Expanding grain production and use on organic dairy farms in Maine and Vermont

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2006: $143,626.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:
Richard Kersbergen
University of maine Cooperative Extension

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: barley, corn, oats, rye, spelt, wheat
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: manure management
  • Crop Production: multiple cropping, nutrient cycling
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, feasibility study, risk management
  • Production Systems: general crop production
  • Soil Management: organic matter, nutrient mineralization
  • Sustainable Communities: partnerships

    Proposal abstract:

    Maine has the largest percentage of organic dairy farms in the country, and Vermont has the largest number. Organic milk production has been one of the fastest growing agricultural sectors in the Northeast. For this expansion to continue, and for these farms to remain profitable and ecologically sound, organic dairy producers in the Northeast need to shift their farming systems to a more integrated model that relies less on purchased concentrates transported from the mid-west and Canada, at costs of nearly 300% of conventional grain concentrates, and more on an integrated system of high quality forage production and complementary grain. Momentum for grain production systems in the Northeast has already begun within the organic dairy community, as farmer/grower grant projects, farmer discussion groups, and several projects funded by the USDA Integrated Organic Program. This project will begin by evaluating the barriers to grain production in New England, including an analysis of the current and future supply of feed concentrate to the 160 current organic dairy farms in the region. Data compiled from a recent study on organic dairy profitability conducted by researchers in Maine and Vermont will be used to help evaluate the potential for improved profitability. Farmer collaborators in both states will assess grain production, storage and utilization options. We will also develop basic production data on organic grain systems in the Northeast, which are still lacking, by conducting strip trials on commercial farms and replicated small plot experiments at sites in Maine and Vermont. Working collaboratively with researchers, farmer collaborators will develop profitable grain production strategies that at least 40 producers will choose from and make appropriate investments in their farm business operations.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    Performance targets:

    1) Of the 160 organic dairy farms in Maine, and Vermont, five will become project partners with Extension and ARS researchers to help develop working models of integrated production systems that take advantage of high quality harvested forage, pasture, and complementary on-farm grain production, storage and utilization.

    2) Using data from plot research and research partners, forty of the 160 organic dairy farms in Vermont and Maine will successfully invest in growing, harvesting and utilizing grains on over 1000 acres to improve the sustainability of their farm operations through the development of more integrated, profitable and environmentally sound farming systems.

    Target Verification and Project Outcomes:

    1) Data (production, financial, and environmental) collected from on-farm research and research plots will be summarized and the information disseminated through the MOMP, NODPA, NOFA-VT, and the Organic Seed Initiative membership along with the Northeast conventional dairy community.

    2) Organic dairy certification data from NOFA-VT and MOFGA will document the change in organic grain acreage.

    3) All farmers either growing or using local grains will be contacted through phone interviews in year 3 of the project. Buyers of local grain will be asked how the quality, price and risk have changed as a result of switching to local producers. Growers of organic grain will be asked how grain production has changed their crop rotation, nutrient management, financial return and economic risk.

    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.