UNH Organic Dairy Farm Agroecosystem Study, Phase II; A closed system, energy independent organic dairy farm for Northeastern U.S.

2011 Annual Report for LNE11-313

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2011: $392,658.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Northeast
State: New Hampshire
Project Leader:
Dr. John Aber
University of New Hampshire

UNH Organic Dairy Farm Agroecosystem Study, Phase II; A closed system, energy independent organic dairy farm for Northeastern U.S.


The current project, funded in the fall of 2011, is the second three year award for a projected nine year project. Our original grant for the first three years was completed last fall. The proposal for that grant outlined a clear set of milestones for the first three years of this project. Those milestones have been met, and are outlined below.

In the initial months of this new award, we have concentrated on completing analyses on samples taken under the first award, and focused on deriving detailed plans for, and economic impacts of, the wood-bedding-compost-energy system being developed. In addition to the direct results of research outlined below, we have been able, by combining SARE support with NHAES funding, to support 7 graduate and 12 undergraduate students in original research projects at the primary research site, the Burley-Demeritt Organic Dairy Research Farm (ODRF). We have also presented the results of our work to a distinguished list of visitors, as well as UNH and pre-college students, and local farmers and community members

Objectives/Performance Targets

The overall purpose of this project is to use the ODRF as a test bed to achieve: A Closed-System, Energy Independent Organic Dairy Farm for the Northeastern U.S. We are pursuing a farm-ecosystem level approach to the measurement all of the material and energy flows occurring across the annual production cycle at the ODRF. Natural and human vectors are being compared, including, for example, inputs of nutrients in precipitation, feed and fertilizer, and losses in product shipment, surface water runoff and ground water leaching. The following text lists the goals for the first three years of funding. Results in these areas have been summarized in previous reports.


Our original proposal outlined a project timeline for the first three years, as well as tentative goals for years 4-9. Over the first three years, we have achieved these goals (see reports, posters and summaries at http://colsa.unh.edu/aes/odrf/research/projects/SARE/Results).
Year 1: Finish outline of energy and nitrogen flows at the Organic Dairy Research Farm.

Years 2-3:
• Conclude research into those flows which are most significant and least well quantified. These include:
o Water and nutrient flows to the Lamprey River
o Rate and composition of manure production as well as current storage practices and effects on decay and energy and nutrient balances
o Productivity of pasture and woodland systems
• Investigate alternative methods for increased efficiency of resource use, generation of energy and minimization of nutrient loss.
• Analyze economic impact of alternative systems
o Reduction in energy costs
o Increase in sales of products (e.g. organic compost and milk products)

The accepted proposal for the next three years of work includes the following goals:

1. Hydrology and Water Quality
a. Continued groundwater hydrology
b. Continued water quality monitoring
c. Calculating the water footprint of the Farm
2. Closing the Nitrogen Cycle
a. Measurement of gaseous N exchanges
b. Updating data on the nitrogen cycle
c. Minimizing nitrogen input
3. Moving Toward Energy Independence
a. Finalizing the current energy budget and energy system analysis
b. Geothermal application for milk cooling
c. Integrated wood shavings/bedding/energy/compost system
d. An alternative energy demonstration center

In the first months of this new project, we have been focusing on finalizing plans for goal 3c, including working with partners and engineers on the actual design of the composting facility, and the flow of wood from woodlot to bedding to compost to fields. We have also been completing chemical analyses related to water quality impacts and nitrogen balances of the Farm.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Impacts of the work reported here include
1. Visits to the Farm by stakeholders both individually and as part of organized outreach functions
2. Changes in direction for support for research, facilities design and construction, and Farm operations by the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station (NHAES)
3. Students trained and traditional scientific presentations

1. List of recent visitors to the Farm include:
• Approximately 40 Agricultural Attaches arrange by Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Dr. Kathleen Merrigan
• Top management personnel from Stonyfield Farms, Horizon Organic Dairy, Aurora Organic Dairy and Organic Valley, attended also by Lorraine Merrill, State Commissioner of Agriculture.

• UNH Alumni Association (Site visit for annual meeting)
• Students in UNH classes, including:
o Dairy Management I and II
o “The Real Dirt”
o Introduction to Horticulture
o Forages
o Ecogastronomy
o Water – How Much is Enough?
o Principles of Hydrology
• Students from pre K-12 schools, including
o Oyster River Preschool/Parents
o Phillips Exeter Academy
o Dairy Travel Course
• About 50 people from UNH and surrounding communities, including NH Secretary of Agriculture Lorraine Merrill, who attended the first Burley Demeritt/Organic Diary Field Day in August 2010
• A number of local farmers, visiting Faculty, and community members who are always welcome at the Farm.

2. Contributions from NHAES and Impacts of this Research on Operations
The NHAES is providing considerable funding to leverage this project. In round numbers, these include:
• $76,000 annually to support faculty and students, and pay costs of chemical analyses, related to this research project, as well as support for 7 other faculty and staff doing research on this site.
• $200,000 per year (net of milk revenues), to cover the operations of the farm, which are managed in close cooperation with the SARE project in terms of goals and objectives.

In addition, the new direction in experimental management for the Farm established as part of the SARE project has resulted in significant changes in facilities design.

• The newly (2009) constructed barn which houses stock in the winter was constructed as a bedded pack facility in cooperation with the composting and nutrient management goals of the SARE project. It also includes runoff reduction and sediment retention that should reduce N inputs to groundwater.
• Plans for a manure handling facility are going forward with the goal of incorporating information gained from the composting research objective of this project.

3. Graduate and Undergraduate Student Support
The combination of SARE funding and the collaborative support from the NHAES described above has supported a number of undergraduate and graduate students who have made significant contributions to the project, and represent a first generation of new professional trained at UNH in the agroecosystem area. Four Masters students have completed theses and presented results at national meetings.


Dr. Matt Davis

Associate professor
Univ. of New Hampshire
James Hall
Durham, NH 03824
Office Phone: 6038621718
Dr. Bill McDowell

James Hall
Durham, NH 03824
Office Phone: 6038622249