Integrating Cropping Practices to Improve Nutrient Management Plans and Ensure Environmental and Economic Sustainability in Dairy Farming Systems

Project Overview

Project Type: On-Farm Research
Funds awarded in 2017: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 03/14/2019
Grant Recipient: Virginia Tech
Region: Southern
State: Virginia
Principal Investigator:
Gonzalo Ferreira
Virginia Tech


  • Agronomic: corn
  • Animals: bovine
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, manure management
  • Crop Production: cropping systems, crop rotation, double cropping, drought tolerance, fertilizers, nutrient cycling, nutrient management, water management
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
  • Production Systems: integrated crop and livestock systems

    Proposal abstract:

    To reduce nutrient loading in waterbodies, farms are encouraged or mandated to develop nutrient management plans. For dairy farming systems, there are three types of practices for reducing nutrient upload in waterbodies: reducing nutrient excretion in manure so it reduces its load on the soil; reducing the amount and changing the method and/or timing of application to reduce nutrient runoff; and reduce the potential of nutrient runoff to surface water. The use of stream buffers, conservation tillage, and cover crops are common means to reduce nutrient runoff. The purpose of these practices is to increase the utilization of nutrients, keeping them above ground, therefore reducing the potential of runoff through underground water.

    Old and more recent studies reported that increasing corn planting density can substantially increase corn silage yields. Increasing forage yields while maintaining nutritional quality of the forage has major environmental implications, as there is an increased retention of nutrients above ground when increasing planting density.

    Nitrogen and phosphorus are the two nutrients for which dairy farmers need to prepare nutrient management plans. For this study, we hypothesize that increasing corn planting density can be used strategically to increase nitrogen and phosphorus recycling through the soil-crop system, while increasing forage production in dairy farming systems.

    Obtaining adequate amounts of good quality forage is critical for the economic sustainability of dairy farming systems. Adequate nutrient management is critical for the environmental sustainability of dairy farming systems and related watersheds. We aim to evaluate cropping strategies to maximize forage yields and reduce nutrient runoff to surface water. We propose evaluating the effects of increasing corn planting density with different fertilizer rates on forage yield, forage quality, and nutrient uptake on a dairy farm in the Southern region of the U.S.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Areas with intensive animal operations, such as dairy farming areas, are subjected to soil phosphorus buildup and enrichment of P in runoff losses. To minimize this environmental problem, we intend to integrate cropping practices with nutrient management plans.

    We hypothesize that P uptake from the soil will be increased when corn planting density is increased. This increased P uptake from the soil should reduce P buildup and runoff, therefore enhancing environmental sustainability.

    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.