Sustainable cropping systems for dairy farmers in the Northeast, II

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2013: $400,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Dr. Heather Karsten
The Pennsylvania State University

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: canola, corn, oats, rye, soybeans, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, feed formulation, manure management
  • Crop Production: crop rotation, continuous cropping, cover crops, double cropping, intercropping, multiple cropping, no-till, nutrient cycling, organic fertilizers, application rate management, relay cropping, tissue analysis, conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, workshop, youth education, technical assistance
  • Energy: bioenergy and biofuels, energy conservation/efficiency, energy use
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, budgets/cost and returns, agricultural finance
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration, biodiversity, habitat enhancement
  • Pest Management: biological control, chemical control, competition, cultural control, economic threshold, field monitoring/scouting, genetic resistance, integrated pest management, mulches - killed, mulches - living, physical control, prevention, smother crops, mulching - vegetative, weed ecology
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: green manures, organic matter, soil analysis, nutrient mineralization, soil chemistry, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: employment opportunities, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Our goal is to develop sustainable dairy cropping systems that minimize environmental impacts
    and off-farm inputs; and are productive, and profitable. To achieve this goal, we designed
    cropping systems to produce all the forage, feed, and fuel for a 65 cow, 240 acre dairy farm,
    while conserving soil, nutrients, biodiversity, and energy. In spring 2010, we initiated the two
    diverse, 6-year crop rotations that include legumes, perennials, green manure and cover crops,
    no-till, and canola, and a straight vegetable oil tractor using farm-scale equipment at 1/20th scale
    on 12 acres of Penn State’s Agronomy Research Farm. Within each crop rotation we are
    evaluating innovative management practices to address key issues: i. manure management with
    shallow-disk manure injection; and ii. weed management with reduced herbicide use, with
    cultural and mechanical integrated weed management practices. We are also evaluating strategies
    for canola production, and insect and slug pest management, and included a conventionally managed,
    corn-soybean rotation on 2 acres for research comparisons. Using the crop yield and
    quality, and a dairy nutrition model, we simulate the dairy herd’s milk production. To identify

    system benefits, trade-offs, and opportunities to improve practices, we are evaluating multiple
    performance indicators: crop yield and quality, soil health, nutrient conservation, greenhouse gas
    emissions, weed and insect populations; energy use and production, and farm profitability. We
    have identified system benefits and opportunities to improve them, and will evaluate the new
    practices and the long-term performance of the systems over the next three years. We are also
    leveraging this project for additional research funds to advance sustainable agriculture research
    & education. Through scientific and educational outreach publications and activities, we will
    share the project results with diverse audiences to promote the advancement and adoption of
    innovative sustainable agricultural practices for dairy, livestock and crop farmers.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    There are two major objectives of this project: i. to identify how to enhance the sustainability of dairy cropping systems and dairy farms in the Northeast by integrating best management practices with innovative practices and technologies, ii. to promote adoption of the cropping system practices by farmers.

    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.