Whole farm nutrient mass balances for outcome-based adaptive management of nutrients on dairy farms

2016 Annual Report for ENE16-143

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2016: $74,998.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2018
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Dr. Quirine Ketterings
Cornell University

Whole farm nutrient mass balances for outcome-based adaptive management of nutrients on dairy farms

Summary

Sustainable solutions for agriculture and environmental management on dairy farms require improved nutrient use efficiencies across the entire farm, both for the animals and the cropland. However, when it comes to whole farm nutrient management,  nutrient cycling can be very complex and management tools available to farmers often focus on one aspect of management only (e.g. milk urea nitrogen to evaluate crude protein ration management;  corn stalk nitrate test to evaluate nitrogen management for com, etc.). In an adaptive approach for whole farm nutrient management, records are kept in such a way that one can assess the nutrient status of the whole farm, pinpoint the areas where improvements  can be made, and then track the progress of those improvements  from year to year. A whole-farm nutrient mass balance (NMB) assessment  can help farmers and farm advisors do this effectively and efficiently.

A NMB is the difference between the amounts of N, P, and K imported onto dairy farms as feed, fertilizer, animals, and bedding, and exported via milk, animals, crops, and manure. We can express a NMB per tillable acre to indicate the potential for recycling nutrients in the land base, an environmental indicator,or per cwt milk, a milk production efficiency indicator. Large positive NMBs per acre suggest high risk of nutrient losses to the environment, while large positive NMBs per cwt reflect low nutrient use efficiencies, and potential economic loss for the farm as well. Negative NMBs (resulting from exports exceeding imports) reflect mining of soil P and K resources, and will eventually reduce crop yields. Annual NMB assessments  give farmers a chance to compare the farm against peers in the same milk production group, and to evaluate the impact of management changes on nutrient use efficiency and production.

Recently, research has led to the identification of the optimum operational zone for nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Farms that manage these nutrients in the optimum operational zone recycle nutrients on their land base and produce milk efficiently. Here we propose to develop curriculum and teach farm advisors (crop consultants, nutritionists, extension) the ins and outs of the NMB assessment. Twenty farm advisors will learn to conduct whole farm nutrient balances (NMBs) for dairy farms. Eight will adopt use of NMB assessments, conduct balances and discuss results with two dairy farmers each. Ten farmers will conduct the NMB a second year and show intent to continue beyond the project.

 

Objectives/Performance Targets

Twenty farm advisors will learn to conduct whole farm nutrient balances (NMBs) for dairy farms. Eight will adopt use of NMB assessments, conduct balances and discuss results with two dairy farmers each. Ten farmers will conduct the NMB a second year and show intent to continue beyond the project.

Accomplishments/Milestones

Milestone 1. The project team will develop Extension materials and curriculum to share with farmers and farm advisors. The materials will cover the process of deriving a whole farm NMB, interpretation of results, and benefits of conducting NMBs for adaptive management over time. (Completion date: December 1, 2016)

This year, we developed two 45 min training sessions, one to explain the concept of the whole farm mass balance, and one to explain how to use the calculator for the assessment. The first training sessions with these powerpoint slides were held with farmers in the Caring Dairies program of Ben and Jerry’s. The training reached about 30 farmers, with many more now participating in the Caring Daries (about 50 farmers in total). Talks were given at the  Northeastern Plant, Pest, and Soils Conference (about 25 people), at the . 2016. Philadelphia, PA. January 3-7, 2016. Abstract and oral presentation. 12 min. 25 people, at the Agronomy, Soil and Crop Science Society of America (about 75 people), at the Northern New York crop meetings (about 70 people), and as part of the Center for Dairy Excellence Seminar Series (about 30 people). These presentations resulting a new grants with nutrient mass balance assessments included by counter parts in Virginia, Pennsylvania and Vermont. In New York itself, we were able to complete 18 whole farm nutrient mass balances this year, working with farmers directly and with farm advisors. In collaboration with Agricultural Consulting Service (ACS), we evaluated integration of mass balance assessment with record keeping, which resulted in ACS incorporating the assessment into their fields and crops record keeping system. This evaluation was published in a journal article: 

  1. Van Almelo, J., Q.M. Ketterings, and S. Cela (2016) Integrating record keeping with whole farm nutrient mass balance: A case study. Journal of Agricultural Science 8: 22-32. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5539/jas.v8n6p22.

An additional extension article and impact statement were generated on this project:

  1. Impacts of Cornell’s Nutrient Mass Balance Diagnostic Tool:
  2. Integrating Record Keeping with Whole Farm Nutrient Mass Balance; A Case Study. http://nmsp.cals.cornell.edu/publications/impactstatements/ACSmassbalance.pdf

In addition, in 2017, there will be a publication on trends in mass balances in New York and the Upper Susquehanna Watershed that was in part funded by NESARE (incorporates many mass balances):

  1. Cela, S., Q.M. Ketterings, M., Soberon, C. Rasmussen, and K.J. Czymmek (2016). Upper Susquehanna watershed and New York State improvements in nitrogen and phosphorus mass balances of dairy farms. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation (in press). 

Milestone 2. Forty interested farm advisors and eighty farmers receive the educational materials electronically through the NMB website (http://nmsp.cals.cornell.edu/NYOnFarmResearchPartnership/MassBalances.html) and listservs. (Completion date: January 31, 2017)

In January, we will update the project website with the new training materials and schedule consultant meetings and initiate collection of mass balances for 2017. Our hope is to engage all our major collaborating consulting firms in the training sessions. The experiences with the first training sessions with Ben and Jerry’s farmers gave us insights into what could be improved so once those improvements are incorporated, additional sessions will be held both electronically and in person in the winter of 2017.

Milestone 3. Twenty dairy farm advisors learn how to conduct whole farm NMB assessments and interpret the results through four on-location group meetings (two meetings/year in different locations) and webinars, which can be used for reference and self-study after workshops. (Completion date: June 31, 2017)

Milestone 4. Eight farm advisors who agree to complete NMBs and discuss the results with two farmers each will receive follow-up farm visits from the project team to support their work. Mass balances will be completed for sixteen farms for two years (2016 and 2017 calendar years). (Completion date: April 30, 2018)

Milestone 5. The eight farm advisors working with two farmers each will identify two areas of possible investigation/improvement on the farms as a result of the NMB assessments and discussions with farmers. (Completion date: April 30, 2018)

Milestone 6. Eight farm advisors and sixteen farmers will respond to project verification surveys and report on their experiences conducting NMBs, farm management practices investigated and/or changed as a result of NMBs, and intention to continue conducting NMBs (as advisors and as farmers). (Completion date: July 30, 2018)

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

We are very happy with the involvement of the Caring Dairies program and collaboration with other states around us (Vermont, Pennsylvania, Virginia) and the collaboration with ACS that allowed us to implement the software into their record keeping system. This will allow us to move forward with working with this consulting firm and others that use the Fields and Crops software. The impact for the latter development was documented in two extension articles:

  1. Impacts of Cornell’s Nutrient Mass Balance Diagnostic Tool:
  2. Integrating Record Keeping with Whole Farm Nutrient Mass Balance; A Case Study. http://nmsp.cals.cornell.edu/publications/impactstatements/ACSmassbalance.pdf

We hope to expand on this with engagement of additional consulting firms in the active collection of data and reporting of nutrient mass balances this year (collecting data for the 2016 growing season). The drought of 2016 will impact balances this and likely also next year (depending on feed shortage) but some year to year variability is expected.

Collaborators:

Steve Crittenden

Postdoctoral Researcher
Cornell University
Nutrient Management Spear Program
324 Morrison Hall, Department of Animal Science, Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853
Website: http:.//nmsp.cals.cornell.edu
Karl Czymmek

Senior Extension Associate
PRODAIRY
327 Morrison Hall
Department of Animal Science, Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853
Jack Van Almelo

Agricultural Consulting Service
730 Warren Road
Ithaca, NY 14850
Eric Beaver

Champlain Valley Agriculture
10 Train Road
Peru, NY 12972
Wendy Walsh

Upper Susquehanna Coalition
183 Corporate Drive
Owego, NY 13827
David DeGolyer

Western New York Crop Management Association
5242 Curtis Road
Warsaw, NY 14569