- Agronomic: corn, soybeans, wheat
- Animal Products: dairy
- Crop Production: conservation tillage
- Production Systems: agroecosystems, organic agriculture
- Soil Management: organic matter, soil analysis, soil quality/health
The purchase of organic feed grains represents a significant cost for organic dairy farmers in the Northeast and has led to increasing interest in on-farm production of grains. Organic feed grain production, however, often relies on intensive tillage for seed bed preparation and weed control, which can negatively impact soil quality. Intercropping annual feed grains with perennial pasture could reduce the need for intensive tillage, and may lessen the environmental impacts of organic dairy production and the need for purchased off-farm inputs. However, despite the potential benefits of intercropping systems, little is known about the agronomic, environmental, and economic effects of intercropping annual feed grains into established pasture under organic management. In this study we will examine several novel strategies for establishing feed grains into living legume-dominated perennial pasture within an organic dairy forage production system. The experiment will be established twice (in successive years) on four acres at the University of New Hampshire Organic Dairy Research Farm in Lee, NH. The experiment will consist of six cropping system treatments representing a gradient in tillage and intercropping intensity. Soil variables will be measured before, during, and after each growing season and will include soil organic matter; plant-available nitrogen; and soil moisture, temperature, and respiration. We will also measure crop populations, grain and silage yields, and weed abundance. Additionally, we will conduct a cost-benefit analysis of each cropping system, and develop an annual grain production plan.
Project objectives from proposal:
Producing organic feed grains within certified organic pastureland presents unique challenges, which will require the development equally unique solutions. Through the accomplishment of the following strategic objectives, we aim to assess the benefits and limitations of the proposed intercropping systems (see Approach and Methods, below), and seek to mitigate potential obstacles that New England dairy farmers may encounter.
In order to meet our overall objectives we will:
1. Integrate a rotation of annual feed grains into a perennial legume pasture, and determine the optimal tillage system based upon crop yield, weed abundance, soil quality, and capital cost;
2. Assess soil quality in response to the treatments, by using standard soil quality indicators, to determine how intercropping intensity affects soil properties—nitrogen availability, soil carbon, moisture, and organic matter—and microbial activity along the gradient of management intensity;
3. Calculate overall crop yield and weed abundance, and examine how pasture-to-crop ratios affect weed suppression and interspecific competition; and
4. Perform a cost-benefit analysis for each cropping system treatment, and develop a grain production management plan for best practices within organic pasture-based dairy forage systems.