Improving oilseed production and harvesting practices in New England: A farmer-to-Farmer exchange
Vermont’s Sustainable Agriculture Council has identified “on-farm energy enhancement” as a top research priority and in recent research estimated the demand and capacity for in-state food products, livestock meal and biodiesel made from local oilseed crops. Preliminary research projects have shown that oilseed production is feasible in New England. However further advances in local knowledge and technology are needed to advance to the next stages of demonstration and implementation. This research and outreach project has been designed to build on previous projects that have examined best agricultural practices for oilseed production in New England.
Over the last two years, research projects have been initiated to evaluate tine-weeding and killed mulches as methods for weed control in oilseeds. Trials have shown that tineweeding is an exceptional tool for weed control in sunflowers. Weed control in sunflowers has been similar to standard herbicide control methods. However, shallow seeded canola does not respond well to the early season weeding. Rolling and crimping has proven difficult for both crops. The timing of killing the cover crop is into the later part of May for northern New England. Unfortunately planting canola this late result in extremely low yields and hence is not a feasible practice. Planting sunflowers into killed mulches has also been challenging with sunflower yields lagging far behind conventional practices. In addition projects have evaluated methods for reducing bird damage including harvest and planting dates. There still have been no completely effective methods to deter the bird population. In 2010, a oilseed budget calculator has been completed to help farmers make economic decision about oilseed and biofuel production. Outreach and educational events have been held on a yearly basis to provide a network for oilseed producers in the region. Over the past two years more than 100 stakeholders have received information on oilseed and biofuel production. In the coming year research will be finalized and a New England Oilseed Manual produced.
Objectives: The objectives of this project are to: (1) improve pest management practices to improve yields, quality and economic viability of oilseed crops; (2) develop a guide to “Producing Oilseeds in New England” and dedicated oilseed website for producers; and (3) enhance opportunities for farmer-to-farmer learning exchanges throughout Vermont and New England.
Performance Target: By the end of 2012, 50 additional New England farmers will include oilseeds in their rotations and 500 additional acres will be planted in oilseeds. This will result in a total of 1081 acres of oilseed crops on 70 farms in New England. The value of the oilseed crops under current production practices and average yields (1500 lb per acre) will be approximately $243,225. As a result of this project 50 farmers (representing about 10 acres per farm) will have adopted at least one new pest management practice to minimize bird and/or weed damage and double yields (1500 lbs to 3500 lbs per acre). This will result in an increased income of $112,500 for these farms.
1n the spring of 2010, the second oilseed producers meeting was held in Berlin Vermont. The 26 oilseed producers from VT and NH met to continue building their network. The producers spent most of the day sharing production and equipment information with other farmers. The second oilseed producers meeting was held on February 2, 2010 in Berlin, VT. Most of the morning was spent networking. The final hour was used to share research data collected through this project and to develop summer workshop agendas and on-farm research plans. A video clip from the meeting can be viewed at our new oilseed webpage – http://www.uvm.edu/extension/cropsoil/oilseeds. In addition several other educational events were held on oilseed production. A Farm Energy conference was held in March of 2010. One of the conference tracts was focused on biofuel production. There were a range of speakers including farmers, industry, and University professors from PA. A total of 62 farmers attended the biofuels tract of the conference. In 2010, there was one on-farm workshops held to distribute oilseed production data to farmers and service providers. The workshop was held on August 9th at Borderview Farm in Alburgh, VT. The workshop highlighted oilseed crop production and the various research projects. In addition, farmers were able to watch an oilseed pressing demonstration and were walked through the process of making biodiesel. The attendance at these meetings was 234 farmers and service providers.
Oilseed Website – Until recently, information on oilseed and biofuel production in Vermont is available in a piecemeal fashion spread amongst several websites. It is primarily in the form of lengthy reports, which are not user-friendly. As part of this project, a website page was created that specifically focuses on oilseed production, storage, on-farm processing, and use as fuel, food, and/or fertilizer. Past reports have been reformatted and edited to be more useful to the farming community. The website page is still being populated but currently includes research reports, photos, and videos from farms and meetings. Over the duration of the project period we will continue to build content for the farming community. The website can be viewed at http://www.uvm.edu/extension/cropsoil/oilseeds. In 2010, YouTube videos of various oilseed and biofuel topics were added to the site. Videos include excerpts from the 2010 oilseed produces meetings, combining sunflowers, and a Vermont Public Television show on UVM Extension’s biofuels work. Up to date research reports and information is added as it become available.
Crop Production Budget for Oilseeds – Though production budgets exist for processing oilseeds into biodiesel (Arnott, 2008) and for canola production in Northern Maine (Sexton, 2005), currently there are no production budgets available that focus on costs of crop production and allow producers to change the costs of inputs, which is especially important in these rapidly changing economic times. In 2010, working collaboratively with the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund a budgeting tool was developed to assist farmers with biofuel production The tool can be found on ourwebsite at http://www.uvm.edu/extension/cropsoil/oilseeds. To date the tool is still being tested on farms involved with our oilseed producer’s network. Through this work we have found that the cost of biofuel production on-farms ranges from $1.79 to $3.50 per gallon.
Guide to Oilseed Production in New England – To make information more accessible to farmers and agricultural professionals, we have begun to compile existing information into a comprehensive manual that explains in farmer-friendly language the best practices for producing or storing these crops in New England. During 2010, a production manual outline was finalized and information was being gathered to populate the document. An initial article on sunflower production was published on the eXtension energy site (- http://www.extension.org/pages/Sunflowers_for_Biofuel_Production) . In 2011, we will work to finish the manual with information from the area and beyond.
Field Production Research in Pest Management-
As more farms begin to grow oilseeds, there are several pest problems that need to be addressed for these crops. At this time the primary yield limiting pests in oilseed crops include weeds and birds. Farms have lost up to 50% of their potential yield from these pests. Weeds have limited yields on the cooperating farms, especially those farms that produce oilseeds organically. GMO canola varieties have been avoided in this area and few herbicides are available for weed control post planting. Some specialty herbicides are expensive and would not be cost effective on such small acreages. To improve yields and economic viability of oilseed production in New England we need to identify strategies to minimize these pests. The demonstration/research projects were identified by cooperating oilseed farmers as critical areas of information needed to improve oilseed production in New England. In 2009 and 2010, replicated trials were conducted at Borderview Farm in Alburgh Vermont. Results of the project are still being compiled but some generalizations can be made.
Trials have shown that tineweeding is an exceptional tool for weed control in sunflowers. Weed control in sunflowers has been similar to standard herbicide control methods. One issue with tineweeding is plant death. Higher seeding rates are required if tineweeding is used for weed control. Two passes with a tineweeder just after planting and one to two weeks later can adequately control weeds. However, shallow seeded canola does not respond well to the early season weeding. In the experiments it was found that too much seed was brought to the soil surface resulting in uneven and poor germination. In 2010, the canola was planted and tineweeded 6 days later. The lack of rain and soil moisture resulted in extremely poor germination resulting in a crop failure. Rolling and crimping has proven difficult for both crops. The timing of killing the cover crop is into the later part of May for northern New England. Unfortunately planting canola this late result in extremely low yields and hence is not a feasible practice. Planting sunflowers into killed mulches has also been challenging with sunflower yields lagging far behind conventional practices. In addition projects have evaluated methods for reducing bird damage including harvest and planting dates. There still have been no completely effective methods to deter the bird population. However modifying seeding dates seem to be the best strategy for bird control. Better understanding migration dates will help build recommendations for planting dates.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
There have been several positive outcomes since the onset of this project two year ago. First the formation of an oilseed producer’s network has been a huge success. . Moving into the 3rd year of the annual producers meeting farmers look forward to getting together to share information and ideas. It also enables them to receive current research reports from our team and guide our program. The group has also expanded considerably since its first meeting. Our meeting in 2011 will be held in February and there are already 25 farmers confirmed. In addition, the Oilseed Calculator has helped farmers to determine their cost of crop production and cost of fuel production. For many it has helped them target production areas for improvement. It has helped others decide to steer away from biofuel production and work with neighboring farms to produce fuels. Lastly, several farms have been impressed with the tineweeding research results from this project. As a result three farmers have purchased this tool to control weeds.
46 Line Road
Alburgh, VT 05440
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