Greater impact of advisor-farmer interactions through improved tools for whole-farm evaluation
Economic and environmental sustainability of New York dairy farms can be improved if we could make more effective use of existing knowledge and had tools for evaluating farming practices and their impact on farm productivity, environmental footprint, and long-term sustainability. Until recently, we were limited in progress towards more effective whole farm analysis by the lack of standard methods for integrating farm records, identification of meaningful management indicators, and tools for assessments. Recent research resulted in the development of agricultural environmental indicators
(AEIs) derived from existing farm records, which combined with soil testing and stalk nitrate testing (for corn), allowed for effective whole farm evaluation and troubleshooting. The AEIs and farm evaluation tools were pilot-tested on two large dairies and we are implementing and fine-tuning the evaluation process on four small dairies in an on-going NESARE-sponsored project (LNE08-271).
With experience from these two projects and in collaboration with farm advisors currently involved in our statewide mass nutrient balance (MNB) project and NESARE project, this project is developing and delivering a package of field-based tools that allow farm advisors to conduct whole farm analysis quickly and easily. Sixty farm advisors will be trained in the use of the evaluation tools and process and follow-up technical assistance will be provided. We will assess the impact of the new evaluation package on farm indicators and the quality of the advisor-farmer interaction. All materials developed during this project will be made available
during trainings and via the web.
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 2011 twenty-nine farm management teams continued to conduct annual whole farm mass nutrient balances and two farms collaborated in the design of easier to track record-keeping tools that allow improved data management and with-in year and year-end data summaries. In addition 32 students in animal and agricultural sciences were trained in whole farm analyses and mass balance assessment in the spring of 2011. A lecturer at Alfred State College used portion of the curriculum that was developed in 2010 for his soil fertility class in fall of 2011. Training modules will be used in 2011-2012 winter at farm manager meetings, professional farm-advisor trainings, university agronomy classes at Cornell and SUNY Cobleskill. Farm nutrient use data (mass nutrient balance, feed and fertilizer imports, corn stalk nitrates, manure and fertilizer application rates, manure nutrient analyses) were collected at the end of the 2011 crop season to monitor farm nutrient use decisions during the time farm management teams are using the tools. Interviews to gauge use of the newly designed tools throughout the industry and impacts to farm nutrient use and public and private farm advising programs are expected to take place after the 2011-2012 winter meetings. Averaged across the 54 farms who have done whole farm mass balance assessments for 4 year or more, the reductions in N, P and K balances range from 30-50 percent (the largest gains were made by farms that had large surpluses in their starting year) illustrating both the interest in reducing the environmental footprint and the economic benefits.
Milestone 1: Sixty dairy farm advisors and 30 farm management students will be trained in whole farm agri-environmental performance evaluation.
In 2011 29 farms management teams continued to conduct whole farm mass nutrient balances and two farms continued to collaborate in the design of improved and easier to track record-keeping tools that allow improved data management and data summaries.
In addition 32 students in animal and agricultural sciences were trained in whole farm analyses and mass balance assessment in the spring of 2011. A lecturer at Alfred State College used portion of the curriculum that was developed in 2010 for his soil fertility class in fall of 2011.
Milestone 2: Fifteen farm advisors will receive hands-on training in the form of on-farm visits and farmer to farmer meetings and will use the evaluation tools to evaluate 45 farms.
In total ten farm advisors to date have been activity engaged in implementation of the tools on farms and evaluation of the results, through farm visits and independent work with others farms, covering more than 45 farms. In the fall of 2011, over 1000 field samples of CSNTs were analyzed by our laboratory alone. In addition, a growing number of farms are conducting soil sampling for ISNT.
Milestone 3: Of the 45 farms evaluated, 30 farmers will continue whole farm evaluations beyond the duration of the project.
Too early to tell. Although, we now have 54 farm who have done whole farm mass balance assessment for 4 year or more (since 2006). In 2011 three extension educators independently developed extension programs based on the education tools and will reach at least 25 farm management teams. Discussions about farm-specific nutrient strategies were aided in each meeting by the use of whole farm mass balance results, charts that displayed farm-wide soil test trends over time for P and K fertility management, and results of nitrogen management analyses for corn (ISNT and CSNT) and comparing the value and cost of different manure handling strategies. The use of farm maps in nutrient management decision-making and implementation were the focus of 2010 crop season discussions with farm teams giving input on the how maps are used, the best presentation format and information that should be included. Quantifying the impacts of these adopted and independent projects will be a focus of the 2012 project year.
Four training modules are being completed: (1) Manure Value, Cost and Time Management, (2) Liming Guidelines for New York State and (3) Nitrogen Management Evaluation for Corn, (4) Whole Farm Nutrient Use. Each training modules consists of eight parts:
1. Tool (Software and Data Collection Sheet)
2. User Manual
3. Tutorial Workbook
5. Background Lecture (1 hour)
6. Tutorial Workbook Teaching Guide; Software Demonstration (1 hour)
7. Tutorial Workbook Teaching Guide; Instructional Examples (1 hour)
8. Tutorial Workbook Teaching Guide; Advanced Exercises (1 hour)
Milestone 4: Of the 30 farms that identified the use of the tools as a positive experience 20 farms will use the evaluation to make improvements; 10 farmers will improve at least one of four agri-environmental performance measures and 10 farmers will improve three of four in two years.
Averaged across the 54 farm who have done whole farm mass balance assessments for 4 year or more, the reductions in N, P and K balances range from 30-50 percent (The largest gains were made by farms that had large surpluses in their starting year) illustrating both the interest in reducing the environmental footprint and the economic benefits.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The reporting formats for the ISNT-CSNT were very well received by farm advisors and are already being integrated into several farm advising programs. Actual impact assessment will become available once we compare the indicators for the next mass balances and evaluation cycle, and survey a larger number of farm advisors and farmers. Interviews to gauge use of the newly designed tools throughout the industry and impacts to farm nutrient use and public and private farm advising programs are expected to take place after the 2011-2012 winter meetings. Averaged across the 54 farm who have done whole farm mass balance assessments for 4 year or more, the reductions in N, P and K balances range from 30-50 percent with the largest gains were made by farms that had large surpluses in their starting year, illustrating both the interest in reducing the environmental footprint and the economic benefits.
Professor and Chair
State Route 7
Cobleskill, NY 12043
Office Phone: 5182555280