UNH Organic Dairy Farm agroecosystem study

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2008: $379,087.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Northeast
State: New Hampshire
Project Leader:
Dr. John Aber
University of New Hampshire

Annual Reports


  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: feed rations, grazing management, manure management, preventive practices
  • Crop Production: crop rotation, nutrient cycling, application rate management
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, indicators, soil stabilization
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil analysis, soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    Sustainability advances the integrity of interactions between society and ecosystems that enhance the quality of life. The University of New Hampshire’s university-wide program in sustainability, established in 1997, is organized around the interactions of climate, biodiversity, food and culture systems and the need to sustain the integrity all four simultaneously. Enhancing the long-term viability of farming practices that provide off-farm values such as environmental quality, and support dynamic local communities, is integral to UNH’s commitment to sustainability (http://www.sustainableunh.unh.edu/). Dairy dominates animal agriculture in the Northeastern U.S., and is tied to the continuation of important cultural values including the conservation of open land and preservation of historical character. With the establishment of the first commercial-scale Organic Research Dairy Farm in the country, UNH is uniquely positioned to fulfill the traditional land-grant role of supporting a critical agriculture-based community in the state and region. The vision for the project begun with this proposal is to use the newly established, commercial-scale, operating Organic Dairy Research Farm (ODRF) at the University if New Hampshire as a test bed to achieve the vision of this project: A Closed-System, Energy Independent Organic Dairy Farm for the Northeastern U.S. We propose a farm-ecosystem level approach to the measurement all of the material and energy flows occurring across the annual production cycle at the UNH Organic Dairy Farm. Natural and human vectors will be compared, including, for example, inputs of nutrients in precipitation, feed and fertilizer, and losses in product shipment, surface water runoff and ground water leaching. The proposed work is seen as the first stage in a 9-year project that will use the data acquired in the first 3 years (phase 1) to redesign and implement changes in farm operations to decrease nutrient losses and fossil fuel requirements (phase 2), which will be refined and presented as best management practices (phase 3). Open communication and transparency have been an integral part of the UNH Organic Dairy Research Farm project from the beginning. UNH has established a set of stakeholder advisory groups which provide direct links and two-way communication between this research enterprise and potential users of the program’s outcomes. Emerging results of the research proposed here will be made available quickly and directly to the dairy industry.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    • Year 1: Finish outline of energy and nutrient flows at the Organic Dairy Research Farm. Years 2-3: • Conclude research into those flows which are most significant and least well quantified. These include: o Water and nutrient flows to the Lamprey River o Rate and composition of manure production as well as current storage practices and effects on decay and energy and nutrient balances o Productivity of pasture and woodland systems • Investigate alternative methods for increased efficiency of resource use, generation of energy and minimization of nutrient loss. These include: o Wood energy from woodlots o Methane from digestion of manures o Direct generation of electricity from manures in fuel cells o Addition of additional synergistic animal production systems (e.g. pigs, chickens) that increase efficiency of energy and nutrient use o Extended grazing cycle to reduce feed imports and manure handling o Seasonal calving cycles to improve efficiency o Forage-only feeding to reduce grain inputs and costs o Producing animal bedding on-site • Analyze economic impact of alternative systems o Reduction in energy costs o Increase in sales of products (e.g. organic compost and milk products) Following years: • Develop and test methods selected in the first round of funding. We cannot at this time determine which alternatives will be seen as most effective. This is the nature of research. Over the second 3 years, it is very likely that new processes and new approaches will be developed in the agricultural community. We will monitor such developments closely. • This third phase of the project will see the selected and developed technologies and practices taken from research scale to production scale. At the end of 9 years, our goal is for the UNH Organic Research Dairy Farm to be energy independent and to have a nearly closed nutrient cycle, with only small amounts of supplemental feed required, if at all, and the primary off-farm movement of both energy and nutrients will be in products.
    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.