Organic no-till pasture and hayfield rejuvenation

2016 Annual Report for ONE16-272

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2016: $14,927.00
Projected End Date: 04/15/2018
Grant Recipient: Cornell
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Kenneth Smith
Cornell Cooperative Extension

Organic no-till pasture and hayfield rejuvenation


The goal of the project was to increase the profitability of grass-based farming operations (dairy, beef, hay, grazing, etc.) by identifying combinations of legumes and grasses that could be established by no till seeding to increase yields on under producing pasture and hayfields.

Trial Location

Six dairy farms in Chenango County participated in the project. Two conventional small dairy farms; one milking 40 cows and the other milking 90 cows. The other four farms were newly established farms of New Order Amish families, which started farming in 2015 and 2016. Their herd sizes were 40-45 cows on each farm.  These four Amish farms are all certified organic. The goals and methods of the project were explained to the farmers prior to applying for the 2015 grant and again prior to beginning seeding in spring of 2016 .

Seeding Plots and Combinations Trialed

Five different seeding combinations of grasses and legumes, were replicated on each farm. Each farm had a total of six one acre test plots, one acre each for the five seeding treatments and one acre as a control. To ensure that all soil plots had pH of 6.0 or higher, soil samples from each farm’s test plots were gathered and analyzed for pH by the Dairy One Labs of Ithaca, NY.  Four the farms test plots were found in need of lime to get the soil pH levels to 6.0 these farms were The Schmidt, Troyer, Ruben Miller, and Hershberger farms needed lime.  The Kemmeren and Leroy Miller farms had pH levels over 6.0 and needed no additional lime.  Lime was purchased and spread at the rate recommended by Dairy one to achieve pH of 6.0

The following seeding combinations were trialed in one acre plots on each of the six farms:

Plot 1: No seeds, control

Plot 2: Perennial Ryegrass 8.3 pounds, Birdsfoot Trefoil, 8.3 pds.

Plot 3: White Clover, 4.1 pds, Red Clover 8.3pds.

Plot 4: Hairy Vetch 33 pds.

Plot 5: Red Clover 8.3 pds Orchard Grass 4.1 pds.

Plot 6: White Clover 4.1 pds, Bluegrass 4.1 pds, Orchard Grass 4.1 Pds.

After the purchase of the seeds Rich Taber worked with project participant John Kemmeren to measure, mix, bag and label the seed combinations for all the farm’s plots to ensure proper mixing combinations.

Rich Taber went to each farm and physically measured and laid out the six, one acre plots with each farmer.

Prior to seeding, five of the farms grazed the seeding plots with either dairy cows, heifers, or draft horses ahead in order to remove as much of the existing vegetation as possible.  The Kemmeren’s applied glyphosate to their test plots in the fall of 2015. Though this was a trial for organic approaches, we felt that having a glyphosate treated plots in the trial provided a beneficial comparison.  The seeding were done in the month of May.   

Each farm was responsible for deciding how to seed the mixes. The different farms used the following methods of seeding:

  1. Farm 1, Conventional Dairy, (Schmidt) used an older no-till seeder. The plots were grazed immediately prior seeding.
  2. Farm 2, Conventional Dairy, (Kemmeren) used a modern, multi-row no-till drill manufactured by Great Plains. The plots were treated with glyphosate the fall before seeding.
  3. Farm 3, Organic, (Troyer) used a broadcast spinning seeder. The plots were grazed immediately prior seeding.
  4. Farm 4, Organic, (Hershberger) used the Kemmeren no-till seeder. The plots were grazed immediately prior seeding.
  5. Farm 5, Organic, (Rubin Miller), used the Kemmeren no-till seeder. The plots were grazed immediately prior seeding.
  6. Farm 6, Organic, (Leroy Miller), used a broadcast seeder. The plots were grazed immediately prior seeding.

Seeding Results

The two month period of May and June during and after seeding were extremely dry with less than one inch of rain during the entire time span.  The dry conditions adversely affected conditions for germination.  On farm inspections were done several times soon after seeding and noted little to no growth was found, regardless of seeding method.  In July there was modest rainfall fell and some growth of new seedlings occurred. Once seed growth was noted, further inspections and plant counts for numbers of seedlings on each plot on each farm occurred. Seeding counts were made on 3 foot by 3 foot sub plots.

After measuring growth on the test plots, the farmers were allowed the farmers to graze the plots with their livestock, or harvest plots with equipment. 

The three farms (Kemmeren, Rubin Miller, and Hersberger) that used the modern no-till drill had were the only ones with successful seedings.  The two farms that spun seed on to the soil surface had no visible growth of new seeds.  Also the one farm (Schmidt that used the older no-till seeder, had no visible growth of new seed)

On the three farms that has been seeded with the no till drill the following combinations of seeding showed success:

  1. Hershberger farm: Red clover/White clover, Hairy vetch, and Red clover/Orchard grass.
  2. Kemmeren farms:, Red clover/White clover, Hairy vetch, Red clover/orchard grass.
  3. Ruben Miller farm: Red clover/White clover, Red clover/Orchard grass

Initial Conclusions:

In years of extreme dryness such as 2016, a modern no-till seeder seems to provide a significant advantage in establishing seedings.  It appears that seeding combinations of  Red clover/White clover, Red Clover/Orchard grass, and Hairy Vetch are better able to establish under no-till conditions than a Perennial Ryegrass and Birdsfoot Trefoil mix , or White clover, Kentucky Bluegrass, Orchard grass mix.

Final Report

Plot will be re-measured 2017 growing season to quantify growth.  A complete analysis of 2016 data and new growth data from 2017 will be provided in the final project report.  The final report will include tables of growth and seeding counts for each seeding combination and each farm and photos of each plot.

Objectives/Performance Targets

  1. Six farms to have plots laid out for trial in 2016
  2. All plots to be tested for pH in spring of 2016
  3. All farms to be brought up to 6.0 or above pH by liming 4based on pH test results
  4. Trial seed combinations identified and uniformely mixed for all plots
  5. Seed to be applied to all plots on all six farms in spring of 2016
  6. Growth to be measured of all trial combinations on all six farms
  7. Evaluation of combinations of seeding methods and seeding mixes to be carried out in 2016 and 2017


  1. Trial Plots were successfully laid out on 6 farms
  2. All plots were tested for pH in spring of 2016
  3. All farms were brought up to 6.0 or above pH by liming 4 farms based on pH test results
  4. Seed combinations were uniformely mixed for all plots
  5. Seed was applied to all plots on all six farms in spring of 2016
  6. Growth was measured of all trial combinations on all six farms
  7. Some combinations of seeding methods and seeding mixes were found to be successfully no-tilled.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Methods for successful no-till seeding were clearly demonstrated.  Modern, no-till seed drill was clearly more effective at establishing successful seedings.  Combinations of Red Clover and White Clover, Hairy Vetch, and Red Clover and Orchard grass were clearly more successful than other combinations trialed.


Karen Hoffman
99 North Broad Street
Norwich, New York 13815
United States
Office Phone: 6073343231
Kevin Ganoe
Field Crops Specialist Educator, CCE Central NY Dairy and Field Crop Team
Cornell Cooperative Extension, CNY Dairy and Field Crops Team
5657 State Route 5
Herkimer, NY 13350
Office Phone: 315-866-7920 x230
Mark Schmidt
Schmidt Dairy Farm
150 Schmidt Rd
Sherburne, NY 13460-5221
Office Phone: 607-674-6025
John Kemmeren
Farmer, Seed Dealer
Kemmeren Dairy Farm
601 Stumptown Rd
Bainbridge, NY 13733-3220
Office Phone: 607-967-7440
Alan Troyer

Troyer Dairy Farm
583 Cty. Rt. 36
Guilford, NY 13780
Office Phone: 607-895-9959
Leroy Miller

Miller Dairy Farm
2116 Cty. Rd. 35
Bainbridge, NY 13733
Office Phone: 607-336-3041
Rubin Miller

Ruben Miller Dairy Farm
490 County Rd. 37
Guilford, NY 13780
Office Phone: 607-764-8664
John Hersberger

Hershberger Dairy Farm
678 Wahlberg Road
Norwich, NY 13815
Office Phone: 607-336-3041