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 three years, research projects have been initiated to evaluate weed and bird control practices for oilseed crops. Mechanical weed control practices that have been studied include tine-weeding and killed mulches. In 2009, 2010, and 2011 trials have shown that tineweeding can be an exceptional tool for weed control in sunflowers. However, weather and soil conditions can greatly influence the success of tineweeding as a weed control tool (see attached 2011 sunflower tineweed report). Weed control in sunflowers has been similar to standard herbicide control methods. However, tineweeding can reduce stands and cause lower yields. Higher seeding rates need to be considered if implementing this practice. Shallow seeded canola did not respond well to the early season weeding and the practice was deemed not acceptable for this crop. Best weed control in canola has come from planting winter instead of spring canola crops. Exceptional yields have been documented from the winter canola (see attached 2011 winter canola report).
Rolling and crimping winter cover crops to create weed preventative mulch have proven difficult for both crops. The timing of killing the cover crop is into the later part of May for northern New England. 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 (greater than 50% reduction). Poor stands of sunflowers have been seen when using this practice.
In addition projects have evaluated methods for reducing bird damage including harvest and planting dates (see attached 2011 sunflower planting date report). There still have been no completely effective methods to deter the bird population. At this time best recommendations will include an integrated approach including variation in sunflower maturities and planting dates.
In 2010, an oilseed budget calculator has been completed to help farmers make economic decision about oilseed and biofuel production. This calculator has been a great tool to also compare costs of biodiesel production among farms and evaluate the economic feasibility of on-farm fuel production. Many farms use these baseline numbers to make decisions on whether or not to start producing oilseeds on their farm. Current numbers show that an average cost of biodiesel production at $1.35 per gallon. Of course there is a range of costs based on the facility.
Outreach and educational events have been held on a yearly basis to provide a network for oilseed producers in the region. The oilseed producers group was formalized as a part of the grant and is now heading into its fourth year. Over the past three years there have been 8 events that have had more than more than 500 attendees. In addition, the new Oilseed Website (http://www.uvm.edu/extension/cropsoil/oilseeds) built as part of this project has received thousands of hits from individuals interested in oilseed and biofuel production. In the coming year research will be finalized and a New England Oilseed Manual will be completed.
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.
On February 7th of 2011, the third oilseed producer meeting was held in Berlin Vermont. The 26 oilseed producers from VT, NH, MA, NY, and WI met to continue building their network. The producers spent the morning sharing production and equipment information with other farmers. In the afternoon, several guest speakers presented current research on oilseeds. Hans Kandel, NDSU Agronomist was a guest speaker and shared sunflower and canola agronomic information with the farmers. Chris Callahan shared the new Oilseed Calculator and Eric Garza presented energy return on investment data collected from local farms. The final 30 minutes was used to share research data collected through this project and to develop summer workshop agendas and on-farm research plans. Meeting notes from the 2010 and 2011 Oilseed producers meeting can be found at the oilseed webpage – http://www.uvm.edu/extension/cropsoil/oilseeds. In addition a biofuel tract was held as part of the UVM Extension Crop and Soil Field Day on August 9th at Borderview Farm in Alburgh, VT. The workshop highlighted oilseed crop production, how to produce biofuel, how to convert a tractor to run on straight vegetable oil. 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 175 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. 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. The website can be viewed at http://www.uvm.edu/extension/cropsoil/oilseeds. Past reports have been reformatted and edited to be more useful to the farming community. The website currently includes research reports, photos, and videos from farms and meetings. In 2011, YouTube videos of various oilseed and biofuel topics were added to the site. Videos include information on how to grow oilseed crops such as sunflower, soybean, and canola. The video can be found on the UVM Crop and Soil YouTube site: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfVOBlqMV1Y&list=UU7sh59UG2pKqfmPMfaVxpbA&index=4&feature=plcp. A video that includes oil pressing and biofuel production will be completed in 2012. As new research reports are developed that are posted on the website. Over the duration of the project period we will continue to build content for the farming community. The
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 enterprise analysis. The tool can be found on our website 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.
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, a draft manual was completed. In 2012, the manual will be peer-reviewed and published to our website for simple downloading.
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 the time of this project, the primary yield limiting pests in oilseed crops included 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, 2010, and 2011 replicated trials were conducted at Borderview Farm in Alburgh Vermont. Results of the 2011 research projects have been attached to the report. A complete synopsis across years will be completed in the final report. Data from these trials is being used to develop the oilseed production guide.
Trials conducted in 2009, 2010, and 2011have shown that tineweeding can provide adequate weed control in sunflowers. Weed control in sunflowers has been similar to standard herbicide control methods. Weather can influence timing of the tineweeding and may influence the success of the practice (see attached 2011 Sunflower Tineweed Report). One issue with tineweeding is increased plant mortality. 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. The tineweeder is more effective at controlling annual weeds than perennial weeds. 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. Tineweeding is not a recommended weed control practice in canola. Farmers are still struggling with spring canola. Spring canola needs to be seeded in mid to early April for maximum yield and also weed control. Most farmers plant the canola too late leading to weedy crops with reduced yields. In 2010 and 2011, winter canola was evaluated as an alternative. Successful overwintering of this crop led to exceptional yields. In addition, there were few if any weed issues observed in the plots. Winter canola may be a better and more reliable oilseed crop alternative (see attached 2011 winter canola report).
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. In 2011, early June planting dates had 50% less damage from birds compared to May planting dates (see attached 2011 Sunflower Planting Date Study Report). 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 4th 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 2012 will be held in March and will expand to now include farmers from ME and PA.
In addition, the Oilseed Calculator has helped farmers to determine their cost of crop production and cost of fuel production. It has been accessed by farmers and stakeholders around the country (based on web data). 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.
Farmers continue to implement practices that are deemed favorable from the research trials. For example, several farms have been impressed with the tineweeding research results from this project. As a result four farmers have purchased this tool to control weeds. Variety trial results have continued to be used widely by farmers across the Northeast and now Midwest. New results on winter canola have encouraged at least four new farmers to try this promising crop. It has also spurred the development of a new USDA SARE Research and Education proposal to evaluate winter canola practices.
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