Greater impact of advisor-farmer interactions through improved tools for whole-farm evaluation
In 2009, 86 dairy and beef farms completed a whole farm mass balance assessment with newly developed agri-environmental indicators. The assessments were conducted by 11 extension educators, Soil and Water Conservation District staff, agricultural consultants and directly by some of the participating farmers. Farms received a summary report for their individual mass balance and evaluation as well as a report that summarized their farm data in comparison with other farms in the dataset.
Needed improvements to the whole farm mass balance assessment process, the data collection and summary forms, and the final reports were identified through stakeholder meetings with individual farms and/or farm advisors and in small farmer groups. These past months, workshops were held in Cortland County (Central NY), Allegany County (Western NY) and Lewis County (Northern NY), to determine record keeping gaps, and nutrient management needs of the producers. An additional meeting is scheduled for March 2010 that will bring together farm advisors (crop, financial and nutritional) and producers to discuss how whole farm evaluation tools such as the mass balance assessment, and enterprise-specific tools such as corn stalk nitrate testing, soil N testing and herd nutrition indicators can best be implemented on farms. So far these meetings have lead to identification of specific needs for (1) better record keeping tools (on-farm notebooks and software tools) to improve data quality, (2) improved readability/understandability of the reports, and/or (3) follow up meetings.
We expect to develop learning modules (1-2 hour sessions) with background materials, workbooks, and tutorials that will allow farmers and farm advisors implement the concept of adaptive management (measuring current status, making changes, measuring again, evaluation of progress). Such packages are now being developed to address development of a mass balance assessment itself (tutorial and workbooks in review), value of manure assessment (tutorial and work books in final stages of development), corn stalk nitrate test (CSNT) and Illinois Soil Nitrogen Test (ISNT) interpretations, how to measure yield, etc. Additional needs identified include the development of a module on pH management (a factsheet was recently completed: http://nmsp.cals.cornell.edu).
Fifteen farm advisors will adopt the use of the tools over two years. The use of the tools will create positive farmer-advisor communication of complex issues relating to nutrient use efficiency and environmental protection. The resulting advisor-farmer discussions will lead to agri-environmental evaluation of 30 dairy or cash-grain farms of which at least 10 farms will improve one of four farm agri-environmental measures: (1) mass nutrient balance, (2) farm operational density, (3) feed use efficiency, or (4) fertilizer imports, while 10 farms will improve two of the four indicators. In addition, curriculum will be developed to teach the use of whole farm agri-environmental indicators for improved farm management through collaborations with SUNY Alfred and SUNY Cobleskill.
In 2009, 86 dairy and beef farms completed a whole farm mass balance assessment with newly developed agri-environmental indicators. The assessments were conducted by 11 extension educators, Soil and Water Conservation District staff, agricultural consultants and directly by some of the participating farmers.
Eight farm meetings have been held in which farm management and advising teams met to review and discuss whole farm mass balance results, charts that displayed farm-wide soil test trends over time for P and K fertility management, and results of additional tests for corn management (ISNT and CSNT). Meetings are set for later this spring to evaluate the New York State Precision Feed Management Benchmark tool for more specific herd management and its placement in the package of whole farm assessment tools. The reporting formats for farm-wide soil test trends over time for P and K fertility management and the ISNT-CSNT were well received by farm advisors and are already being integrated into some farm advising programs.
Two meetings were held with our colleague at Cobleskill to discuss the format of development of one to two hour modules on various aspects of whole farm nutrient management for their environmental management curriculum. We unfortunately lost our counterpart in Alfred (resigned from his position) but we established new contacts at SUNY Morrisville and there is an interest at Morrisville to participate in the near future. “Leaning modules” consisting of training sessions on mass balance assessment (“how to” and “what does it mean”), nitrogen management, phosphorus management, potassium and pH management, soil sampling, P index etc. are being developed. Students in ANSC4120, our Cornell course in whole farm nutrient management, were exposed to whole farm management through lectures and will continue to learn about whole farm evaluation through a special project that is currently being undertaken. Additional material are being developed, some of which are in final stages of development and/or under review (mass balance calculator, manure value calculator, etc.).
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The reporting formats for farm-wide soil test trends over time for P and K fertility management and the ISNT-CSNT were well received by farm advisors and are already being integrated into some farm advising programs but actual assessment will become available once we compare the indicators for the next mass balances and evaluation cycle.
Professor and Chair
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Cobleskill, NY 12043
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