- Agronomic: rye, wheat, grass (misc. perennial), hay
- Animal Products: dairy
- Animal Production: feed/forage, manure management, winter forage
- Crop Production: conservation tillage
- Education and Training: extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
- Production Systems: general crop production
PROBLEM AND JUSTIFICATIONThe benefits of cover crops have been long established; we have a solid understanding of their ability to reduce or prevent soil erosion, to conserve soil organic matter, and to scavenge and retain nutrients that would otherwise be lost from the soil environment. However, many dairy farms have been slow to adopt management practices to make good use of cover crops. Research conducted at UMass indicated that winter rye planted by September 1 could take up as much as 120 lbs NI acre and an only two-week planting delay resulted in recovery of only 60 lbs N/acre. A comprehensive survey of dairy farms in 2007 in Massachusetts revealed that only 17% of farmers plant cover crops before September 15th. Current use of full-season corn hybrids delays harvesting until early October; sowing cover crops this late is not efficient for the optimum recovery of nutrients released from fall-applied manure.BENEFICIARIES, SOLUTION, APPROACHOver 150 dairy and livestock producers from MA, NH, RI, CT, and VT attended winter meetings in Deerfield, MA in 2013 and 2014 that featured discussions of double cropping winter small grains with shorter-season corn, forage quality, and alternative forage economics. Participants have shown strong interest in these topics and other practices to improve high-quality forage yields.The ability to harvest cover crops for forage requires the producer to pay special attention to management of this ‘new” crop. Farmers are interested in learning about best species, planting dates, fertility, and harvest strategies to maximize both crop and soil productivity.We hypothesize that comprehensive, year-round forage systems, not founded on corn production, results in increased profitability for the farmer at a minimum of $400/acre, increased resiliency against climate change, and significant improvements to the environmental impacts of dairy and livestock production.This project conducts research on a variety of alternative forage systems and methods. Seven on-farm trials will illustrate the realistic integration of alternative systems on working farms. Collaboration between researchers, trial farmers, and the dairy farming community is a pinnacle of this work, and will result in the increased likelihood of adoption of these new methods by the dairy community.
Performance targets from proposal:
24 dairy farmers in four states adopt alternative forage production practices on 1000 acres, increasing forage production by 3-4 tons/acre, reducing N applications an average of 60 lbs/acre, and increasing profitability per acre by at least $450 while reducing erosion, improving soil health and providing resilience in a changing climate.