Reducing fuel and fertilizer costs for corn silage in the Northeast with cover crops and no-till

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2009: $149,755.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Grant Recipient: University of Maine
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:
Richard Kersbergen
University of maine Cooperative Extension

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: corn, grass (misc. perennial), hay, sunflower


  • Animal Production: feed/forage
  • Crop Production: application rate management, cover crops, double cropping, no-till
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Energy: energy conservation/efficiency
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Pest Management: mulches - killed
  • Soil Management: nutrient mineralization, organic matter, soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    New England corn silage production is estimated at 162,000 acres with an estimated value of $78.5 million. This crop dominates the landscape in the Northeast and is responsible for significant erosion potential. Environmental rules and USDA incentive programs have encouraged the adoption of cover crops after silage harvest. New England’s short growing season and a long standing emphasis on longer season hybrid selection for maximum yield has made successful adoption of cover crop strategies difficult for dairy farmers. Producers in ME, VT, and MA, have come to Extension, NRCS, and SWCD to help them evaluate alternatives to traditional cropping patterns in corn silage systems. They want to use cover crops but also want to reduce tillage operations, fuel usage and improve nitrogen management. Recent developments in no-till seeding technology along with reduced tillage methods to effectively incorporate manure offer realistic options that could alter production methods on significant acreage in the Northeast. Tools such as the “Aerway” and drop tube manure applicators may help reduce the need for extra tillage to incorporate manure. This project will focus on participatory learning. Farmers will help design the research components that best fit their system and environmental conditions. All major investigators (Darby, Kersbergen and Herbert) have significant experience with conducting on farm research.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    Performance Target: 60 dairy farmers in Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts will adopt cover cropping and reduced tillage strategies in corn silage systems on at least 3,000 acres to reduce fossil fuel costs (diesel and N fertilizer) by $30-$35 per acre, improve soil and nitrogen conservation from manure nutrients by $20 per acre and improve forage quality and profitability through reduced purchased grain inputs by $65 per cow per year (2010-2012).

    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.