Building resilience and sustainability in dairy forage systems in New England
Despite the known ecosystem service benefits of cover crops, many Northeast dairy farmers have been slow to adopt efficient cover crop management practices. The current use of full-season corn silage hybrids results in harvests through early October; subsequent winter hardy cover crops planted this late are inefficient for nutrient capture from fall applied manure. The crops are also subject to poor establishment and reduced tiller production, compromising their efficiency as a cover crop.
To incentivize farmers to prioritize early cover crop planting dates, we propose harvesting the cover crop in the spring as an additional source of forage production. To serve as an economically viable spring forage crop, our early results suggest overwintering cereals should be planted in early-mid September. Fall planting delays can result in more than a 50% reduction of spring yield (2014-2015: September 1 planting date, 1.38 tons A-1 vs September 30 planting date, 0.65 tons A-1) However, concerns of yield penalties associated with shorter season corn, and potential impacts of high carbon cover crops on subsequent corn production, has impeded the adoption of double cropping with dual purpose small winter grains. To address these concerns, rye, wheat, and triticale are under evaluation for feed quality and yield potential, nutrient cycling capacity of nitrogen and phosphorous from fall-applied manure, and impact on subsequent corn production in MA, ME, and VT under tillage, reduced tillage, and no-till systems.
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, increasing profitability per acre, improving nutrient capture and cycling, providing known ecosystem service benefits, and sustaining resilience to fluctuating economic markets and a changing climate.
-Presentations: Northeastern Plant, Pest and Soil conference, Philadelphia, PA, 1/4/16, (30 in attendance) University of Maine In-Service Training Workshop for Certified Crop Advisers, Portsmouth, NH, 2/1/16, (60 in attendance), University of Massachusetts Extension: Improving Dairy Productivity and Profitability, Deerfield, MA, 2/4/16 (50 in attendance), University of Massachusetts Extension Twilight Meeting, Rutland, MA, 7/20/16 (75 in attendance), Northeast Organic Farming Associate Farm Visit, 8/11/16, (16 in attendance), ASA, CSSA, SSSA Annual Meeting, 11/7/16, (25 in attendance).
-Completed the second year of field trials and established the third, and final, year of field trials
-Developing a 2017 cover crop survey for the MA dairy farmers to determine current trends in utilization compared to 2006 survey results, and to continue to identify and consult with early adopters.
-Presentations: Maine Agricultural Trades Show 1/13/16 (42 in attendance), UMass Crops field Day 2/24/16 (33 in attendance), Maine Farm Bureau meeting 3/10/16 (15 in attendance), Maine dairy Seminar, Waterville Maine 3/15/16 (125 in attendance), No-till planter clinic, Skowhegan, Me 4/22/16 (27 in attendance), Maine Farm Days, Clinton, Me 9/24/16 (38 in attendance), Goldstar Feeds Field Day Hermon, Me 9/7/16 (41 in attendance)
-New trials will be established in 2017, with a cover crop/no-till trial at Maine Farms Day in Clinton.
-Presentations: Growing Pennsylvania Organic Farm Conference, Harrisburg, PA 12/15/15 (50 in attendance); In-Service Training Workshop for Certified Crop Advisers (60 in attendance), Portsmouth, NH 2/1/16; Extension Northwest Crops and Soils Program Annual Field Day, Borderview Research Farm Alburgh, VT 7/28/16 (185 in attendance); Organic Dairy Series Field Day-Elysian Fields Shorham, VT 8/4/16 (35 in attendance); Northeast SARE Field Tour, Borderview Research Farm Alburgh, VT 8/27/16 (56 in attendance); UVM Extension Cover Crop and No-Till Meeting, Bess-View Farm St. Albans, VT 9/15/16 (25 in attendance); UVM Extension Northwest Crops and Soils Program Cover Crop Field Day, Borderview Research Farm Alburgh, VT 10/28/16 (19 in attendance).
-Completed the first year of field trials and established the second year of field trials.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
-Enrolled three farms (2 conventional dairy, 1 organic beef) to experiment with dual-purpose cover crops harvested for feed on nearly 50 acres. Baseline soil samples and field conditions were evaluated, and farms will continue to be sampled for nutrient cycling and yield. Crops will be harvested in the spring and then corn for silage (dairy) or summer grazing crops (beef) will be planted.
-Identified early adopters implementing this method on their land following Extension events.
-Hosted an Extension Dairy Event attended by 50 farmers and service providers
-Organized and sponsored a Twilight meeting attended by over 75 farmers.
-Hosted attendees of the Northeast Organic Farming Association at the University Research Farm to showcase alternative cover crop use
-Produced a fact sheet about shorter season corn hybrids and double cropping with cover crops, now on UMass CDLE website
-Assessed over 20 short, mid, and full season corn hybrid varieties for grain and silage
-Completed four field trials assessing the potential of cover crops in alternative forage production
-Collected and analyzed soil samples for nearly 200 acres of corn silage to provide assistance in crop and manure nutrient management decisions on fields with varied cover crop implementation
-Enrolled 4 farms to investigate no-till cover corn and cover crop systems. Conducted initial soil test evaluations on these fields using UMaine Soil Health Protocol. These farms will continue to be monitored to collect data and evaluate soil health changes.
-Will enroll another farm in 2017 at the site of Maine Farm Days. Cover crop was planted in early October of 2016.
-Collaborated with MA to produce a fact sheet about reduced tillage, now on UMass CDLE website
-Conducted two field days at Fogler farm (Stonyvale Farm Exeter, Maine) to evaluate cover crop establishment techniques. Soil test pits were dug to evaluate improved rotations with No-till Corn and alfalfa. (Total attendance of 31 farmers and 9 USDA/Extension/crop consultants)
-Over 500 acres of airplane seeded cover crops were sown in central Maine on corn ground by producers that had never used cover crops before.
-Two new no-till farms were established with an additional 750 acres planted in No-till for 2016.
-Hosted the Vermont Organic Dairy Producers Conference that highlighted annual forages to supplement perennial forage crops (111 total attendees).
-Hosted 4 on-farm Organic Dairy Field Days that highlighted farms that are implementing annual forages (121 total attendees).
-Hosted 1 on-farm Cover Crop and No-Till Field Day that highlighted integrating triticale as double crop with corn silage. Helped this farm implement 200 acres of winter triticale and rye to be harvested for forage in 2017.
-Established 800 new acres of cover crops on 5 farms across the state using interseeding technology.
– Worked with 2 farms to help them select a winter forage species, seeding rate, and seeding method to establish 200 acres of winter forage to be harvested in 2017.
-Completed 5 cover cropping field research trials investigating cover crop establishment timing, methods, species mixtures, and uses for forage.
-Completed long and short season corn variety trials including over 50 varieties and created outreach materials summarizing the results that will be distributed at upcoming outreach events.
University of Massachusetts
107 Bowditch Hall
201 Natural Resource Way
Amherst, MA 01003-9294
278 S. Main Street
Albans, Vermont 05478
992 Waterville Road
Waldo, Maine 04915