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Established as a dairy farm in 1957, the Osterhoudt family of Genoa, New York, now operates a crop and custom harvest operation. The farm owners, Mark Osterhoudt and his family, and their certified crop adviser and on-farm agronomist Andy Miller, partnered with Cornell CALS’ Nutrient Management Spear Program (NMSP) to conduct on-farm research as part of the U.S. Dairy Net Zero Initiative. Read on to learn more about the farmers’ experience participating in the project.

After selling their dairy herd over 25 years ago, Osterhoudt Farms switched to primarily producing corn and alfalfa, and providing key services to help support local farms, including manure drag lining, tilling, planting, and custom harvesting. 

In 2022, the farm joined a project called “Dairy Soil & Water Regeneration: building soil health to reduce greenhouse gases, improve water quality and enable new economic benefits.” This project employs on-farm research partnerships in top dairy production states throughout the U.S. The project is led by the Dairy Research Institute, a non-profit organization affiliated with the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, in collaboration with the Soil Health Institute and researchers from Cornell University and seven other research institutions. The project is largely supported by the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, which awarded $10 million toward this work, and is more than matched by companies like Starbucks, Nestlé, Newtrient, and Dairy Management Inc.

In New York, this research is led by Quirine Ketterings, Cornell professor of nutrient management in the Department of Animal Science and director of NMSP, in close collaboration with Kirsten Workman, nutrient management and environmental sustainability specialist with the Cornell PRO-DAIRY team. Osterhoudt Farms is one of two farms directly collaborating with the Cornell team.

Osterhoudt Farms and their certified crop adviser and on-farm agronomist Andy Miller, have a long record of conducting on-farm research to help their business and other farms increase economic viability while decreasing environmental impact. They joined this project in early 2022. 

Miller states, “Being a part of this project allows us to try alternatives which will influence our future land management. Without the resources and time from our partners at Cornell, I would not be able to gather the quality data that are being collected now.”

At Osterhoudt, Dairy Soil & Water Regeneration research focuses on evaluation of “business-as-usual” with conventional tillage, use of liquid dairy manure with fall and spring applications, and use of a broadcasted wheat cover crop and comparing this to a soil health management system focused on soil health-- involving reduced tillage, spring-applied composted dairy solids, and cereal rye drilling. 

The Cornell team measures soil health indicators and greenhouse gas emissions in both management systems across four management zones in the fields. The zones represent high yielding and low yielding areas, as well as areas which have varying yield (usually depending on the weather). This spatial design contributes to the project’s goals of evaluating impact of advanced soil health practices on soil properties, emissions, and climate resiliency over time.

“The use of yield monitor systems allows for generating of yield stability maps for farmers,” Ketterings explains. “Andy and the farm owners have worked with us on various precision agriculture projects related throughout the years, so we now have yield stability zone maps for many of Osterhoudt's corn fields. The integrated research design we have developed while conducting research with Osterhoudt Farms allows for more targeted and meaningful research. Rather than view treatment averages across a field, we can instead focus on better understanding of management practices catered towards different yield histories, and this allows us to extrapolate our findings beyond these fields." 

As part of this partnership, Miller participated in various field days and farm visits, sharing his research experiences with farmers, agricultural consultants, and other professionals, as well as students.

I enjoy sharing my knowledge and experience with others in the industry. Education will be the key to building trust between consumers and farmers,” Miller said.

The experiment at Osterhoudt Farms is now in its second year. Corn was harvested, cover crops were planted, and just a few weeks ago the “business-as-usual” treatment strips received liquid dairy manure. The NMSP team is working on greenhouse gas emissions, soil, and harvest data processing and analysis so that initial results can be shared this winter.

Miller is looking forward to seeing the 2023 results and continuing the trials in the coming years. 

“I am very eager to see the long-term impacts on soil health, yield efficiency, and overall reduction of emissions,” he said. “Furthermore, this study has been set up in a manner in which data points correlate to our yield stability zones. This allows us to apply the data to other similar zones throughout the farm.”

Madeline Hanscom and Megan Wittmeyer are writers for the Nutrient Management Spear Program.

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