Evaluation of Forage Brassica Establishment and Productivity on Grazing Farms

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2009: $9,864.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Stephen Canner
Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: general hay and forage crops
  • Vegetables: beets, cabbages, rutabagas, turnips
  • Animals: bovine, sheep
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, pasture renovation, grazing - rotational, stockpiled forages, winter forage
  • Crop Production: crop rotation, intercropping, no-till
  • Education and Training: extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Pest Management: botanical pesticides, chemical control, competition
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture, integrated crop and livestock systems

    Proposal abstract:

    Current Issue

    High quality forages have been recognized as a key to sustainable production of ruminant animals. With volatile fuel prices and environmental concerns about fossil fuel use, grazing is an increasingly desirable alternative to mechanical harvest of forages. Highly productive grazing animals will often not be able to consume enough perennial grass and legume forages to meet their energy demands for optimum production. Typically these animals are supplemented with high-energy feeds such as grains, which have significant economic and environmental costs. Another challenge in managing grazing systems is the fluctuation in pasture productivity throughout the growing season. Productivity of the cool season grasses used in the northeast peaks early with a “spring flush” of pasture in May and June, followed by a “summer slump” in the warmest months and another increase in early fall followed by decline in the late fall. This project strives to increase the economic and environmental sustainability of grazing systems by researching grazing crops that have a high energy density and will improve the distribution of forage productions throughout the year. As the economic viability of grazing improves, adoption of grazing practices will increase, thus increasing the overall sustainability of agriculture in the region. Forage brassicas, crops of the family Brassicaceae such as rape, kale, mustards, turnip, radish, and swede (rutabaga), are usually palatable and have high levels of digestible energy for ruminants. They can be productive during the summer slump or during the late fall. There is little recent experience with these crops in northern New York. With numerous new cultivars on the market, there is a need to investigate the ability of these crops to improve the energy density and seasonal distribution of forages on grazing farms in the Northeast. There are many unanswered questions about economically optimal methods of using forage brassicas, especially in Northeastern climate and soils. There are many varieties with diverse growth habits to choose from, and there are diverse agronomic recommendations from different sources. It is not clear whether the recommendations are actually based on research data, nor whether they are applicable in this climate. Planting date recommendations are particularly inconsistent, with early spring planting and mid-summer (late July) planting being the most common. There are few data about yield potential (none from the colder parts of the Northeast) and it is not clear whether the value of these crops will outweigh the costs incurred in producing them. No-till establishment could be a low cost method of establishment.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Anecdotal evidence indicates that brassica crops grow well in the Northeast. Forage brassicas have been researched to a limited extent in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and other western states, but there is little published research in New York, Vermont, or Northeastern states with similar cold climates. Fay Benson, Extension Educator with the Cornell University Organic Dairy Initiative, has been pursuing research in central New York, focusing on whether forage turnips can be established with minimal tillage, but his results are very preliminary. He is pursuing additional grant funding to continue this work in 2009. Much of the experience with these crops in New York State has been in wildlife attraction plots, as these crops can be highly palatable to deer. However, due to the nature of that market, little agronomic or yield information has been made available. This project is a pilot study to quantify agronomic characteristics of some forage brassicas and to educate farmers about the economic potential of these species. This project will answer the following objectives: · Quantify yield and forage quality of several varieties across the range of forage brassica types (rape, kale, mustard, turnip, radish, swede, and/or hybrids of these). · Compare yield and forage quality of forage brassicas when planted at different times. · Evaluate establishment of brassicas using minimal tillage into pasture compared to conventional tillage. · Compare conventional tillage establishment of brassicas with and without a nurse crop of oats. · Compare no-till establishment of brassicas with and without a vinegar spray for suppression of competing vegetation. · Generate data for use in partial budgeting to evaluate the financial viability of forage brassicas in farming operations. The project will involve field trials at four locations: the Extension Learning Farm (ELF) belonging to Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County and three collaborating private certified organic farms in St. Lawrence and Franklin Counties.

    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.