding a grain enterprise improved the economics on their farm, and only 25 % thought that local grain production has helped reduce the cost of purchased concentrates. Grain crops grown included organic wheat, soy, corn, peas, oats, rye, black beans, malting barley, sunflowers, buckwheat, spelt and triticale. Sixty Percent of the producers who were not growing grains felt that they were too busy with other farming tasks to consider growing grain crops. Forty percent said they needed to find additional acreage and 36% indicated that start-up costs for grain production were too high.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Sid Bosworth
  • Heather Darby
  • Tim Griffin

Research

Materials and methods:

This project began with a survey of Maine and Vermont organic dairy farmers and grain suppliers to identify specific barriers to on-farm grain production. The survey was completed in the spring of 2006. Sixty eight farms from Maine and Vermont responded to the mailed survey. Of these farms, 54 indicated cost of organic grains as a major issue along with quality and consistency. Other issues identified included service from grain companies, lack of local sources, too much wheat by-products, pathogens and foreign matter and delivery delays.

Research plots were grown at three locations, with two in Maine and one in Vermont. These trials of both winter and Spring grains (oats, barley, spelt, triticale, wheat and rye) completed in each year of the project provided yield and quality data of these grains grown as both a forage (harvested at the boot stage and soft dough stage). Parameters investigated included impact of planting date and soil type on the yield of forage and grain. Two additional studies were implemented investigating nitrogen management techniques. One in Maine looked at manure applications to winter triticale, while another in Vermont investigated organic amendments to wheat. In Maine, several trials were established to investigate alternative weed control options, including increased density, narrower row spacing and wide row spacing with inter-row hoeing.

On-farm research trials were hosted by the farmer partners and were designed to answer questions that they had about grain production. A rotation study with various small grains was conducted in Maine with a rotation of corn silage, spring grains, followed by a perennial sod crop that was undersown. Other studies included planting density and row width impacts on weed competition. Some farmer researchers expanded their area of interest into soybeans and sunflowers and even applied for SARE farmer/grower funds to expand their research and development of protein/oilseed crops. Other farmer researchers studied value added grain crops such as wheat that might be sold into the food grade market as a premium product.

Outreach activities included numerous field days on participating farms. Researchers and farmers traveled to other states to present and discuss their trials at winter meetings held in both states. Articles were written for publication in the NODPA (Northeast Organic Producers Alliance) and MOMP (Maine Organic Milk Producers) newsletters. Vermont growers established the Northern Grain Growers Association http://northerngraingrowers.org/ and have a website that features some articles that they have written as well as articles by University researchers. Researchers and a farmer partner traveled to Banff Alberta to present data and interact with other organic grain researchers at the Canadian Organic Cereals Research Symposium. A final meeting of researchers and farmers in February of 2009 led to the development of a successful $1.3 million NIFA OREI grant application to further develop an organic bread wheat research and extension program with Maine and Vermont.

Research results and discussion:

Milestone 1) Project researchers will immediately survey Maine and Vermont organic dairy farmers and grain suppliers to identify specific barriers to on-farm grain production and the issues related to grain supplies.

This survey was completed in the spring of 2006. Sixty eight farms from Maine and Vermont responded to the mailed survey. Of these farms, 54 indicated cost of organic grains as a major issue along with quality and consistency. Other issues identified included service from grain companies, lack of local sources, too much wheat by-products, pathogens and foreign matter and delivery delays.

Of the 68 farms responding, 17 indicated that they are now growing some of their own grains for feed for their organic livestock. Acres reported on soybeans grown in 2006 was 348, 220 in wheat, 40 in barley, 453 in triticale (silage and grain), 73 in spelt, 154 in oats. Growers also reported growing some sunflowers and peas for grain. Corn acreage was also reported with 771 acres for silage and grain corn.

Twelve farms indicated they are adding additional organic acreage to their operations to increase or add a grain enterprise. Of those who are not considering a grain enterprise, reasons indicated include acres, knowledge, iron (equipment), infrastructure, soil types, weed control and labor. Of these that are not growing grains, 54% indicated that if they had reliable yield and production information they would consider growing some organic grains on their farm. 78% of the responds were positive about the potential to purchase locally produced grains if they were available from their neighbors. Concerns about local grains included processing, delivery and storage. A survey of grain suppliers indicated that all of them would purchase from local supplies if available. Challenges they face include large fluctuations in prices, transportation costs, and quality at an affordable price.

Milestone 2) Project researchers will work with MOFGA, MOMP, NODPA and NOFA-VT dairy technical advisors to identify 10 potential farmer research partners and work to select at least five to work as members of the project.

In Maine, these included Jeff Bragg, Henry Perkins, Steve Morrison. In Vermont, project partners included Louie Rainville , Guy Choiniere, Jack Lazor, Brent Beidler, Spencer Blackwell, Ben Gleason, and Ken Van Hazinga.
Milestones 3) and 4) Research plots will be established at Newport, ME (USDA-ARS) and at a Farmer Cooperator farm in Highgate, VT. Un-replicated plots of similar grains will be planted on partner farms. Agronomic data from replicated plots and research partner farms will be collected.

Plots were planted in Newport, Me, Stillwater, Me. and Highgate, Vt. in the spring of 2006. Weather challenges were significant, and demonstrated some real challenges for growers on fine textured or wetter soils. Six different small grains (oats, hulless oats, barley, wheat, triticale and spelt) were planted in each location. Plots were harvested for both silage (at boot stage and soft dough stage) and grain harvest. Similar grains were planted on unreplicated plots on farm fields in both states. Winter grains were planted on the same locations in replicated and on-farm plots. Wheat, spelt, rye and triticale were planted at two different dates (September 20, 2007 and October 17th, 2007) and on different soil types in Maine and Vermont. This was repeated in 2008. We now have nine site-years of data comparing spring small grain species at these locations. We expanded our evaluations to collect both forage yield and quality data for all small grain variety and species comparisons, at early boot stage and at soft dough stage. This allowed us to rapidly develop a database on these crops.

We have also conducted multiple experiments comparing fall small grain species planted in mid-September and mid-October. Both grain and forage yield consistently declines with later planting, and grain yield losses can be 100% (wheat and triticale). An additional experiment on fall versus spring manure application on winter triticale has shown that pre-plant manure applications in the fall have little retention of nitrogen to promote regrowth the following spring. Manure (liquid) was applied broadcast or in bands and compared to a control and an N-P-K fertilizer treatment. We found significant increase in forage and grain yields with manure applications in the spring as compared to manure applied in the fall prior to planting. Research on the effects of variety and organic sources of fertility for winter wheat production and bread quality was researched at the University of Vermont. The study was conducted at the UVM Horticultural Research Farm in South Burlington, VT and the Cornell Baker Research Farm in Willsboro, NY. A randomized split block design with four replications was used at each site.
Over the duration of this project it has been evident that spring seeded grains are often prone to severe weed infestation. Weed management was significantly challenging for grains grown on finer-textured soils. There has been some data to suggest that seeding rate can reduce weed infestation. The impact of seeding rate on grain yield was evaluated in the spring of 2008 in Vermont. The seeding rates of 90, 125, 150, and 175 lbs/acre of wheat were evaluated in a randomized complete block design.

Researchers in Maine conducted trials investigating the efficacy of various weed control techniques for spring grains, including altering special relationships and wide row planting with row cultivation (hoeing). Preliminary trials were established in 2007 and 2008. Three different field trials were conducted at Smith Farm in 2009 to continue testing innovative strategies for managing weeds in organic spring cereals. Building on results from 2007 and 2008, we expanded our research scope to include organic bread wheat, in addition to feed-grade barley.

The two most promising solutions for weed control in organic spring-sown cereals center around two opposing systems that i) facilitate better physical weed control through the use of wide rows and inter-row cultivation or (ii) enhance crop-weed competition. We increased the competitive ability of wheat using three different methods: elevated crop density at standard row width (17 cm), elevated crop density in combination with narrow (11 cm) row spacing, and elevated crop density while broadcasting a third of the seed and using a seed drill to plant the remainder. These three tactics were contrasted with both standard organic practice and a wide row system with inter-row hoeing. Given the importance of seeding rate to crop competitiveness, standard seeding rates were established at 400 plants m-2 and high density seeding rates were 600 plants m-2.

To test the efficacy of inter-row cultivation on perennial weeds, we established an experiment in an area infested with quackgrass (Elymus repens L.) to determine the effects of standard organic practice and wide rows with 0, 1, 2, or 3 inter-row cultivation events on change in rhizome mass and node number over the growing season.
Milestone 5) Both Vermont and Maine researchers will work with participating farmer researchers and commodity groups to organize spring and summer field days every year of the project.
Maine and Vermont held field days on grower farms during the summer of 2006. Maine also hosted the 2006 NESARE PDP meetings and included one of the farms as part of the farm tour. In 2007, Maine held a grain field day in August that included the harvest of winter spelt, wheat, triticale and rye. Vermont held a grain field day in conjunction with an on-farm energy workshop.
An organic grain workshop titled “Growing Organic Wheat for Food and Feed” was held in Westfield, Vermont. The goal of the workshop was to help farmers learn how to grow and process grains. Jack Lazor provided a tour of his grain fields and described production techniques for growing wheat, barley, oats, spelt, and sunflowers. He also provided a tour of the Butterworks grain storage and processing facilities. Dr. Heather Darby and Susan Monahan from UVM discussed research projects in the areas of variety selection, fertility management, and seeding rates. Lastly, there was an opportunity to learn about a new type of conservation tillage implement. The Lemken is an excellent tool for organic farmers and was demonstrated at the field day. There were 77 farmers, processors, and agricultural service providers present at the field day.

Organic research projects were highlighted at the annual UVM Crops and Soils Field Day held on August 7th., 2008. There were 96 attendees including farmers and agricultural service providers. At the field day results from the organic grain SARE research projects were highlighted.

The Rogers farm Field day in Stillwater, Maine has highlighted the SARE small grain research plots every year of the trials. Each year, nearly 85 farm advisors, NRCS and Extension employees along with producers toured the research plots. This field day also featured demonstrations of other organic grains such as soybeans, sunflowers and corn.

In 2009, Maine held two summer workshops. One was focused on alternative weed control options (Spacing, plant density and inter-row hoeing). Oats and Sunflowers were the focus of the second field day. Each workshop had 20-25 participants.
In Vermont in 2009, the following field days were held.

March 19, 2009 “Growing Grains in the Northeast” The Northern Grain Growers Association’s Annual Conference, Vermont Technical College, Randolph 120 attendees

July 6, 2009 Grain Production on Organic Dairies, Peter Miller, Vernon 40 attendees

July 10, 2009 Growing Food-Grade Wheat, Gleason Grains, Bridport. 35 attendees

July 23, 2009 On-farm Grain Production, Beidler Family Farm, Randolph Center. 37 attendees

August 6, 2009 Grains from the Ground Up 2009 Crops and Soils Field Day, Borderview Farm, Alburgh 200 attendees

September 23, 2009 Growing Grain on an Organic Dairy, Elysian Fields Farm 43 attendees
Organic research projects were highlighted at the annual UVM Crops and Soils Field Day held on August 7th., 2008. There were 96 attendees including farmers and agricultural service providers. At the field day results from the organic grain SARE research projects were highlighted.

Milestone 6) Production, harvest and feeding fact sheets will be published after the second year of trials. Newsletters (NODPA, MOMP, NOFA-VT, and Organic Seed Initiative) will be containing articles about research results and farmer trials.

Work continues on published material development. Drafts of several fact sheets are currently being edited. Several fact sheets have been posted on the Northern Grain Growers Website http://northerngraingrowers.org/ . Other research has been posted on the eOrgainc website. Additionally, several abstracts have been published related to research from this project. Data was presented at the 2008 American Society of Agronomy in Houston Texas, Paper #43711 “Effect of Planting Date on Yield of Organic Fall Grains in New England” Tim Griffin, USDA-ARS, New England Plant, Soil & Water Laboratory, Orono, ME 04469-5753, Richard Kersbergen, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, 992 Waterville Road, Belfast, ME 04915, Heather Darby, University of Vermont, University of Vermont Extension, 278 S. Main St., St. Albans, VT 05478 and Sidney C. Bosworth, University of Vermont Department of Plant and Soil Science, Burlington, VT 05405. Researchers Darby, Kersbergen, Cummings and Hills along with farmer/researcher Jack Lazor presented 3 papers at the Canadian Organic Cereals Research Symposium in Banff Alberta in March of 2009.
Milestone 7) Organic grain production seminars will be held each winter (2006-7 and 2007-2008)
An Organic Grain Workshop was held in Bridport, Vermont. There were 65 farms and 10 agricultural service providers in attendance. Attendees were present from Quebec, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and Vermont. The workshop was held to teach farmers best management techniques and new innovative practices that will increase yields and quality of crops and decrease costs. Topics for the day included small grain diseases, wheat variety selection and breeding, feeding homegrown grains, innovative tillage and weed control methods, and successful crop rotations. Speakers were invited from Cornell University, Washington State, University of Maine, and several local farmers. An organic grain workshop titled “Innovation and Diversity in Grains” was held in Les Cedres, Quebec in early September. This was a day long field trip to an innovative organic grain farm in Canada. The Dewavrin Family presented to the Vermont and Maine grain producers in March. All of the farmers were interested in visiting this 1500 acre organic grain farm in Canada. Farmers and consultants were able to learn from this grower’s vast experience. Soil, tillage, and crop rotations that minimize risk in organic production were discussed. The Dewavrin family has also developed several pieces of specialty weed control equipment. There were 36 farmers from Vermont in attendance. The 2008 NODPA annual meeting in Ct. featured a grain panel with processors growers and researchers, including researchers involved in the project. Approximately 50 growers were in attendance for the panel discussion.

The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners and University of Maine Extension hosted the annual “Spring Growth” conference in March of 2009 focused on grain production. Speakers included Mary Howell Martens and Klaas Martens. A panel of Maine grain producers was also featured discussing their research and trials. Over 140 people attended the workshop.

Participation Summary

Education

Educational approach:

We anticipate a number of additional fact sheets will be developed with this data and on-farm research and will be posted on the Northern Grain Growers Association website as well as published through the University of Maine and Vermont publications offices. We will also hope to facilitate farmer postings on the website.

Much of the outreach from this project has come from peer learning and farmer interactions. When evaluating programs supported by this project, the “farmer panels” were always the most popular portions and probably had the highest impact on those in attendance. NODPA and MOMP newsletters (hard copy and on-line) have been very effective tools in getting written information to producers.
Field days were effective for those who attended, but often conflicted with farm operations and limited attendance on occasion.

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Impacts of Results/Outcomes

• While the number of organic dairy farmers that are growing food or feed grains remains low, a larger percentage of producers are growing some grains as forages. In Maine, about 15% of the organic dairy farmers have grown grain for concentrate, while a greater percentage (43%) in the region (Maine and Vermont) indicate that they are growing grains for either feed concentrate or forages.

• The increase in organic grain programming has brought many of the farmers together on a yearly basis. This has allowed for increased networking among this core group of farmers. As a result, the grain growers have formed the “Northern Grain Grower’s Association”. The group’s mission is to encourage and support the production, processing, and marketing of grains in Vermont and the surrounding areas. The group plans to meet their mission by:

a) Providing education and outreach to beginning and established farmers;
b) Providing networking opportunities to farmers through newsletters and websites;
c) Developing applied on-farm research projects that answer questions of the grain growing community;
d) Providing a mechanism for seed exchange and improvement among farms;
e) Developing plans for increased grain processing infrastructure in Vermont.

• This project held a meeting in February of 2009 to discuss results and future directions. As one of the outcomes, many of the researchers and farmers decided to apply for additional funds from the NIF OREI program to enhance grower’s ability to grow organic bread wheat in Maine and Vermont. This project was funded for $1.3 million and has started with farmer and research farm trials in the fall of 2009.

• After the conference in Bridport, Vermont, producers were surveyed.. There were 65 farms and 10 agricultural service providers in attendance. Attendees were present from Quebec, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and Vermont. As a result of the workshop 65% of the attendees responded that they would implement a new practice on their farm. 100% indicated that the change would be implemented within 6 months of the workshop. Of the attendees, 20% had attended one or more organic grain workshops hosted through this SARE project. Below is a list of changes that these farmers have implemented as a result of outreach from this project:

30% improved economics
50% improved soil health
50% improved weed control
40% improved yields
30% improved variety selection
100% improved networking with other farmers
100% improved awareness of available resources
25% increased number of acres in grain crops

• The SARE Professional Development Program (PDP) in Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire has combined their training programs to make organic grain production one of their priorities. They have organized a team of educators, specialists and producers who have committed to a three year training program to help better serve the growing interest in grain production.

Research results

• Spring grains: Three factors affected grain yields, which ranged from zero to nearly 100 bu/acre. The first is planting date. Aside from the weather effects, most grains just don’t like late planting because their tillering is tied to daylength. Barley is particularly sensitive to planting in June, and seeding rates must be increased to overcome the lack of tillering. Weed management was the second important factor. If cultivation either was not part of the management plan or could not be done because of wet soils, yields were reduced. Our research plots at Orono and Newport showed that there was a direct relationship between early season weed growth and yield. Nutrient management, especially for nitrogen, was also a challenge. Although small grains don’t need as much N as corn, they need 60-80 lb/acre, which is most often met with manure application. A portion of applied N was lost during the wet period in early summer. In general, oat was the most forgiving small grain, yielding well across a range of conditions, while stand failures were common for barley. Other grains, including wheat, triticale, and spelt, varied by location.

• Small Grain Forages: There are two opportunities to harvest small grains as forage; the boot stage and the soft dough stage. Forage quality is high at the boot stage (we found that ADF concentrations in the 25-30% range were common), but dry matter yields of 0.5 to 1.5 tons DM/acre were common, and DM concentration was as low as 15%. These forages would be harvested in late May to early June, depending on planting date. Leaving the grains until soft dough resulted in lower quality (30-40% ADF), but yields of 2 to 4 tons DM/acre. The harvest stage will depend on the specific forage needs on the farm.

• A fertility trial at the UVM Horticultural Research Farm was conducted in 2007. Soils at the Hort Farm are a loamy sand, and the test plots were irrigated as needed. Winter wheat was seeded on September 19, 2007 at a rate of 2 bushels/acre in 4’ by 25’ plots. The wheat was harvested on July 29, 2008 with a small plot combine. Three hard red winter wheat varieties (Harvard, Maxine, and Zorro) were compared within nine fertility treatments (see below). The three cover crop treatments were planted in mid June and plowed down in late August. Fertility treatments included:

1) Cover Crop of Soybeans, contributed 5,596# d.m./acre
2) Cover Crop of 25% Oats/ 60% Peas/ 15% Vetch, contributed 3,566# d.m./acre
3) Cover Crop of 60% Rye/ 40% Red Clover, contributed 2,502# d.m./acre
4) Finished dairy manure compost (tilled in just prior to seeding, at a rate to provide 50 lbs. of nitrogen/acre)
5) Fresh cow manure (same management and N rate as Treatment 4)
6) Chicken manure compost (same management and N rate as Treatment 4)
7) Chilean Nitrate – (50 lbs of N per acre, split application – half in the fall at seeding and half in the spring at pre-anthesis)
8) Chilean Nitrate – (50 lbs of N per acre, split application – half in the fall at seeding and half in the spring at post-anthesis)
Although it rained often that summer, the wheat did not lodge. Harvard’s average yield was 1,534 lbs/acre, significantly higher than both Maxine—1,327 lbs/acre—and Zorro—1,264 lbs/acre. Wheat grown with the soybean cover crop and cow manure amendments was the highest yielding—both treatments yielded over 2,000 lbs/acre. Also high yielding was the wheat grown with chicken manure (1,926 lbs/acre) and the cover crop of Oats, Peas, and Vetch (1,875 lbs/acre).
We have also conducted multiple experiments comparing fall small grain species planted in mid-September and mid-October. Both grain and forage yield consistently declines with later planting, and grain yield losses can be 100% (wheat and triticale). An additional experiment on fall versus spring manure application on winter triticale has shown that pre-plant manure applications in the fall have little retention of nitrogen to promote re-growth the following spring. Manure (liquid) was applied broadcast or in bands and compared to a control and a N-P-K fertilizer treatment. Researchers found significant increase in forage and grain yields with manure applications in the spring as compared to manure applied in the fall prior to planting.

Researchers in Maine studied various weed control strategies in spring grains. Standard organic practice (`7 inch row spacing) had significantly higher weed density and weed biomass at harvest than the other management systems. Wide rows with cultivation (inter-row hoeing) had the lowest weed density, but there were no significant differences in weed biomass between this system and three methods of increasing crop competitive ability. This implies that any of these four strategies could be a viable option for weed management in organic spring wheat. There were no significant yield differences between any of the treatments, averaging 2.5 t ha -1 across treatments, but this lack of effect is likely due to relatively low levels of weed biomass in the plots, on average 12% of total area biomass.

• When studying the impact of perennial weeds on grain production, we found that the standard organic practice, and wide rows without inter-row cultivation saw an increase in both rhizome biomass and number of nodes, while these response variables decreased in plots that were cultivated. No difference between 1, 2, and 3 cultivations was detected. Lowest weed biomass and highest yield was obtained with a single inter-row cultivation.

• Yield and weed biomass data from 2007 and 2008 indicated that increased wide rows (23 cm) with inter-row cultivation or increased seeding rate (500 plants m-2) in combination with narrow row spacing (11 cm) suppressed weed growth better than current standard organic practice (17 cm row spacing, 200 plants m-2), resulting in significant yield gains. Using large-scale plots, we again tested the effects of wide rows with inter-row hoeing (250 plants m-2, 23 and 34 cm) and increased seeding rate (500 plants m-2) at two row spacings (11 and 17 cm) on weed control and yield. The 17- and 34-cm row spacings are representative of regional farmers’ capabilities with standard planting equipment. Wide-row treatments with cultivation had significantly lower mustard densities than the treatments relying on increased seeding rate for weed suppression. There was no difference in control between the 23 and 34 cm row spacings. Mustard biomass was equivalent between the four systems, implying that the increased seeding rates had a greater competitive effect on mustard, resulting in smaller individual mustard plants. There were no significant differences in yield between systems, despite the differences in barley seeding rate. Although growing season conditions were not ideal, due to above-normal levels of precipitation in June and July, average barley yield was 3.5 t ha-1. These results indicate that farmers can use their current planting equipment in combination with increased seeding rate or inter-row cultivation in order to better manage weeds in spring barley.

• The impact of seeding rate on grain yield was evaluated in the spring of 2008 in Vermont. The seeding rates of 90, 125, 150, and 175 lbs/acre of wheat were evaluated in a randomized complete block design. Increasing the seeding rate to 125 lbs per acre significantly increased grain yield over the 90 lbs per acre rate, however their were no significant differences when seeding rates of 150 and 175 were sown.

• A study conducted at the Newport Maine on nitrogen management in winter grains (triticale) site investigated the impact of fall manure applications compared to spring applications that were broadcasted or banded. A nitrogen fertilizer treatment was also included in the study. Results indicated that most manure Nitrogen applied in the fall was lost during the winter. Spring applications of manure (banded or broadcast) significantly improved biomass and grain yields.

Farmer testimonials

• After having grown grain in VT for almost 30 yrs. It is great to have the information Heather and her team have provided. Until Heather started working with UVM, extension provided me with almost no information to help me learn to farm organic grains. It was a matter of learning by trial and error. The farm towns have been educational, no matter how long you work in a field you can always learn from others. Bringing experts on soil health, diseases and plant breeding makes us all better farmers. Variety trials will help us learn which grains do the best here in the north east. Networking with other farmers is also valuable. I have had many farmers visit my farm and talk to me and learn from my experiences. I cannot over emphasize how valuable the grain programs are to us as farmers.

• As a long time grower I have many people ask about grain growing. Some try it and find it is not for them while others continue to grow grain over the years. The work shops are important to bring diversity and plus bring growers to gather so that they can meet and net work with each other exchanging ideas and technology as there is little local knowledge of grains growing. The trips through out the region are important in that farmers learn the best by talking to and seeing what other farmers do. I have a small grinder-mixer to grind and mix feed that grinds my own and custom grains over the years. Many farmers are interested to try this out as the food market continues to grow as the demand for local grain increases. Any grain that I can grow I can sell.

• I was one of the farmers participating in the grain growing grant and have tried growing numerous different species and varieties over the past several years and have also been included in seminars, presentations, and talks that were a part of the project. Although the compensation nowhere begins to cover the expense incurred to me, it has demonstrated to me how much I don’t know and also how much the so called “experts” don’t know. That, in itself is priceless. Agriculture, being so goddamn weather-dependent, can make the most knowledgeable of us look like damn fools at any time. Probably, the brightest thing a person could do, if he or she didn’t want to take any chances, would be to let someone else grow the stuff. Now, wouldn’t that be boring.

Economic Analysis

Several budgets have been developed to help producers decide if organic grain production will fit into their operations. Several factors have been identified as barriers for grain production, including, the high capital cost of equipment, including, harvesting combines, cleaning, drying, storage and processing grains. Obviously, the interest in food gains has developed to obtain a premium price differential over feed grain prices. As observed in the post project survey, many producers feel they don’t have the time to initiate another enterprise on their farm. Producers also expressed that land access and nutrient sources would limit their involvement in grain production.

Farmer Adoption

The grain growing network throughout the Northeast has been strengthened by this project. Communication and collaborative research partnerships have been strengthened as witnessed by most recent grant successes and the development of the Northern Grain Growers Association.

A survey conducted at the end of the project revealed that 42% of responses (61 returned surveys from the 270 organic dairy farms in Maine and Vermont) indicate that they are now growing some sort of grain crop for either forage or grain harvest. The farms that returned surveys represented about 1900 acres of grain production. Nearly 68% of the responders indicated they attended a grain workshop hosted by UMaine or UVM. When asked “what was the most valuable information used at the workshops?” networking, improved weed control and increased yields were the primary responses. Only 42% of the farms growing grain felt that adding a grain enterprise improved the economics on their farm, and only 25 % thought that local grain production has helped reduce the cost of purchased concentrates. Grain crops grown included organic wheat, soy, corn, peas, oats, rye, black beans, malting barley, sunflowers, buckwheat, spelt and triticale. Sixty Percent of the producers who were not growing grains felt that they were too busy with other farming tasks to consider growing grain crops. Forty percent said they needed to find additional acreage and 36% indicated that start-up costs for grain production were too high.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Areas needing additional study

Producers and researchers need to continue to evaluate methods that would reduce the cost of producing local grains for livestock. Obviously, selling to the higher value food grain market would be most economical and profitable and has drawn a lot of attention by grain growers. The profitability of organic dairy farms is dependent on reducing the cost of purchased inputs—primarily grain. Grain production capital investment, access to land and nutrients, and time are the limiting factors in dairy farms in the Northeast becoming more self sufficient in grain production and utilization.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.