Expanding grain production and use on organic dairy farms in Maine and Vermont
Maine and Vermont lead the nation in the percentage of organic dairy farms in their states. 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.
In 2006, the survey was conducted along with replicated trials in 3 locations in Maine and Vermont. A grain production conference with 80 participants was held in Maine in December.
In the fall of 2006, winter grains were planted in replicated plots in Maine (3 sites) and Vermont with two planting dates. Additional trials were conducted with research/farmer partners. In the spring, harvests were done for forage (boot and soft dough) and grain yield along with nutritional attributes at each stage. Wheat, rye, spelt and Triticale were trialed. In the spring of 2007 and 2008, a manure nitrogen trial on winter grains was conducted in Newport Maine along with a spring barley variety trial. Spring and winter grain trials were repeated again in 2007. In 2008, forage and grain yields were taken on winter and spring grains and a final winter grain trial was planted in Maine and Vermont for 2009 harvest. In 2008, a winter barley was added to the trial at the request of producers. Fact sheets are in currently in review for publishing. Research data was presented at the National Agronomy meetings in Houston in 2008.
We now have nine site-years of data comparing spring small grain species (barley, oat, spelt, triticale, and wheat) at these locations. Weed management continues to be a significant challenge for grains grown on finer-textured soils. We have also conducted multiple experiments comparing fall small grain species planted in mid-September and mid-October. Both grain and forage yield consistently declines with later planting, and grain yield losses can be 100% (wheat and triticale). An additional experiment on fall versus spring manure application on winter triticale has shown that pre-plant manure applications in the fall have little retention of nitrogen to promote regrowth the following spring. Significantly, we have also expanded our evaluations to collect both forage yield and quality data for all small grain variety and species comparisons, at early boot stage and at soft dough stage. This has allowed us to rapidly develop a database on these crops, addressing what remains an obstacle for producer adoption.
Field days and seminars were held in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut.
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.
Six farms have been selected and participated in the spring planting of small grains in 2006. Honorariums were paid to these farmers for their work on this project.
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.
1) The project researchers will immediately survey Maine and Vermont organic dairy farmers and grain suppliers to identify specific barriers to on-farm grain production and the issues related to grain supplies. We will also use data generated from an on-going CSREES study, on the cost of producing organic milk, to begin to evaluate the risk potential farmers may have in investing in grain production technology
This survey was completed in the spring of 2006. Sixty eight farms from Maine and Vermont responded to the mailed survey. Of these farms, 54 indicated cost of organic grains as a major issue along with quality and consistency. Other issues identified included service from grain companies, lack of local sources, too much wheat by-products, pathogens and foreign matter and delivery delays.
Of the 68 farms responding, 17 indicated that they are now growing some of their own grains for feed for their organic livestock. Acres reported on soybeans grown in 2006 was 348, 220 in wheat, 40 in Barley, 453 in Triticale (silage and grain), 73 in spelt, 154 in oats. Growers also reported growing some sunflowers and peas for grain. Corn acreage was also reported with 771 acres for silage and grain corn.
Twelve farms indicated they are adding additional organic acreage to their operations to increase or add a grain enterprise. Of those who are not considering a grain enterprise, reasons indicated include acres, knowledge, iron (equipment), infrastructure, soil types, weed control and labor. Of these that are not growing grains, 37 indicated that if they had reliable yield and production information they would consider growing some organic grains on their farm. 78% of the responds were positive about the potential to purchase locally produced grains if they were available from their neighbors. Concerns about local grains included processing, delivery and storage.
2) Project researchers will work with MOFGA, MOMP, NODPA and NOFA-VT dairy technical advisors to identify 10 potential farmer research partners and work to select at least five to work as members of the project. Researchers will work with these partners to select grain rotations that will be used during the project period. Farmer researchers from both states will meet yearly as a group.
Researchers worked to identify 6 farmers to work with- 3 in Maine and 3 in Vermont. Data from these farms was complied with data from replicated plots. These farmers come together spring and winter meetings in Maine and Vermont, and are utilized as panelists and speakers for conferences and seminars. All of the farmers are designing rotation strategies and alternative cropping systems based on their experiences. In Vermont for example, producers focused on tine-weeding techniques in small grains, sunflowers and soybeans. In 2008, these producers will focus on a seeding rate study. In Maine, producers evaluated no-till establishment of small grains and evaluated winter grain establishment in Sorghum-Sudan stubble. Several producers planted a significant acreage to winter wheat for potential sale into the organic milling industry. Additionally, cooperators planted 30 acres of sunflowers for oil and protein concentrate production.
The increase in organic grain programming has brought many of the farmers together on a yearly basis. This has allowed for increased networking among this core group of farmers. As a result, the grain growers have formed the “Northern Grain Grower’s Association”. The group’s mission is to encourage and support the production, processing, and marketing of grains in Vermont and the surrounding areas.
The group plans to meet their mission by:
a) Providing education and outreach to beginning and established farmers;
b) Providing networking opportunities to farmers through newsletters and websites;
c) Developing applied on-farm research projects that answer questions of the grain growing community;
d) Providing a mechanism for seed exchange and improvement among farms;
e) Developing plans for increased grain processing infrastructure in Vermont.
3) Research plots will be established at Newport, ME (USDA-ARS) and at a Farmer Cooperator farm in Highgate, VT. Un-replicated plots of similar grains will be planted on partner farms. This will begin in spring of 2006 and continue for the duration of the project.
Plots were planted in Newport, Me, Stillwater, Me. and Highgate, Vt. in the spring of 2006. Six different small grains (oats, hulless oats, barley, wheat, triticale and spelt) were planted in each location. Plots were harvested for both silage (at boot stage and soft dough stage) and grain harvest. Similar grains were planted on unreplicated plots on farm fields in both states.
Winter grains have been planted on the same locations in replicated and on-farm plots. Wheat, spelt, rye and triticale were planted at two different dates (September 20, 2007 and October 17th, 2007) and on different soil types in Maine and Vermont. This has been repeated in 2008.
Small plot experiments continued in both Maine (two locations; the University of Maine and also the USDA-ARS site at Newport ME) and Vermont to evaluate organic small grain production. We now have nine site-years of data comparing spring small grain species (barley, oat, spelt, triticale, and wheat) at these locations. Weed management continues to be a significant challenge for grains grown on finer-textured soils. We have also conducted multiple experiments comparing fall small grain species planted in mid-September and mid-October. Both grain and forage yield consistently declines with later planting, and grain yield losses can be 100% (wheat and triticale). An additional experiment on fall versus spring manure application on winter triticale has shown that pre-plant manure applications in the fall have little retention of nitrogen to promote regrowth the following spring. Manure (liquid) was applied broadcast or in bands and compared to a control and a N-P-K fertilizer treatment.
Researchers found significant increase in forage and grain yields with manure applications in the spring as compared to manure applied in the fall prior to planting Significantly, we have also expanded our evaluations to collect both forage yield and quality data for all small grain variety and species comparisons, at early boot stage and at soft dough stage. This has allowed us to rapidly develop a database on these crops, addressing what remains an obstacle for producer adoption.
Over the duration of this project it has been evident that spring seeded grains are often prone to severe weed infestation. There has been some data to suggest that seeding rate can reduce weed infestation. The impact of seeding rate on grain yield was evaluated in the spring of 2008. . The seeding rates of 90, 125, 150, and 175 lbs/acre of wheat were evaluated in a randomized complete block design.
Researchers in Maine are also conducting trials investigating the efficacy of various weed control techniques for spring grains, including altering special relationships and wide row planting with row cultivation (hoeing).
4) Agronomic data from replicated plots and research partner farms will be collected for three full seasons, along with associated feeding, production and profitability data.
Vermont farmers and researchers have developed preliminary organic budgets for various crops, including 1) Wheat in rotation with clover hay 2) an organic cropping system with corn 3) Organic soybeans, and a three year rotation with corn, soybeans and barley/peas.
Data from these trials will be sent to NESARE as a hard copy of tables and charts.
5) Both Vermont and Maine researchers will work with participating farmer researchers and commodity groups to organize spring and summer field days every year of the project.
Maine and Vermont held field days on grower farms during the summer of 2006. Maine also hosted the 2006 NESARE PDP meetings and included one of the farms as part of the farm tour. In 2007, Maine held a grain field day in August that included the harvest of winter spelt, wheat, triticale and rye. Vermont held a grain field day in conjunction with an on-farm energy workshop.
An organic grain workshop titled “Growing Organic Wheat for Food and Feed” was held in Westfield, Vermont, on July 27th. The goal of the workshop was to help farmers learn how to grow and process grains. Jack Lazor provided a tour of his grain fields and described production techniques for growing wheat, barley, oats, spelt, and sunflowers. He also provided a tour of the Butterworks grain storage and processing facilities. Dr. Heather Darby and Susan Monahan from UVM discussed research projects in the areas of variety selection, fertility management, and seeding rates. Lastly, there was an opportunity to learn about a new type of conservation tillage implement. The Lemken an excellent tool for organic farmers was demonstrated at the field day. There were 77 farmers, processors, and agricultural service providers present at the field day.
Organic research projects were highlighted at the annual UVM Crops and Soils Field Day held on August 7th., 2008. There were 96 attendees including farmers and agricultural service providers. At the field day results from the organic grain SARE research projects were highlighted.
The Rogers farm Field day in Stillwater, Maine highlighted the SARE small grain research plots. Nearly 85 farm advisors, NRCS and Extension employees along with producers toured the research plots. This field day also featured demonstrations of other organic grains such as soybeans and corn.
6) Production, harvest and feeding fact sheets will be published after the second year of trials. Newsletters (NODPA, MOMP, NOFA-VT, and Organic Seed Initiative) will be containing articles about research results and farmer trials.
Researchers Griffin, Darby and Kersbergen will have preliminary fact sheets ready for distribution in the spring of 2009.
Griffin wrote an article for the NODPA newsletter of March 2007 “Learning about organic grains in 2006” http://www.nodpa.com/feb2007.pdf
Kersbergen published the results of some of the grain trials in the NODPA newsletter for August of 2007 http://www.nodpa.com/newsletter.html Both Darby and Kersbergen were panelists on a grain round table discussion at the NOPDA summer meeting in CT. [About 50 farmers and 20 industry representatives.]
Other outreach efforts include:
Small Grains for Forage. Invited presentation at NH Corn and Forage Meetings, Westmoreland NH. 11/15/07. [About 50 farmers from NH and VT attended.]
Crop Production Systems for Organic Dairy. Invited presentation at NH Corn and Forage Meetings, Westmoreland NH. 11/15/07. [About 50 farmers from NH and VT attended.]
Building a Research Database for Organic Dairy in New England. Invited symposium presentation at 2007 International Meeting of American Society of Agronomy, New Orleans LA. 11/4/07. [80-100 scientists and educators present. Symposium title: Building Sustainable Ecosystems Through Organic Agricultural Research and Education.]
Overview of Organic Grain Experiments. Rogers Farm Sustainable Agriculture Field Day, Orono ME. 07/07.
Experiments with Organic Grains. Invited presentation at New England Certified Crop Advisor Training, Newcastle NH. 02/07. [60-70 ag advisors.]
Organic Grain production research in New England. Annual “Kneading Conference” in Skowhegan Maine.
Abstracts accepted and presented at/for the following professional conferences:
American Society of Agronomy Annual meetings, Houston, TX. October 2008
Organic Cereals Symposium in Banff, Alberta, 2009
Title: Effect of Planting Date and Nitrogen Management on Yield of Organic Small Grains in New England
Authors and Affiliation: Richard Kersbergen, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Waldo ME, Timothy S. Griffin, Tufts University, Boston, MA, Heather Darby, University of Vermont Extension, St. Albans, VT and Sidney C. Bosworth, University of Vermont Department of Plant and Soil Science, Burlington, VT
Category: Agronomy/Soils/Weed Science
Abstract: Winter grain production is an option to reduce feed costs on organic dairy farms in New England. Fall-seeded small grains offer flexibility in cropping systems, but there is little information on yield potential when harvested as either forage or grain. We conducted eight small plot experiments in Maine and Vermont from 2006 to 2008, to assess the impact of species and planting date on the yield of organic winter grains, including wheat, rye, triticale, and spelt. Grains were planted in mid-September and mid-October, 2006 and 2007. Soil type and climate varied depending on location. The earlier planting date resulted in successful stands in all locations, for all grain species and varieties. The penalty associated with delayed planting depended strongly on species and soil type. The yield penalty was greatest for wheat (as large as 100%), and least for spelt (as low as 3%). Finer-textured soils generally resulted in greater winterkill with delayed planting. We also evaluated soil N availability, plant N uptake, and grain yield from fall and spring applications of liquid dairy manure. Spring applied manure N efficiency was not affected by method (band or broadcast), and increased yield by 75% over fall applied manure or no manure treatments.
Key Words: winter grains, planting dates, nitrogen, manure email@example.com
7) Organic grain production seminars will be held each winter (2006-7 and 2007-8)
Maine held an organic grain conference in December of 2006 with 80 participants, including 3 from Vermont who were participants in a grower panel.
An Organic Grain Workshop was held on March 20th 2007 in Bridport, Vermont. There were 65 farms and 10 agricultural service providers in attendance. Attendees were present from Quebec, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and Vermont. The workshop was held to teach farmers best management techniques and new innovative practices that will increase yields and quality of crops and decrease costs. Topics for the day included small grain diseases, wheat variety selection and breeding, feeding homegrown grains, innovative tillage and weed control methods, and successful crop rotations. Speakers were invited from Cornell University, Washington State, University of Maine, and several local farmers. As a result of the workshop 65% of the attendees responded that they would implement a new practice on their farm. 100% indicated that the change would be implemented within 6 months of the workshop. Of the attendees, 20% had attended one or more organic grain workshops hosted through this SARE project. Below is a list of changes that these farmers have implemented as a result of outreach from this project:
30% improved economics
50% improved soil health
50% improved weed control
40% improved yields
30% improved variety selection
100% improved networking with other farmers
100% improved awareness of available resources
25% increased number of acres in grain crops
An organic grain workshop titled “Innovation and Diversity in Grains” was held in Les Cedres, Quebec in early September. This was a day long field trip to an innovative organic grain farm in Canada. The Dewavrin Family presented to the Vermont and Maine grain producers in March. All of the farmers were interested in visiting this 1500 acre organic grain farm in Canada. Farmers and consultants were able to learn from this grower’s vast experience. Soil, tillage, and crop rotations that minimize risk in organic production were discussed. The Dewavrin family has also developed several pieces of specialty weed control equipment. There were 36 farmers from Vermont in attendance.
In 2008, “Maximizing Milk on Homegrown Feed” was a traveling workshop designed to meet the needs of dairy producers wanting to maximize the use of their forages systems and/or learn about incorporating home grown grains to offset the costs of purchased feeds. The program covered basic nutrition and how to best to improve herd health and economics on the farm. A panel of producers shared with the audience opportunities and challenges of growing high quality forages and grains for their dairy operations. Speakers included Rick Kersbergen (Univ. of Maine) and Karen Hoffman (NRCS) The workshops were held in Newport, Sheldon, Springfield, and Rutland Vermont in March of 2008. There were a total of 169 farmer attendees.
Growing Organic Grains was a one day workshop held to teach farmers best management techniques that will increase yields and quality of crops and decrease costs. The focus of the workshop was on weed control and on-farm plant breeding. There were 65 farms and 12 agricultural service providers in attendance. Attendees were present from Quebec, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and Vermont. Speakers were invited from Cornell University, University of Maine, and several local farmers. As a result of the workshop 42% of the attendees responded that they would implement a new practice on their farm. 100% indicated that the change would be implemented within 6 months of the workshop. Over half of the attendees had attended more than one grain growing workshop hosted as part of the SARE grant. Of these farms, 65% felt that the workshops improved their networking with other grain growers and grain buyers. More than 40% had increased grain production or started to produce grain as a result of the information gained from this project.
“Is it Time to Grow Some of Your Own Grain?” was a workshop held in Waterville Maine on March 28th, 2008. Loic Dewavrin was a featured speaker and discussed his grain rotations and management strategies. The afternoon was spent on a 6 farmer panel that related successes and failures with organic grain production in Maine. Research results and opportunities for further development of the organic grain industry were a focal part of the afternoon. 45 producers and 7 agency or NGO employees were in attendance.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Spring planted grain data was presented to growers in Maine in December. For the Northeast, 2006 was a terrible year for growing small grains, with wet weather causing a multitude of problems. Fields in Vermont were flooded repeatedly and some of the fields in Maine were planted late and suffered. Early planted grains (late April) yielded well and indicated to growers the need for timely planting for both yield and weed control.
Winter grain yields impressed growers and provided what most felt would be an entry point into becoming less dependent on imported energy feeds in organic dairy rations. Despite an odd winter in 2006-2007, yields were acceptable and interest high.
Grain prices for organic energy and protein supplements reached new highs in 2007 and 2008. This has further generated interest in grain production and processing. In Maine, the Maine Organic Milk Producers (MOMP) and the University of Maine were awarded $78,000 to invest in research machinery that can be cooperatively shared by the University and farmer/researchers. Plot combines and no-till drills are now available for organic farmers to rent and utilize as they consider adding grains to their rotations and forage systems. Additionally, MOMP was awarded $30,000 for organic dairy farmers to research providing organic grain to a growing artisan bakery industry.
Strong interest in winter grains has been the result and organic farmers are looking for more data and crop rotations that will fit this window of production. Yield and quality information from the 2006-2007-2008 winter/spring will be useful as they expand their grain operations.
Data from Certification agencies (MOFGA Certification Services and NOFA-Vt.) in Maine and Vermont indicate the following acres of organic grains were planted in the years of this project.
2006 –2294 acres
2007 –3211 acres
2008 –3329 acres
University of Vermont
278 South Main Street, Suite 2
St. Albans, Vt 05478
Office Phone: 8025246501
University of Maine
Orono, ME 04469
Office Phone: 2075813293
University of Vermont
Hills Agricultural Science Building, 105 Carrigan
Burlington, Vt 0540
Office Phone: 8026560478