Forage-based approaches for improving profitability and ecosystem services of dairy farms in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2013: $199,927.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Northeast
State: New Hampshire
Project Leader:
Dr. Andre Brito
University of New Hampshire

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Agronomic: corn, millet, oats, rapeseed, rye, spelt, sorghum (milo), wheat
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, grazing management, grazing - rotational, winter forage
  • Crop Production: crop rotation, cover crops, multiple cropping, nutrient cycling
  • Education and Training: decision support system, demonstration, farmer to farmer, focus group, mentoring, networking, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, budgets/cost and returns, risk management
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration
  • Pest Management: weed ecology
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, organic agriculture, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: green manures, organic matter, soil analysis

    Proposal abstract:

    We learned through focus group interviews and surveys that profitable strategies to maximize forage production are challenging to northeastern dairy farmers particularly those feeding higher forage diets to their lactating dairy cows. Our project will increase farmers’ knowledge about the benefits of using alternative forage crops (AFC) such as warm and cool season grasses, summer annuals, and brassicas as pasture and/or silage feeding. Farmers will be confident to select appropriate AFC species that provide supplemental forage during periods of limited biomass production (e.g., early spring, the “summer slump”, and late fall), thus reducing income over feed costs by replacing expensive supplemental grain with forage year-round. A core group of four farmers in collaboration with our team will guide the implementation of this project. This group has skills in dairy nutrition and management, dairy and forage extension and outreach, agroecosystems research, economics of dairy systems, and whole-farm modeling. Our team will also include research technicians, and graduate and undergraduate students to assist project personnel in compiling results from University experiments aimed at increasing knowledge on the impact of AFC in milk production, income over feed costs, enteric methane emissions, soil nitrous oxide output, and whole-farm greenhouse gases emissions per unit of milk output. Focus group interviews and surveys applied to dairy farmers in NH and PA will be used by project team to better gauge the level of knowledge and interest in using AFC across these two states. After gauging current knowledge and practices of beneficiaries, our educational program will proceed through a multi-pronged approach that includes University field days, direct-farmer-to-farmer learning, web-driven technology transfer, and development of a decision aid tool (The Alternative Forage Crop Calculator). We will couple AFC field experiments at University of New Hampshire and Penn State University with educational field days, videos, workshops, and farmer-managed AFC demonstration plots to enhance project capacity to attract more beneficiaries. Evaluation of outcomes will be done through detailed records kept by the core group of participant dairy farmers and through follow-up surveys with dairymen who attend project workshop and field days. Compared to the previous year, 60 farmers milking 5,000 cows enhance income over feed costs by $0.50/cow/day after replacing expensive grain with AFC, generating cumulative profit of approximately $5,000 per farm as a result of 120-days worth of forage surplus.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    1. Twenty farmers in NH and PA participate in focus group interviews to help project team assess their knowledge about AFC use and agronomic practices. (December 2013)

    2. Based on the focus groups, a survey is designed and mailed to 1,000 farmers to obtain key information about AFC knowledge and practices throughout NH and PA. (February 2014)

    3. Two hundred farmers return survey; 150 agree to participate in educational programs; four agree to host on-farm demonstrations and become peer-leaders helping disseminate project results. (April 2014)

    4. One hundred-twenty farmers attend two, three-hour workshops (one at each University) that explain project performance target, known benefits of AFC, The Alternative Forage Crop Calculator, and the IFSM (February 2014 - April 2014)

    5. Eighty farmers attend field days at Universities about spring AFC performance and impact on milk production; a video highlighting AFC establishment is made and posted on project YouTube channel and PSU/UNH Extension websites. (May 2014)

    6. One hundred farmers attend University field days about summer AFC performance, economics, and impact on milk production and methane emissions; four farmers plant AFC for demonstration trials. (August 2014)

    7. Project team produces a short video-clip highlighting economics and management practices of fall AFC in University experiments; video is disseminated via YouTube channel and UNH/PSU Extension websites (November 2014).

    8. Farmers consult with project PIs via email and phone calls about the impact of AFC on silage quality and milk production as well as the suite of AFC they intend to grown on their farms. (November 2014 - March 2015)

    9. Ninety farmers attend field days at lead farms to see AFC demonstration trials; lead farmers share their experiences with AFC and effects on milk output and income over feed costs (IOFC). (May - September 2015)

    10. Field days hosted at UNH and PSU are attended by 80 farmers who learn about how to most effectively include AFC in their rations and how these can impact whole-farm GHG footprints. (July - December 2015)

    11. Sixty farmers grow AFC for the first time; farmers consult with project team and lead farmers via blog and phone calls to exchange experiences and observations of cow performance. (August 2015 - July 2016)

    Performance target: Compared to the previous year, 60 farmers milking 5,000 cows enhance IOFC by $0.50/cow/day after replacing expensive grain with AFC, generating cumulative profit of approximately $5,000 per farm as a result of 120-days worth of forage surplus.

    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.