- Animal Products: dairy
- Animal Production: feed/forage, feed additives, feed formulation, feed rations, mineral supplements, probiotics
- Crop Production: food product quality/safety
- Education and Training: decision support system, extension, farmer to farmer, focus group, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
- Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
- Production Systems: organic agriculture
- Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems
a. Problem and justification: We learned through surveys that 59% of organic dairy farmers in the Northeast feed kelp meal. We hypothesize that the antimicrobial and antioxidant properties of kelp improve animal health, and that kelp’s iodine is promptly transferred to milk resulting in iodine concentrations potentially toxic to children. These hypotheses will be tested by 2 mechanisms: i) Improve animal health and farm profitability by fine-tuning kelp supplementation, and ii) An industry-scale survey of the iodine content in organic retail milk in the Northeast. Our overarching goal is to increase farmers’ knowledge about the challenges and opportunities of kelp supplementation including kelp’s potential benefits on improving animal health, as well as its cost effectiveness and impacts on milk iodine levels. Farmers will be confident on how to fine-tune the amount of kelp fed to their milking cows, and how this adjustment reduces feed costs and milk iodine levels. b. Solution and approach: A core group of 6 organic dairy farmers in collaboration with our team will guide the implementation of this project. This team has skills in dairy nutrition, on-farm research, economics of dairy systems, and development and verification of educational activities. Our team will also include a research support scientist, a post-doctorate researcher, and graduate and undergraduate students to assist with data collection and analyses from University (year 1) and on-farm (years 1-2) feeding trials aimed at investigating different strategies of kelp supplementation in the Northeast. University and on-farm research will be complemented by evaluation of dairy herd improvement (i.e., DHI) records (years 1-3) of 40 participant dairies (half feeding kelp) to provide a comprehensive picture of kelp effects on animal health and farm profitability. Surveys, workshops, and field days (years 1-3) will be used by our team to explain project goals and performance target, and to bring farmers to a similar knowledge level regarding kelp supplementation. The educational program will proceed through a multi-pronged approach including direct-farmer-to-farmer learning, social-media technology transfer, and development of a decision aid tool (i.e., The Kelp Profitability Calculator). This tool will be based on income over feed costs and sensitivity analyses condensed into an Excel spreadsheet and posted on University and project Facebook webpages for farmer access. Evaluation will be done through record keeping of participant farmers, follow-up questionnaires after each educational event, and completion of an end project survey. c. Performance target: Sixty organic dairy farmers managing 3,500 cows with milk iodine of 1,370 micrograms/L and annual kelp meal costs of $8,891/farm ($0.07/oz of kelp × 58 cows/farm × 365 days) reduce milk iodine to 800 micrograms/L and annual kelp costs to $4,446/farm after fine-tuning kelp supplementation from 6 to 3 oz/cow/day.
Performance targets from proposal:
Sixty organic dairy farmers managing 3,500 cows with milk iodine of 1,370 micrograms/L and annual kelp meal costs of $8,891/farm ($0.07/oz of kelp × 58 cows/farm × 365 days) reduce milk iodine to 800 micrograms/L and annual kelp costs to $4,446/farm after fine-tuning kelp supplementation from 6 to 3 oz/cow/day.
Mechanism 1: Improve animal health and farm profitability by fine-tuning kelp meal supplementation.
Mechanism 2: Measure milk iodine concentration through an industry-scale survey of organic retail milk in the Northeast.