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

2011 Annual Report for LNE09-287

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

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


Surveys were sent out to dairy farms in Maine and Massachusetts to get baseline data on fuel, fertilizer and cover crop practices. This data will be used as part of the verification plan in 2012-2013.

The survey in Massachusetts indicated that almost 80% of dairy farmers and livestock producers either do not plant cover crops or plant it very late, with poor establishment and nearly no nutrient recovery. The focus of this study therefore has emphasized the importance of early maturing hybrid corn silage varieties, and effective cover crop strategies for nutrient recovery. Termination of the cover crops and evaluation of no-till corn systems are also being investigated.

Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts all conducted short season corn variety trials in 2009 and 2010. Two farms in Maine (6 varieties and 33 varieties), one in Vermont 17 (varieties) and one in Massachusetts (20 varieties) hosted these trials. Most of the seed corn dealers provided seed supplies and support for some of this work. In Massachusetts, silage yield, ear yield, ear percentage, and GDD requirement for silking and physiological maturity was determined.

In Maine, in 2010 a no-till trial corn trials continued along with cover crop establishment trials with fall applied manure. Several planting dates and 3 types of winter grains were evaluated for fall and spring cover. In Vermont, a cover crop termination trial was repeated in 2010. In Massachusetts, trials were conducted to evaluate the influence of cultivation method on ammonia volatilization and corn silage yield following manure application. Massachusetts also evaluated tillage impacts on conserved nitrogen, quantifying nitrogen recovery by a winter cover crop of rye and corn silage yields after various cover crop planting dates.

In 2011 additional field research was conducted in Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont. All three states conducted corn silage variety trials for the third consecutive year. Additional work on cover cropping strategies following corn harvest was conducted in Vermont and Massachusetts. Reduced tillage and manure utilization research was conducted in Massachusetts and Vermont.

Numerous field days, seminars and professional meetings were hosts for information dissemination concerning these trials as well as conferences introducing no-till corn concepts to producers.

Objectives/Performance Targets

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)


Producers in Vermont, Massachusetts and Maine will work with researchers to fine tune research and demonstrations for each state. (Spring 2009)

15 (five systems in three states) corn silage producers will enroll in an intensive three year study investigating cropping systems that will reduce tillage and conserve soil and manure nutrients. Trials will initiate in the spring of 2009. (Spring 2009-fall 2011)

–Trials were initiated in all three sates and involved 7 different farms.
Producers and corn seed dealers will initiate corn variety trials in each state that will each year of the trial (Spring 2009-2011)
–6 trials were completed in 2009 (2 in each state) and several more in 2010

Cover crop trials on participating farms will initiate in September of 2009 and continued in 2010 and 2011

–Planting date and nutrient retention trials have been planted and evaluated. Vermont used some existing cover crops to initiate termination trials in 2009 and 2010. Researchers will work intensively with an additional 15 producers to implement some alternative winter cover crop strategies, alternative manure applications and no-till planting techniques of short season corn hybrids on 450 acres. Each winter, revisions and alternatives will be reviewed by producers and researchers based on the previous year experience. (2009-2011)
–Seminars and workshops during the winter of 2009-2010 will be used to recruit additional participants. A workshop in Maine in December 2010 recruited an additional 4 producers interested in changing tillage practices and using cover crops.

Producers and researchers will monitor fuel usage and nutrient flows through 2 full growing seasons along with forage quality impacts (2009-2011). Fuel usage and time will be evaluated on alternative sites in 2011 growing season.

Field days, crop advisor trainings and articles in popular press will be used to disseminate information to 600 growers of corn silage in the Northeast. (2010-2012)

–workshops in 2009 reached over 500 participants, and similar numbers were reached in 2010 including farmers, consultants, extension faculty and NRCS staff.

SARE Work performed in Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont during the season of 2010.

Outreach/education events in Vermont
A “Conservation Tillage Tools” workshop was held on January 26th in St. Albans, VT. Three farmers from the region gave presentations describing how they implement reduced tillage into their cropping systems. In addition to the 3 farmers, a well known crop consultant from Central New York, “No-Till Tommy” Kilcer gave a well received presentation on reduced tillage. More than 75 producers from all ends of the state attended the workshop. One farmer interviewed after the workshop stated that he was going to “park his harrows” in 2010. As a result of the workshop, 50 % said they were going to try a reduced tillage method in the coming growing season.

A field day was held at Windfall Acres owned and operated by Wayne and Nancy Fiske in Franklin, Vermont on June 21, 2010. Joel Myers from Pennsylvania No-till Alliance, a renowned speaker on cover crops, no-till and improving water quality was in attendance as well as farmers, members of local watershed groups, conservation district personnel, Vermont Agency of Agriculture Staff, and NRCS personnel. Joel spoke extensively about reduced tillage and no-till, soil quality and equipment. He showcased different reduced tillage implements and described best management practices for using zone tillers and strip tillers. There were 65 attendees at the meeting including farmers, NRCS staff, and other agency staff.

Research trials were highlighted at a day-long summer field day held at Borderview Research Farm on August 9th, 2010. There were 234 attendees that included farmers, students, crop advisers, NRCS, NRCD, and other Agency personnel. There were attendees from throughout the region including representation from PA, VT, NH, MA, CT, and from the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, Quebec, and Ontario. The day highlighted several trials including corn maturity trials, cover crop termination study, tillage strategy corn study, cover crop planting method study.
On September 13th, a presentation on cover cropping strategies (including the SARE project results) was given at a Cornell University Field Day held in Hudson Falls, New York. The theme of the on-farm field day was minimum tillage seedbed preparation, manure incorporation, and cover crops. There was an Aerway tillage tool and other tillage tools demonstrated at the field day. There were 38 Farmers, Certified Crop Advisers, Extension, NRCD, and NRCS present.
Two videos have been produced highlighting reduced tillage. One showcases a farmer who has already converted his conservation planter to plant no-till (follow link to view: The other shows Joel Myers demonstration to test the aggregate stability of 3 soils from different cultivation regimes including; 1- long term no-till, 2- sod-row crop rotation, and 3-heavily tilled intensive vegetable production (follow link to view:

In addition, all research results have been posted on the UVM Extension Crop and Soil website located at the following URL:

–workshops in 2011 included 3 in Vermont
50 farmers participating in planter retrofit workshop
35 farmers at workshop on cover crops and no-till farming in Franklin Vt
225 farmers at UVM Crops and Soils field days in Alburgh that highlighted much of the research in this project.
75 farmers attended one of two workshops where Kersbergen presented information on adopting no-till corn silage production and the effective use of cover crops.

–Workshops in Maine in 2011 included
45 farmers participating in fall workshop on managing manure with no-till systems and reducing fuel and fertilizer
39 farmers participated in Spring workshop on soil quality and transitioning to no-till systems
110 farmers earning a pesticide re-certification credit while learning about no-till research in Maine and Vermont associated with this project.
9 Extension and USDA employees visiting an on-farm research site as part of a SARE PDP tour.
27 farmers attending a seminar on no-till corn silage production where one of the participants was awarded the county “outstanding Cooperator” for their work in adopting no-till corn and using cover crops.
63 Certified Crop Advisors attended a new England training where a session was devoted to research and demonstration results from this project.

In Massachusetts,
Outreach activities in 2011 included:

A summary of results of the projects presented above were presented at Massachusetts Dairy Farmer(MADF) Summer Picnic on July 22, 2011.

2- Participants in Crops, Dairy, Livestock field day on August 2nd and 3rd , 2011 at UMass Research and Education Research Center visited all 4 research projects and grant coordinators discussed the rational and previous year’s results with farmers.

3- Dr. Herbert presented a talk on the importance of cover crop-corn cropping system at In-service training for agricultural service providers in January at New Hampshire and discussed the importance of on-time planting of cover crop with the participants.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

In addition, to the research projects initiated through this grant we have also worked with 14 farmers to “try” no-till on their farms. These farms evaluated no-till with conventional till within the same field. In addition, several of these farms implemented no-till practices on several other fields on their farm. Overall there were 840 acres of corn planted under reduced tillage through this project. Yields were recorded on farmer collaborator fields and ranged from 15 to 30 tons/acre, comparable to yields from their conventionally tilled corn fields. Based on feedback from the collaborating farmers, we plan to provide farmers with training sessions on how to properly operate no-till planting equipment. There were a number of farmers that had lower than expected plant populations, while others had normal populations. We have calculated that collectively these collaborating farms have saved $42,000 of fuel, labor and equipment costs by reducing the number of passes on a field. Farmers are saving an average $50/ acre. Vermont estimates, based on slope, past management considerations and field locations using the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation that 2,000,000 pounds of soil loss was prevented from entering Vermont’s surface waters.

In 2011, Maine researchers estimated that an additional 12 farms switched to using no-till corn production on a portion of their acres. Using the NRCS fuel use calculator, those farms would have saved about 47% on their fuel bill alone by switching to no-till on those acres.

In 2012, researchers will begin a comprehensive survey of farms to evaluate implementation of cover crop strategies and the use of no-till production in Maine, VT and Massachusetts.


Roger Rainville

Farmers Watershed Alliance
Alburg, Vt
Heather Darby
Agronomic and Nutrient Management Specialist
UVM Extension
278 South Main St Suite 2
St. Albans, Vt 05478-1866
Office Phone: 8025246501
Masoud Hashemi
Extension Assistant Professor
Stockbridge School Of Agriculture UMass
207 Bowditch Hall
Amherst, MA 01003-9294
Office Phone: 4135451843
Stephen Herbert
Professor of Agronomy
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Bowditch Hall, rm 207
Amherst, Ma
Office Phone: 4135452250