Advanced sustainable cropping systems for dairy farms in the Northeast

Project Overview

Project Type: Research Only
Funds awarded in 2016: $400,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2019
Grant Recipient: Pennsylvania State University
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Dr. Heather Karsten
The Pennsylvania State University

Information Products


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


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, feed formulation, manure management
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: decision support system, demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, technical assistance, workshop
  • Energy: bioenergy and biofuels, energy conservation/efficiency, energy use
  • Farm Business Management: agricultural finance, budgets/cost and returns
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement
  • Pest Management: allelopathy, biological control, chemical control, competition, cultivation, eradication, field monitoring/scouting, integrated pest management, mulches - killed, mulches - living, physical control, precision herbicide use, weed ecology
  • Production Systems: integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: green manures, nutrient mineralization, organic matter, soil analysis, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Over the past six years we have been evaluating two diverse, six-year no-till crop rotations designed to produce all the feed, forage and some tractor fuel for a typical-sized PA 65 cow, 240 acre dairy farm. Using farm scale equipment, in each 6-year crop rotation we compared enhanced conservation practices for manure or weed and insect management to typical no-till d and quality results of each year and a dairy nutrition computer model, we simulated milk production and compared the whole farm performance of two cropping scenarios (the two, 6-year enhanced conservation cropping systems compared to the two, 6-year typical no-till cropping systems). The cropping scenarios have produced the majority of the dairy feed and forage, and were profitable over a range of weather and market conditions. We also included a typical no-till, corn-soy rotation with preemptive insect control practices to help assess efficacy of IPM compared to this insurance-based management of insect pests, not to produce feed for the dairy farm. Having completed one phase of the six-year rotations, we can now assess if and how the management practices have changed agroecosystem characteristics, and evaluate how the modified cropping systems perform over additional years of weather, pest, and market dynamics. We will continue to test our original hypotheses, and some new ones designed to improve the performance of the cropping systems. To promote adoption of the enhanced conservation cropping systems, we will also assist case study commercial farms to adopt and evaluate the strategies, particularly in regions where the practices are not used. With input from the case study farmers and advisory panel, we will develop extension materials and programs and actively conduct outreach activities highlighting five dairy cropping system strategies that we have identified as most likely to enhance farm sustainability and be adopted.

    Project objectives 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.