Improving winter grain yields, grain quality, and nitrogen use efficiency in New England using adaptive management
Over the course of this project, six farmers from Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont participated in two years of on-farm strip trials evaluating in-season diagnostic testing for winter grains. A total of 21 individual trials were conducted (7 in winter wheat, 8 in winter rye, 5 in winter spelt, and 1 in triticale). Advisory teams in each state, comprised of participating farmers, crop advisors, project staff and PIs, met each winter to plan trials, evaluate results, and redesign trials to address new questions.
Project PIs conducted two years of extensive on-station trials at three sites (Maine, New York, and Vermont). Take- home messages from the trials to date are: 1) to achieve optimal yields, start by using proper seeding methods and rates to ensure adequate plant densities going into the winter; 2) if spring tiller densities are low, topdressing at spring green-up can successfully increase tiller and spike density in winter rye as well as winter wheat; 3) if spring tiller densities are high, topdressing can increase the portion of tillers that develop into productive spikes but also may increase lodging, particularly in taller species or varieties; and 4) counting tillers at spring greenup shows promise as a tool to guide topdress nitrogen application decisions for winter grains but critical levels may need to be reduced for winter rye as compared with winter wheat.
In 2016, 484 farmers, agricultural service providers, students, and researchers learned about winter grain nitrogen management and this project from presentations at 6 field days and 2 winter conferences held in Maine, Vermont, New York, New Brunswick, and Quebec. To date, four of the participating farmers have adopted adaptive management by reducing fall N applications and topdressing in the spring based on crop condition. In 2017, we will focus on additional outreach and documentation of project impacts.
50 farmers adopt in-season diagnostic testing for winter grain production on 800 acres, and thus improve nitrogen use efficiency by 30% or more, for bread wheat meet the 12% grain protein standard on 600 acres, and increase the value of their grain by an average of $300/ton, or $180,000/year.
- 500 producers and crop advisors in New England learn about the project through grower meetings, advisor meetings, websites, and newsletters (fall 2013).
Completed March 2014.
- 120 grain producers participate in a survey (online or at meetings) of current fertility practices for winter wheat (fall 2013/winter 2014).
Completed March 2015. A survey was distributed at the 2014 and 2015 Maine Grain Conferences and online to Vermont grain growers in 2014. Of the 210 farmers (90 in ME; 120 in VT) who received the survey, 43 (20%) responded. This is a lower response rate than expected, but does give a good baseline from which to evaluate our project.
- 7-10 person advisory teams composed of farmers, millers, bakers, service providers, and project PIs will meet in each state to develop outreach events and discuss research plans, results, and needs (Nov/Dec 2013, 2014, and 2015).
Completed April 2015. In Maine, an advisory team comprised of 3 farmers, 1 miller, 1 crop advisor, and 2 project PIs was formed and met on March 27, 2014 and March 24, 2015. In Vermont, the advisory team is comprised of 6 famers, 3 millers, 2 bakers, 2 service providers, and 1 project PI. This group meets as part of the Northern Grain Growers Association meetings, and discussed this project at their March 2014 and February and November 2015 meetings. In Massachusetts, project PIs met individually with the one participating farmer on March 13, 2014 and April 23, 2015. The Project PIs also communicated with this farmer via email and by phone prior to the meeting. At these meetings, the farmers and PIs reviewed the project and performance targets, planned initial trials, discussed results from the 2014 season, and planned trials for the 2015 based on 2014 results.
- 3 research station trials (NY, ME, VT) are conducted to evaluate and calibrate in-season nitrogen diagnostic tests and recommendations are developed for growers and service providers (2014 and 2015 growing seasons).
Partially completed August 2015. Research trials were implemented in the fall of 2013 and completed in July of 2014 at the UMaine Rogers Research Farm, Old Town, Maine; Borderview Research Farm, Alburgh, Vermont, and the Cornell Willsboro Research Farm, Willsboro, New York. At these same sites, repeat trials were established in the fall of 2014 and completed in August of 2015. Data analysis of the combined results from these trials will be completed and recommendations will be developed by April 2017.
- At least 9 farmer collaborators implement strip trials of in-season diagnostic testing for winter grains (2014 and 2015 growing seasons).
Completed August 2015. 7 collaborating farmers (3 in VT, 3 in ME, and 1 in MA) implemented a total of 21 strip trials over two years (8 in winter rye, 7 in winter wheat, 5 in winter spelt and 1 in winter triticale). 4 of these trials were discontinued due to severe winterkill and data was not collected for another 2 due to severe lodging and weed pressure.
- 3 farmers host on-farm nitrogen management field days (each summer, 2014, 2015, and 2016).
Completed September 2016.
In 2014, field days were hosted at: the Rogers Research Farm, Old Town, Maine on June 26; Beidler Family Farm, Randolph, Vermont on July 17; Borderview Research Farm, Alburgh, Vermont on July 24; Butterworks Farms, Westfield, Vermont on August 28; Cornell Willsboro Research Farm, Willsboro, New York on July 9
In 2015, field days were hosted at: the Rogers Research Farm, Old Town, Maine on July 16; Rusted Rooster Farm, Parkman, Maine on July 23; Borderview Research Farm, Alburgh, Vermont on June 27 and July 23; Willsboro Research Farm, Willsboro, New York on July 8.
In 2016, field days were hosted at: the UMaine Aroostook Research Farm, Presque Isle, Maine on July 19; Rogers Farmstead, Berlin, Vermont on June 21; Borderview Research Farm, Alburgh, Vermont on June 28; Le Moulin des Cèdres Farm, Les Cedres, Quebec on July 13; Borderview Research Farm, Alburgh, Vermont on July 28; Four Star Farms, Northfield, Massachusetts on August 18.
- 300 grain producers and agricultural service providers attend on-farm demonstrations, field days, and winter workshops where they increase their knowledge of winter grain nitrogen management and how to use in-season diagnostic testing to improve N-use efficiency, reduce nitrogen loss and increase grain protein (July 2014 – July 2016).
Progress to date:
In 2014, attendance totaled 569 for 6 events held in Maine, Vermont, and New York at which winter grain nitrogen management was discussed. These were: the Maine Grain Conference (83); the Rogers Farm Field Day (44); Vermont’s Annual Grain Growers Conference (125); the Beidler Family Farm Field Day (42); the Borderview Research Farm Annual Field Day (225); the Willsboro Research Farm Field Day (50).
In 2015, attendance totaled 614 for 7 events held in Maine, Vermont, and New York at which winter grain nitrogen management was discussed. Attendees were present from Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Quebec. These were: the Maine Grain Conference (75); the Rogers Farm Field Day (45); the Rusted Rooster Farm Walk (18); Vermont’s Annual Grain Growers Conference (133); the Borderview Farm Grain Research Tour (42); the Borderview Farm Annual Field Day (236); the Willsboro Research Farm Field Day (65).
In 2016, attendance totaled 484 for 8 events held in Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Brunswick, and Quebec at which winter grain nitrogen management was discussed. These were: 2016 Maine Grain Conference (76); UMaine Aroostook Research Farm Field Day (25); Getting Started with Grains, Rogers Farmstead, Vermont (37); the Borderview Farm Grain Research Tour (39); the Borderview Farm Annual Field Day (185); Hopping and Milling About at Four Star Farms in Massachusetts (53); Organic Wheat Production and Processing in Quebec (24); Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network Conference and Trade Show (45).
- 500 grain producers and agricultural service providers will learn in-season diagnostic testing procedures and results from web resources including videos, factsheets, and a topdress N-rate calculator (Jan 2014 and Aug 2016).
To date, two reports and one newsletter article have been produced, posted online, and distributed that summarize the adaptive nitrogen management approach and results of the 2014 on-farm research trials:
Mallory, E. 2014. Assessing Winter Grain Stands. Maine Grain and Oilseed Newsletter 2(1). Available at: https://extension.umaine.edu/grains-oilseeds
Traclet, L., T. Molloy, E. Cummings, H. Darby, and E. Mallory. 2015. Determining Topdress Nitrogen Needs for Winter Grains: 2014 Maine and Vermont Research Report. University of Maine Extension Research Report.
Darby, H., E. Cummings, S. Monahan, J. Post, and S. Ziegler. 2015. Improving Winter Grain Yields, Quality, and Nitrogen Use Efficiency Using Adaptive Management. University of Vermont Extension Northwest Crops and Soils Report.
- 50 farmers will report having implemented in-season diagnostic tests and document changes in nitrogen applications, yields, grain protein levels (for bread wheat), and revenue (by July 2016).
We have delayed this milestone until July 2017 due to the PI being on sabbatical leave during 2016. A one-year extension of the project was approved to accomplish this.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
As a result of participating in this project, four of the farmers with whom we have worked have adopted the adaptive N management approach of split N applications instead of applying all in the fall. In addition, the cooperating farmer in Massachusetts has increased their overall N rates with spring applications and as a result increased grain protein for winter wheat. Two of the Maine farmers adjusted seeding methods and rates for winter rye to improve yields.
Over this next year we will document impacts with other farmers. At this point, though, we will note that winter grain production has changed since we first developed this project. Winter wheat acreage has declined sharply following two years of severe winterkill (2014 and 2015). At the same time, winter rye acreage has increased in Maine in response to increased demand for winter rye cover crop seed. Based on these changes, we expect to see greater interest and adoption of the early spring tiller count test to guide N applications for optimizing yield than the tissue-N test to guide N applications for increased grain protein.
Extension Agronomist and Nutrient Management Specialist
University of Vermont Extension
278 S. Main Street
St. Albans, VT 05478
Office Phone: 8025246501