The Manager - March 2023

Alfalfa-grass mixes increase forage quality to support high-producing dairy cows

Rink Tacoma-Fogal, Debbie Cherney, and Jerry Cherney

Seeding alfalfa with a grass produces a mixed forage with higher neutral detergent fiber digestibility (NDFD), important for high-producing dairy cows. Meadow fescue (MF) grass varieties originated in Europe and North Africa and over the past decade our lab has been investigating opportunities to seed alfalfa with meadow fescue grass varieties to improve the quality of alfalfa-grass mixtures for high-producing dairy cows. Given its hardy nature, persistency during the harsh winters in the Northeast is not typically an issue. Relative competitiveness and qualities of varieties, however, is largely unknown in the region.

Best management practices for dairy producers to reduce their GHG emissions from manure

Jason Oliver, Lauren Ray, and Kirsten Workman

Dairy farmers may not consider greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions a key issue, but federal and state governments, the dairy industry, and perhaps more importantly, consumers of dairy products, do. While federal and state GHG reduction targets vary, most have set aggressive goals to cut GHG emissions roughly in half from recent levels by the year 2030. Similarly, the U.S. dairy industry has a Net Zero Initiative with the goal of reaching GHG neutrality by 2050. Consumers are also looking for milk with a lower carbon footprint and dairy processors and food industries are responding to those demands. Furthermore, climate change in the Northeast is increasing the annual average temperatures and the number of hot days that can cause heat stress in cattle. Substantially more precipitation is also occurring, including a 55 percent increase in the heaviest precipitation events. This will impact field work, regional grain production, and will certainly increase manure storage needs as more bunk leachate and rainwater will be collected.

Making cover crops work in the Northeast: Termination strategies for success

Kirsten Workman, Heather Darby, Matthew Ryan, and Aaron Ristow

According to the 2017 USDA Agriculture Census, Northeast farms are planting over one million acres of cover crops, and momentum for this conservation practice continues to grow because of its crop, soil, and environmental benefit. Increasing financial incentives coupled with environmental regulations have pushed even more farmers to adopt cover crops. However, like any other crop grown on the farm, the benefits will only be realized with proper planning and timely management.

Forage opportunities to combat rising costs

Joe Lawrence

The cost of crop inputs and common feed ingredients used in dairy rations has dominated many discussions this past year. A commonality in growing crops and feeding cows is the need to balance cost and efficiency with production and return on investment. A number of fixed costs are associated with both tasks and it is critical to evaluate if potential cost-cutting measures will end up costing more than they save through declines in production.

Technology makes on-farm research easier: Single-strip spatial evaluation approach (SSEA)

Subhashree Srinivasagan, Manuel Marcaida III, Sunoj Shajahan, and Quirine Ketterings

On-farm research is a great way for farmers to discover if a management change will benefit yield, increase the quality of a crop, reduce the environmental footprint, enhance soil health, or has other benefits. In on-farm research, farmers conduct experiments in their own fields, using their soil conditions, farming practices, and resources. This creates a real-world, practical condition and can be initiated by a farmer, scientist, industry, or any combination. Additional benefits are obtained when more farms conduct the same type of research and findings are shared for peer-to-peer learning. When shared with researchers, this can lead to larger datasets that may allow for extrapolation of findings across multiple farms, regions, years or growing seasons, and the development of statewide guidance that can advance practices and policy.

Herbicide-resistant weed management strategies

Mike Hunter

One or more herbicide resistant weed specie can be found in every state in the Northeast and are present in major crop production areas across the country. Herbicide resistant weeds are not new. In 1977, a population of triazine resistant common lambsquarter found in a New York corn field was the first confirmed herbicide resistant weed in the Northeast. The list of herbicide resistant weed cases throughout the Northeast continues to grow as time goes on. Populations of horseweed (marestail) with resistance to both glyphosate and acetolactate synthase (ALS) herbicides are rapidly expanding. Herbicide resistant Palmer amaranth and tall waterhemp are found in the Northeast with reported cases of populations resistant to glyphosate, atrazine, and ALS herbicides.

Northeast dairy and the circular economy

Olivia Godber, Kirsten Workman, and Quirine Ketterings

It is well-established that the dairy sector provides essential livelihoods and vital nutrition to billions of people, and that the dairy sector is dedicated to addressing sustainability challenges. Current conversations about dairy sustainability include terms like circularity, regenerative agriculture, and carbon footprint. What is that all about?