In a changing climate, northeast farmers are experiencing milder/wetter winters and hotter/dryer summers, significantly impacting pasture productivity. Wet soils in spring may delay planting of long season annuals like corn while changes in summer conditions may intensify the summer slump of pastures. Grazing in New England is also limited in late fall. To avoid over-grazing, livestock producers heavily rely on labor-intensive and more expensive stored hay and/or purchased feed. These approaches can strain farm finances since livestock producers and dairy farmers operate on thin profit margins. Not surprisingly, we have found that producers throughout the region are highly interested in expanding the grazing season and other risk mitigating strategies.
This project will investigate several novel extended grazing systems to increase forage inventory, farm profits, and climate adaptability. These strategies will provide research and education to help livestock farmers confidently increase yield, produce high-quality forage, and replace stored feeds.
Our hypothesis is that the grazing season in New England can be extended/enhanced to increase forage inventory, reduced feed cost, and improved resilience to climate change conditions. This comprehensive project will build on our preliminary research to evaluate and assess practices that extend and enhance the grazing season and improve forage yield and quality. We will work to develop and fine-tune the following management practices:
1) Stockpiling: Investigating species composition and fertility management to provide high yielding/quality forage for late fall grazing.
2) No-till seedings into pastures: determine seeding rate, and nitrogen rates for supplementing existing pastures with winter rye or triticale to improve yield and quality of grazing in late fall and following spring.
3) Cool-season annuals – determine best combinations of brassicas, grasses, and other forbs to extend grazing into the fall while minimizing the impact of secondary compounds on livestock health.
4) Warm-season annuals – identify best combinations that maximize yield and nutrient efficiency during the summer slump.
This project will implement a variety of educational methods to deliver comprehensive, practical information -to Northeast dairy and livestock operators. We will conduct replicated experiments at university research stations in MA, VT, and ME and work with regional farmers to install on-farm demonstrations. The results will be shared at annual meetings and field days. New adopters will be able to ask questions to collaborating farmers and researchers in person and remotely. Field days will be held at university research farms to display and transfer research results to the agricultural community. On-farm trials will compliment research trials and will integrate any farmer-specific treatments that arise. Lastly, development of online educational articles and videos will assist with distribution to the broader agricultural community.
We will verify the performance target by surveying farmers about grazing practices at in-person meetings and over our list serves.
Forty dairy and livestock producers in New England will implement a new practice or strategy to extend the grazing season, resulting in dry matter forage yield increases of one ton per acre and improvements in relative feed value (RFV) compared to stored dry hay on at least 2000 acres.
In 2020, we began research activities on Stockpile, Small Grains into Pasture, and Fall Brassica experiments. We also produced educational content to inform regional farmers about our research projects, innovative grazing methods, and the importance of extending the grazing season. Despite the coronavirus pandemic we were able to begin establishing relationships with collaborating farmers.
Our hypothesis is that the grazing season in New England can be extended to increase forage inventory and reduce feed costs in changing climate conditions. This comprehensive project will evaluate and assess the following strategies of extending grazing season:
1) Stockpiling and its fertility management to improve forage yield and quality in late fall.
2) No-till winter rye planted into existing pasture for grazing in late fall and following spring.
3) Late fall grazing of brassicas and other cold-hardy forbs planted in late summer.
4) Growing warm-season grasses and forbs to compensate for reduced forage availability during summer slump.
This project will consist of four experiments focusing on crops, which can be grown during either the hot dry summer or cool fall and spring when traditional grazing systems are relatively unproductive. All proposed grazing strategies will be evaluated independently for management flexibility and per-acre income in order to allow farmers to choose the strategy or strategies that fit their farm. The effect of these strategies on general soil health and nutrient cycling will also be measured.
Current Preliminary Research
In response to interest from regional livestock producers two preliminary research on stockpile and brassicas species were conducted in 2018 and repeated in 2019 in MA. Several studies on forage brassicas and summer forage annuals from 2017-2019 also have been conducted in VT. In MA stockpile trial, tall fescue and orchardgrass plots were mixed with no legume, alfalfa, and red clover. In second year (2019), some grass-only plots were fertilized with urea in either early or late August. Biomass production will be determined in late fall/early winter 2019 to observe changes in treatment performance during pasture establishment and in preparation for future season stockpile analysis in terms of forage quality and yield.
In MA, a wide spectrum of fall brassicas and other forbs were planted in Mid-September 2019 to test for initial suitability as fall grazing forages. This preliminary trial is mainly focused on assessing weed suppression, recommended seeding rates, growth habit, cold tolerance, and yield. This initial experiment will allow us to fine-tune the species and variety selection for trials in the fall of 2020 and 2021.
2020 overview: The COVID-19 pandemic caused many delays in our research plan. Research activities in all three states (MA, ME, VT) were significantly disrupted by research station closures and social distancing. The summer annual experiment was delayed until 2021 at all locations and the small grains into pastures experiment was postponed in Maine and Vermont.
Despite logistical complexities, much of our research was completed as planned. Stockpile experiment pastures were established in Vermont and Massachusetts, small grains were planted into pastures in Massachusetts, and the fall brassica experiment was planted in Vermont and Massachusetts. Unfortunately, dry weather in Massachusetts hampered brassica emergence and the Massachusetts location harvest was not used in 2020. The brassica experiment in Vermont was harvested as planned.
Experimental Concepts and Design
1) Established pastures comprised of tall fescue and orchardgrass as monocrops and mixed, will be evaluated for yield and quality. To improve the quality of stockpile grasses and possibly reduce nitrogen application, we will integrate red clover and alfalfa along with no supplemental nitrogen, or application of nitrogen in either early August or late August. No nitrogen plots will be used as control. We will simulate grazing by harvesting forages in late October. Forage yield and quality indices will be measured. The plots will be arranged in a randomized complete block design (RCBD) with 13 treatments and four replications. Plots will be 10′ x 25′. (MA, VT)
Stockpile Experiment 2020
Pasture plots as described about were planted in Massachusetts and Vermont.
In Vermont, on 29-Apr plots were planted with perennial forage species mixtures in a complete randomized block design with five replicates. Plots were 5’ x 20’ and consisted of tall fescue and orchardgrass planted alone and mixed with alfalfa and red clover. During the growing season, the plots were mowed to control weeds and support establishment of the desired species, however, no data were collected during this establishment phase. In the fall of 2021, additional N fertility treatments will be imposed on the plots. Data including yield and quality will be collected in 2021. The varieties used were KF Enhancer II alfalfa, Kora fescue, Juliet red clover, and Echelon orchardgrass.
In Massachusetts, on 10/29/20 plots were planted with perennial forage species mixtures in a complete randomized block design with four replicates. Plots were 6′ x 25′ and consisted of tall fescue and orchardgrass planted alone and mixed with alfalfa and red clover. Data collection will begin in 2021. Planting was done with a Brillion cone seeder. Layout and seeding rates are attached. The varieties used were Foregrazer alfalfa, Barolex fescue, Marathon red clover, and Echelon orchardgrass.
2) Winter rye will be no-till drilled into established pastures in August. The winter rye will be harvested in late October and early spring and evaluated for yield and quality. Management treatments will include seeding date, fertility management, and harvest date. The experiment will be set up as a RCBD with four replications of 20 treatments. Plots will be 6′ x 15′. Annual winter rye will be planted at four times (no rye (control), Early August, Late August, and Early September) at the rate of 120 lbs/ac, combined with three nitrogen fertilizer rates (0, 50, and 100 lbs N/acre). Each plot will be split into two harvesting times, one in late October/early November and the other in spring (April). In ME and VT, collaborating farmers will establish at least one to two treatments of their choice and they will evaluate production. In MA and VT, small plot trials with all treatments will be established at research farms. (MA, ME, VT)
Small grains into pastures 2020
In Massachusetts, on 9/25/20 plots were planted with 50/50 mix of Aroostook rye and Fridge triticale at 0, 60, 120 pounds per acre into established pastures. On 9/27, half of the plots received 40 pounds per acre nitrogen in the form of bloodmeal while the others received no nitrogen. 6′ x 25′ plots were arranged in a randomized complete block design with four replications. Planting was done with a Great Plains no-till seeder. Harvest for yield and forage quality will be collected in the spring of 2021. Layout is attached.
This experiment was postponed until 2021 in Maine and Vermont due to coronavirus logistical difficulties and dry weather.
3) Fall brassicas and other cool-season forbs such as chard, forage beets will be planted as monoculture and mixed with grasses in August for late fall harvest. They will be evaluated for yield and quality. Particular attention will be payed to glucosinulate content in brassica forages and their usefulness in lactating animals as well as management concerns such as weed growth and frost tolerance. The plots will be arranged as a randomized complete block design with four replications. Plots are 4′ x 10′ and forage species will be planted on late August. Brassicas and the mixed forage will be harvested and evaluated for their yield, quality and glucosinulate assessment in late October or early November, depending on weather conditions (MA, VT).
Fall Brassicas 2020
In Vermont, on 20-Aug plots were planted with six forage brassica varieties planted alone and in combination with an oat/pea mixture at three additional rates. Plots were harvested on 15-Oct with a Carter plot forage harvester equipped with scales. Yields were recorded and an approximate 1 lb. subsample collected and dried for dry matter content determination. The dried samples will be ground to 1mm particle size and analyzed for forage quality using NIR procedures at the UVM Cereal Grain Testing Laboratory (Burlington, Vermont). In addition, root and shoot biomass from three plants in each of the six brassica-only treatment plots in three of the replicates were collected, dried, and sent to UMass for nutrient and glucosinolate content analyses. This experiment will be repeated at this location in 2021. The varieties used were Everleaf oats, 4010 peas, and Appin, Barkant, Barsica, T-Raptor, Pacific Gold, and Ground Hog brassicas. Layout is attached.
In Massachusetts, fall brassica experiment was planted on 8/21/20 but brassica emergence was so poor that the experiment was not harvested. This was likely due to very dry weather. The experiment will be redone in 2021. Layout and seeding rates are attached.
4) Mixed summer annuals, including grasses, legumes, and forbs will be grown to compensate the summer slump. The forage crops will be grown as mixes of differing levels of diversity from monocrop to many species mixtures. Forage composition will be tracked at first and second harvest to assess the rate of growth and species’ response to grazing and other management practices. Harvested forage will be evaluated for yield and quality. The experiment will be laid out as RCBD with plots 4′ x 20 ‘ (MA, VT, ME).
Summer Annuals 2020
This experiment was postponed in all locations until 2021 due to research station closures from COVID-19 pandemic.
Harvested forage in all four experiments will be evaluated for NDF (Neutral Detergent Fiber), ADF (Acid Detergent Fiber), crude protein, mineral nutrients, energy content, and RFV (Relative Feed Value) at PI lab in MA and/or an independent laboratory. High-pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC) will be used to measure glucosinolates in brassica forages.
Forage Analysis 2020
Lab work has not been completed on any samples.
In person field days and meeting were not possible in 2020 due to COVID-19. Instead over 2020, a series of 6 monthly webinars was produced by all three states to educate regional farmers about a variety of techniques for extending the grazing season. This series covered all of our research topics as well as several other grazing extension strategies. The webinars were delivered live and are now hosted on YouTube as well as university websites. 315 people attended the webinars live and 250 views on YouTube. Vermont held a virtual field day on 7-Aug in which research results and information related to perennial and annual forage production were shared with 40 attendees. A presentation of research results was recorded and posted to YouTube. Since the live event the recording has been accessed 75 times. Additionally, Massachusetts communicated with our 1,070 Crop Dairy Livestock and Equine newsletter subscribers about grazing extension and the research project.
320 livestock producers across six New England states learn about grazing extension strategies at spring meetings and receive a survey to determine current practices and constraints.
Spring field days were not possible due to the COVID-19 pandemic and instead the three participating states jointly produced a series of six, monthly webinars on extending the grazing season. These webinars were viewed by 565 people in 2020 and continue to be available online. The survey that we had planned to distribute at spring meetings in 2020 was delayed and will be distributed in the spring of 2021 either at spring meetings, if these are possibly or through our state email lists.
250 farmers return the survey; 200 farmers provide contact information for further involvement in the project. 6 farmers, two in each state, plant at least one on-farm demonstration in collaboration with the project team.
Our planned survey was delayed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
180 farmers attend at least one field day that explains the project performance target, the known benefits of extended grazing, ongoing research in strategies for extending grazing into the summer slump, and on-farm trials.
Our planned field days in 2020 were cancelled due to the pandemic. Vermont held a virtual field day on August seventh which included information about this research and has been viewed 115 times. Other field days were rescheduled for 2021 to coincide with the delayed research activities. If in-person field days are not possible in 2021, these will also be virtual field days.
200 farmers attend a spring workshop or field day in each of three states and learn about post-frost and early spring grazing extension, species selection, forage quality, and management timing. Preliminary results from research trials will be delivered to farmers and collaborators.
6 farmers, two in each state, plant at least one on-farm demonstration in collaboration with project team.
50 farmers consult about grazing extension including information on species selection, fertility management, management schedule, and type of livestock with project team by phone and email.
Extension articles and videos will be produced and distributed online and at the field days and training workshops.
40 farmers will document acres used for grazing season extension, forage yield, and stocking rate by completing and submitting verification information to project staff.
2500 livestock producers in six states of New England and upstate New York learn about grazing extension strategies through direct mailings.
The extension article for UMass CDLE extension was mailed to 1070 subscribers.
Performance Target Outcomes
Forty dairy and livestock operations in New England will implement one or more proposed strategies to extending grazing season on at least 2000 acres. This will increase and diversify forage inventory during summer slump, late fall/early winter, and early spring on their farms.
These strategies will allow farmers to grow an additional $500,000 of forages annually (2,000 acres x $250/acre) while enhancing environmental sustainability and resiliency. Assessed through survey.