Four dairy farm management teams conducted three years of farm analyses and all teams saw a trend in improved nutrient use efficiency. Tools used for farm nutrient use assessment were Mass Nutrient Balance, Illinois Soil Nitrogen Test (ISNT), Soil Test Phosphorus (STP), Soil Test Potassium (STK), Corn Stalk Nitrate Tests (CSNT), manure analysis and farm maps. Teams met annually to discuss changes that were made on each farm and to review the analysis results and identify action items for the next year. A final evaluation allowed management teams to identify tools they will continue to use beyond the duration of this project for whole farm analysis and improving nutrient use. Useful tools identified were whole farm soil testing, farm maps and farm mass balance trends. Usefulness of whole farm soil testing was found to be linked to the presentation style of the results. Maps and graphs of soil testing results were used to make manure distribution decisions and prioritize manure applications. The soil test information most frequently used were the ISNT, STP and STK. Other nutrients and soil pH were presented in a summary table with interpretations which was found useful as a reference table. Corn stalk nitrates were found useful on the conventional dairy farms but were not found useful for the two organic dairy farms. Farm maps were rated as highly useful tools on all farms. Large, laminated farm maps that combined an aerial photograph of the farm with field boundaries, field ID and acreage were found to be an important tool for communicating nutrient testing and logistics to farm employees and off-farm consultants. In addition a book of maps that consisted of a front page showing the layout of the farm fields with field boundaries and road names followed by pages of close-up field maps showing field boundary, acreage and soil type were found useful for more specific field management and particularly important for communicating with off-farm contract hires such pesticide and side-dress applicators. Farm nutrient mass balance trends were found useful strategic planning tools and while farms were glad that they were conducted and management teams used the information to interpret and understand soil testing data when interviewed, farm teams saw this tool being used less frequently in the future due to the difficulty in collecting the data to perform the analysis. Based on this feedback mass nutrient balance data collection required for the analysis were reduced and changes made to the MNB software for the 2011 season. The experiences from this project and the measured improvements in nutrient use efficiency were published in four articles featuring four different farms. Trainings were held for farm management and consulting professionals that allowed them to get hands-on training in using the different tools used in whole farm analysis. In addition the process that was used to integrate the results of farm analysis tools into farm decision-making will be compiled into a farm analysis practitioner’s handbook to be published by the Nutrient Management Spear Program. The results from this project show that the tools implemented together with farm management meetings involving each farms local extension educator and the crop and nutrition consultants result in improved nutrient use efficiency.
Four small dairy farms will, through the use of AEI-based whole farm analysis, implement management changes that resulted in improved nutrient use efficiency and farm energy use. Four county extension educators will become well-versed in the AEI-based data collection and whole farm analysis process with an additional eleven county educators being trained at bi-annual extension retreats. Seventy-five small farms will use the new AEI’s through the voluntary NMB program. At least 35% (combination of NMB farmer meetings and popular press articles) of the small dairy farms in New York will become aware of the project and the benefits of whole-farm analyses and 15 additional farms will start implementing changes to improve nutrient use efficiency by the end of the project.