Season Extension Strategies and Profitability in Dairy and Livestock Operations in New England

Project Overview

LNE20-399
Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2020: $236,718.00
Projected End Date: 04/30/2023
Grant Recipients: University of Massachusetts Amherst; University of Maine; University of Vermont
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Masoud Hashemi
University of Massachusetts Amherst

Commodities

  • Agronomic: grass (misc. annual), grass (misc. perennial), mustard, radish (oilseed, daikon, forage)

Practices

  • Animal Production: grazing management, stockpiled forages, winter forage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns

    Proposal abstract:

                In a changing climate, northeast farmers are experiencing milder/wetter winters and hotter/dryer summers, significantly impacting pasture productivity. Wet soils in spring may delay planting of long season annuals like corn while changes in summer conditions may intensify the summer slump of pastures. Grazing in New England is also limited in late fall. To avoid over-grazing, livestock producers heavily rely on labor-intensive and more expensive stored hay and/or purchased feed. These approaches can strain farm finances since livestock producers and dairy farmers operate on thin profit margins. Not surprisingly, we have found that producers throughout the region are highly interested in expanding the grazing season and other risk mitigating strategies.

                This project will investigate several novel extended grazing systems to increase forage inventory, farm profits, and climate adaptability. These strategies will provide research and education to help livestock farmers confidently increase yield, produce high-quality forage, and replace stored feeds.

                Our hypothesis is that the grazing season in New England can be extended/enhanced to increase forage inventory, reduced feed cost, and improved resilience to climate change conditions. This comprehensive project will build on our preliminary research to evaluate and assess practices that extend and enhance the grazing season and improve forage yield and quality. We will work to develop and fine-tune the following management practices:

     

    1) Stockpiling: Investigating species composition and fertility management to provide high yielding/quality forage for late fall grazing.

     

    2) No-till seedings into pastures: determine seeding rate, and nitrogen rates for supplementing existing pastures with winter rye or triticale to improve yield and quality of grazing in late fall and following spring.

     

    3) Cool-season annuals – determine best combinations of brassicas, grasses, and other forbs to extend grazing into the fall while minimizing the impact of secondary compounds on livestock health.

     

    4) Warm-season annuals – identify best combinations that maximize yield and nutrient efficiency during the summer slump.

     

                This project will implement a variety of educational methods to deliver comprehensive, practical information -to Northeast dairy and livestock operators. We will conduct replicated experiments at university research stations in MA, VT, and ME and work with regional farmers to install on-farm demonstrations. The results will be shared at annual meetings and field days. New adopters will be able to ask questions to collaborating farmers and researchers in person and remotely. Field days will be held at university research farms to display and transfer research results to the agricultural community. On-farm trials will compliment research trials and will integrate any farmer-specific treatments that arise. Lastly, development of online educational articles and videos will assist with distribution to the broader agricultural community.

                We will verify the performance target by surveying farmers about grazing practices at in-person meetings and over our list serves.

    Performance targets from proposal:

                Forty dairy and livestock producers in New England will implement a new practice or strategy to extend the grazing season, resulting in dry matter forage yield increases of one ton per acre and improvements in relative feed value (RFV) compared to stored dry hay on at least 2000 acres.

    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.