Brassicas and small grains: Sustainable feed for Northeast dairy farms

Project Overview

FNE14-810
Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2014: $11,078.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:
John O'Meara
O'Meara Family Farm

Commodities

  • Agronomic: oats, wheat
  • Vegetables: turnips

Practices

  • Animal Production: feed/forage
  • Crop Production: crop rotation, double cropping, intercropping, multiple cropping
  • Pest Management: competition
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture

    Proposal summary:

         The cost of inputs, including grains, continues to be a major problem for dairy farms in the northeast.  Although demand for organic dairy products continue to expand, economic sustainability can be hard to achieve.  Organic grain can be hard to access and can be prohibitively expensive for producers.  In the future, many successful dairy farms will be attempting to grow more or all of their dairy feed on-farm.  This project aims to test the sowing of brassicas into small grains to potentially add an economically and environmentally sustainable crop for dairy farmers in the northeast.
         Producing high quality feed offers economical sustainability; it is also environmentally sustainable.  By reducing or eliminating the distance a feed has to travel before it is fed, oil and other resources are conserved.  This project would also develop a rotation that would rely less on tillage than other rotations.  The goal is to produce as much high-quality feed using as little money and resources as possible, while impacting the soil as little as possible.
         We propose to test two types of brassicas—sown into crops of small grains.  Although brassicas such as canola (rape) have been grown in this manner in decades past, it is currently an uncommon practice.  The combination of brassicas and small grain will aim to reduce tillage and weed pressure while growing high quality livestock feed in an efficient manner.  There is also potential for both the brassicas and small grains to be used as a cash crop.

    Project objectives from proposal:

         The first step will be to establish the soil quality in the fields used for this project.  Although brassicas and small grains may fit together well—particularly in a dairy rotation—the limiting factor on our somewhat marginal soils may be available nutrients.  Brassicas, although well-suited to our climate, require a moderate amount of nitrogen and other nutrients to produce a decent crop.  In the spring, we will designate eight acres to be used for this project.  Soil tests will be conducted on the acreage to give an idea of our starting point regarding available fertility. 

         This project will test kale and forage turnips.  Four acres will used to test the two brassica crops in oats; four acres will be used to test the brassicas in spring wheat.  (Both crops are currently in demand throughout the northeast.)  The goal is to produce both a grain crop and a high quality forage with a minimum of expense and tillage.

    Plot 1–  oats sown in May with kale sown at the same time.

    Plot 2–  oats sown in May–  kale sown into the oats after ten days.

    Plot 3– oats sown in May with forage turnips sown at the same time.

    Plot 4– oats sown in May–  forage turnips sown into the oats after ten days.

    Plot 5–  spring wheat sown in May with kale sown at the same time.

    Plot 6—spring wheat sown in May–  kale sown into the spring wheat after ten days.

    Plot 7–  spring wheat sown in May with forage turnips sown at the same time.

    Plot 8–  spring wheat sown in May–  forage turnips sown into the spring wheat after ten days.

    The oats and wheat will be harvested as grain at the appropriate harvest times–  September.  Grain yields will be recorded for each one acre plot.  The grain will be cut relatively high in order to leave a substantial amount of straw/crop residue in the field with the brassicas and in order to not damage the growing brassicas

    The stands of brassicas will be measured for plants per square foot before the grain harvest and one week after the grain harvest.  Approximately 30-45 days after grain harvest, the brassicas will be harvested as livestock feed.

    The brassica/grain residue will be harvested with a flail chopper and fed to our dairy herd.  If problems arise with off-flavored milk, the greenchop brassicas will be fed to younstock, dry cows, and steers.  Any problems with palatability will be noted.  Tons per acre will be recorded.  A standard feed analysis will be conducted for each plot through Dairy One in New York.

    Results:

    1. Yield per acre –tons per acre.  The grain initially harvested in each plot will be measured and recorded.  The brassica harvested later in the year will also be measured by the ton and recorded.
    2. Quality of feed–  a standard forage analysis through Dairy One in New York will be conducted on the brassicas in each plot.  Palatibility  will also be noted when the brassica is fed to the cows.
    3. Weed pressure in each plot will be recorded on a scale of 1-10 and as a sample of weeds per square meter.  This will be measured and recorded just prior to grain harvest and just prior to harvesting the brassica crop.
    4. Density of brassicas in each plot—plants per square meter.  This will also be measured and recorded just prior to grain harvest and just prior to harvesting the brassica crop.

    The results will focus on the quality and amount of the feed produced and the place the feed could hold in a sustainable crop rotation.  Soil tests will establish a base line of fertility for other farmers to compare to.

    For outreach, an article on this project will be written for a publication focusing on agriculture.  John O’Meara is a published freelance writer and has written on various topics related to sustainable agriculture.  In addition, a brochure will be produced on the topic of sowing brassicas into small grains to be distributed to dairy farmers(and other interested farmers) in the northeast.  Our technical adviser, Richard Kersbergen, will assist in production and distribution of outreach materials for this project. 

     

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.