Precision feed management for improved profitability and environmental stewardship in Yates County NY

2013 Annual Report for LNE11-308

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2011: $69,672.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Dr. Gerald Bertoldo
Cornell University Extension

Precision feed management for improved profitability and environmental stewardship in Yates County NY


The project has aimed to improve dairy operation feed efficiency, reduce both the import and animal excretion of environmentally active nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) as well as make a positive impact on farm profitability on small (less than 60 cows) Mennonite dairy farms in Yates County, NY. These 258 farms are located in an agriculturally robust area located within three watersheds draining into three of the Finger Lakes, all designated by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation as having high levels of nutrients.

A collaboration of local extension, regional dairy specialists, nutritionists, attending veterinarians and Precision Feeding Management (PFM) experienced personnel are engaged in this project. 20 producers were to be engaged in assessing and improving their nutrient “footprint”, utilization of home grown feeds and the health and production potential of their milking herd over six quarters. A PFM Benchmark Calculator inputs ration formulation specs, forage analyses, milk urea nitrogen milk production and cow culling information to ascertain farm status with regard to established goals.

The project had been well received by participants and nutritionists, however due to personnel shortages and communication limitations with the “plain folks” the progress to date continues to be disappointing. Somewhat over half of the target number of producers has been engaged so far in any benchmarking. Early on a high level of discourse regarding ruminant digestion, general feeding management and health not envisioned in the proposal was quite time consuming. Producers look to investigators as both reviewers of and adjuncts to their nutrition consultants. Finding 90% of participant farms already achieving the project nutrient management goals has not been contributory to incentive.

On-the-farm forage management discussions, forage harvesting technology workshops and harvest time “at the silo” evaluations have been requested and to a limited extent provided to participants. Four workshops in the county are written in to report on the environmental, economic and livestock impacts after the conclusion of the project.


Objectives/Performance Targets

Twenty dairy farmers in Yates County, NY will successfully adopt precision feed management practices impacting feeding practices on 1,200 mature dairy cattle and increasing milk income over all grain cost, a measure of profitability, by 5 percent, while contributing approximately 443,250 pounds less nitrogen and 42,750 pounds less phosphorus annually to the environment by July 1, 2013.

Requested change in objective December 2012:

Twenty dairy farmers in Yates County, NY will successfully adopt precision feed management practices impacting feeding practices on 960 mature dairy cattle and increasing milk income over feed costs, a measure of profitability, by 5 percent, while contributing approximately 339,825 pounds less nitrogen and 32,775 pounds less phosphorus annually to the environment by July 1, 2014. Prospective and participating farms have averaged 46 adult cows rather than the 60 projected in the proposal necessitating a downward revision of expected nutrient reduction to the area environment. 

Requested change in objective December 2013:

Finish the project on schedule without achieving the number of producers envisioned, the scope of environmental and economic impact outlined in the original proposal. Submit a final report including: findings that most producers have in fact been environmentally “friendly” with good production metrics; the potential PFM adoption of small dairies in similar watershed situations given equal levels of determination and focus; useful insights into providing service and information to a Mennonite community and cultural practices that could be useful in dealing with other such populations.

One hundred seventy dairy farmers from Yates County, NY become aware of the Precision Feed Management (PFM) Project via announcements, newsletter articles, press releases, and other audience specific approaches and learn about the purposes, benefits, and next steps of the project. Since Mennonite families operate many dairy farm businesses in Yates County, audience specific approaches will include posters in community specific locations such as farm stores, hardware stores and others, and individual contact with key leaders in the communities to initiate neighbor to neighbor communication about the project (November 2011 originally September 2011).

Achieved: Many key influencers of these farms were personally contacted via individual meetings and phone conferences prior to a general mailing and posting of project flyers to facilitate the endorsement of the project. Nine nutritionist and seven practitioners from two veterinary clinics were presented with PFM project details and material to be distributed to producers. These individuals represented the majority of their respective industry services in the county (August 2011). An article in the Yates County Cooperative Extension October newsletter outlined the project. Distribution is to most dairy producers in the county. A two sided mailer describing the project was mailed to 232 Yates County Mennonite producers. The same flyer was made available to feed representatives and veterinarians and was posted in two well patronized farm supply stores. A reminder postcard was sent three week later. Individual farm visits to 10 farms were made for promotion and suggested strategies for participation (November 2011)

2. Eighty dairy farmers attend one of four, day long, initial PFM meetings. Farmers • learn that PFM is an approach for using resources more wisely on dairy farms • learn more about specific PFM practices and tasks • learn about project expectations. Farmers develop attitudes that PFM is an approach that would lead to wiser uses of resources on their farms, and is worthy of their consideration. Farmers state their intentions to be one of twenty farmers that will continue on with the next steps of the project (December 2011).

Achieved: Two identical meetings of 2.5 hours each featured cropping strategies, ration component selection in an unusual cropping year and an explanation of PFM with examples of successful applications. We were advised by community leaders that day long meetings would be very difficult for the horse and buggy crowd to attend late in the year. Two of the presenters who have thorough knowledge of PFM traveled significant distance to attend. A second day of meetings would have been difficult to arrange. There were only 25 attendees comprising 20 producers and 5 feed company representatives. Two producers have committed with others wanting visits to look into their situations (December 2011).

3. Twenty dairy farmers attend a series of workshops to learn about PFM steps and build skills for collecting necessary data, and other benchmarking tasks, including the use of the PFM Benchmark Calculator – a tool for identifying strengths and weaknesses as they relate to feed management on the farm, and for monitoring changes in dairy herd management, environmental, and economic measures over time (March 2012).

Achieved: Producers were individually visited to outline and promote the program. According to community elders, the post-harvest period offers many “free lunch” meeting sales promotion opportunities for these producers competing with informational workshops without perks. The success of group meetings during the cropping season is weather dependent and difficult to plan. A short highlight of PFM was given before 40 producers at a Yates County veterinary client meeting in March, 2012. Two “shop meetings” were held for 26 participants and prospective producers in early 2013. Topics were focused on manure nutrients and doubling cropping small grains for silage.

4. With the help of project team members in one on one settings, 20 farmers apply their PFM knowledge and skills to identify possible areas for improvement, evaluate alternatives, state their intentions to adopt PFM practices via a written plan for improvement, and implement changes (through June 2013).

Achieved: 12 producers have been enrolled in the program. The number of quarterly benchmarks varies amongst them.

5. Twenty farmers provide data to project team members estimating Nitrogen (N) and Phosphorus (P) excretions using the Cornell Net Carbohydrate and Protein System (CNCPS) nutrition model (<>) (September 2012, December 2012, March 2013, June 2013).

Achieved: The PFM Benchmark Calculator has been shown in other field work to estimate N and P in cattle waste well given accurate feed analysis and delivery. All participants to date utilize total mixed ration mixer with scales. Quarterly N and P benchmarking has been behind schedule as well. Early results indicate less than anticipated variance from PFM goals. Rations have invariably been near the threshold value of 16.5% crude protein in milk cow rations. In addition, periodic testing for nitrogen efficiency using the Milk Urea Nitrogen test (MUN) has been unnecessary as milk plants now provide these values upon request each month.

6. Twenty participating farmers attend one day, mid project meetings to learn from others the types of changes being implemented, and the progress being made. Farmers will learn about what is working, and what is not working, including barriers, and suggested solutions from others (December 2012).

Achieved: Not enough progress has been made to date to warrant a project update meeting. Sharing non-sensitive findings amongst participants and prospects has been useful in the interim.


Our initial contact via mailings and informational/instructive meetings went well. Attendance was less than hoped (35 versus 80 proposed), but interest by a couple of key community leaders was gained early on. An opportunity to outline the project before 40 dairy producers at a veterinary clinic annual meeting was a benefit. Interviews with producers quickly demonstrated a trend towards favorable nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) conservation already in place as a result of good feed industry actions and frugal mindsets of the Mennonite population. To entice such producers to be involved, other areas of feeding management not considered essential to PFM were investigated. This was a positive step, but more time consuming. Other producers with more potential to make improvements are often not DHIA testing nor have a good handle of feeding accuracy making benchmark calculating more difficult.

Communications with Mennonite producers is limited to home telephones and face to face contact. The lack of mobile devices and e-mail messaging has been a negative in information transmission and made more spontaneous on farm meetings difficult.

Since the inception of the project, we have had the loss of James Kingston, our agronomy specialist and collaborator, and the retirement of the Yates County Executive Director and project coordinator, Peter Landre. Nancy Glazier, project farm liaison and well known in the Mennonite community, had been directed to take graduate courses as part of her extension position starting in the fall of 2011. This hindered the progress of the grant work. James has finally been replaced by Bill Verbeten, well qualified with a Master’s degree in forages, hired in October 2012. Nicole Landers has replaced Peter Landre.

Anticipated manpower in the form of a 2013 summer internship did not materialize. Loss of two additional project collaborators, Jackson Wright and Elizabeth Newbold, both close to Yates County in July 2013 was unexpected. An increase in Extension responsibilities for two others has limited available hours dedicated to PFM. 

Outside of the watershed significance, the premise of choosing the Mennonite community in Yates County was based on their collective desire for unbiased information to make educated decisions on their dairy farms. With farm profiles of this size there is more often than not opportunity to adopt technology and management skills that larger farms typically accept sooner. Overall the producers engaged in PFM through interview or participation receive very good advisement through their herd nutritionists. Ones that are not as technically guided and have the most to gain environmentally and economically are ironically reluctant to participate in PFM.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Engaged dairy producers have sought advice from project personnel regarding feeding as well as other dairy management areas more than in the past. We have been able to educate these producers on topics that their feed reps do not have time or possibly background in. The function and dynamics of the rumen as the key to efficient feed/nutrient utilization is one. These discussions and investigations include forage particle size, high moisture corn characteristics, manure screening, forage chopper head settings, processing of home grown and locally roasted soybeans and utilization of high effective fiber feedstuffs like quality straw and cottonseed hulls.

The tight forage supply due to the regional drought conditions in 2012 plus the high cost of purchased feeds raised interest in double cropping and its contribution to nutrient balance. Community interests in 2013 ancillary to this project included small scale anaerobic digesters and hazardous hydrogen sulfide production in manure storage with the use of ground gypsum wallboard as a bedding supplement. These address nutrients, but outside of the realm of feed management.


Nancy Glazier
Small Farm Specialist
Cornell Cooperative Extension
417 Liberty St.
Penn Yan, NY 14527
Office Phone: 3155365123
Elizabeth Newbold
Sustainable Agriculture Educator
Yates County Cooperative Extension
417 Liberty St.
Penn Yan, NY 14527
Office Phone: 3155365123
Nicole Landers
Executive Director
Yates County Cornell Cooperative Extension
417 Liberty St.
Penn Yan, NY 14527
Office Phone: 3155365123
Bill Verbeten
Field Crops Specialist
NWNY Dairy, Livestock & Field Crops Team
4487 Lake Ave.
Lockport, NY 14094
Office Phone: 7164338839
Dr. Gerald Bertoldo
Senior Extension Associate
Cornell University/Pro-Dairy
420 East Main St.
Batavia, NY 14020-2599
Office Phone: 5853433040