The Manager - March 2021

Is day-to-day variation in bunkers worth correcting?

Jerry Cherney, Matt Digman, and Debbie Cherney

Everyone knows that feed from haylage and corn silage bunkers will vary in composition from day to day. What is not so clear is the magnitude of this variation, and whether it might be worth it, economically and environmentally, to rebalance dairy rations daily to correct the variation. Providing excess feed likely will mitigate the effects of day-to­day silage variability, but this increases feed costs and is less environmentally acceptable. Many farms rebalance dairy rations weekly. A few attempt daily rebalancing. A better understanding of day-to-day variability of bunkers within a week is the first step to assess the potential benefits of daily rebalancing of rations. The most practical component to focus on for daily rebalancing is dry matter (DM) concentration; however, DM can be difficult to measure accurately, particularly in mixed haylage.

Greenhouse gas footprint tools on farms

Olivia Godber and Karl Czymmek

The need is growing for U.S. dairy farms to calculate and reduce their carbon footprint to meet the Net Zero Initiatives set by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, in addition to other global, regional, and state climate change targets, requirements set by individual retailers, and satisfaction, or approval, of consumers. The Cool Farm Tool is a freely available, globally recognized whole-farm evaluation tool that can calculate the emissions of a dairy farm, identify emission hot spots, run scenarios to determine the best mitigation opportunities, and track progress over time. These opportunities often have additional benefits for the farm, including increased productivity, greater resilience to the effects of climate change, and improved bottom lines. We will test this and several other GHG footprint tools on N.Y. dairies over the next two years and will report what we learn in future articles.

Double-cropping with forage sorghum and forage triticale in New York: Best timing for sorghum harvest and triticale planting

Sarah Lyons, Quirine Ketterings, Greg Godwin, Jerome Cherney, Debbie Cherney, John Meisinger, and Thomas Kilcer

Double-cropping with both warm­and cool-season forages in New York can have many benefits, including providing a source of forage yield in the spring that potentially leads to greater total season yields than a monocrop system, increasing rotation diversity, and providing year-round soil cover. Winter cereals such as triticale are great options for double-cropping in the Northeast, as they overwinter and can produce high forage yields in the spring. Yet, depending on weather and growing season condition, a winter cereal crop harvested for forage can delay corn silage planting to mid-May or later. Sorghum is a potentially useful alternative to corn silage for double­cropping rotations, as sorghum can be planted later than corn. While it is possible to harvest forage sorghum earlier than the recommended soft-dough growth stage without compromising yield, it was not known how sorghum harvest timing would impact total season yield of both forage crops in the rotation. Here we present findings of a field trial to evaluate the impact of sorghum harvest timing on the combined yield of forage triticale and forage sorghum in a double­cropping rotation.

Food waste coming on the farm? Consider where the nutrients go and manure processing for nutrient export

Pete Wright, Karl Czymmek, and Tim Terry

Public policy is increasingly evolving to reduce or divert waste from limited landfill space. One way to accomplish this is by reducing the many tons of organic waste such as food processing waste, food scraps, and spoiled fruits and vegetables that are landfilled annually. These materials have nutrients and organic matter that can be beneficial to farms when managed properly. Dairy farms are used to handling large volumes of manure, and they have equipment and expertise that could be useful to manage organic material diverted from landfills. Dairy farms may have more opportunities to take organic materials diverted from landfills in the future.

This food waste may benefit the farm by providing organic solids as soil amendments, nutrients (if needed on the farm), and energy if fed through an anaerobic digestion (AD) system. The tipping fees that accompany the food waste may provide a revenue stream for the farm, but there will likely be extra equipment, labor, and structural costs, as well as management time to properly handle these materials. Before planning to take food wastes, the farm should examine their manure handling system and nutrient management plan (NMP) to determine the impact of additional volume and nutrients, and if they have enough land for sound nutrient recycling. There are advanced manure treatment technologies that may enable excess nutrients to be removed and or exported off the farm if adequate land base is not available to recycle the nutrients according to a nutrient management plan.

Soil organic matter as a nitrogen source

Karl Czymmek, Jonathan Berlingeri, and Quirine Ketterings

Plants need nitrogen to grow and produce high-quality crops. How much will be required is difficult to predict with absolute certainty. What we do know is that the soil in crop fields can be a very important source of nitrogen for crop growth. Farmers and crop advisors will need to better understand a soil's ability to supply nitrogen to ensure that added nitrogen from fertilizer and manure is enough for optimum yields. Estimating the nitrogen contribution from soil is challenging as weather conditions and management can greatly influence the supply. However, some estimation is needed as mistakes in nitrogen fertilizer management can be costly.

In pursuit of improved nitrogen management for corn silage: Tracking field nitrogen balances

Jonathan Berlingeri, Karl Czymmek, and Quirine Ketterings

In its most straightforward description, a field nitrogen balance is the difference between the nitrogen accumulated in the crop over a growing season (nitrogen uptake) and the amount of nitrogen made available to the crop (nitrogen supply) within the boundary of a farm field. Thus, the nitrogen balance is the amount of nitrogen applied and released to the soil solution not taken up by the plant. The bigger this number, the greater the amount of nitrogen that is available for loss to the environment. Soil organic matter mineralization will take place in every growing season. Crop residues, past and current manure applications, and fertilizer additions will supply nitrogen as well. All these sources need to be taken into account when calculating a nitrogen balance. While estimates of nitrogen from soil, crop residues, and previous years’ manure application can be somewhat uncertain, nitrogen balances calculated without these components are incomplete and could trigger the incorrect assumption that more fertilizer is needed. Field testing can help farmers become more comfortable with crediting these various sources of nitrogen.

Biological control of corn rootworm with native N.Y. entomopathogenic nematodes

Elson Shields

Thirty years of research in New York has yielded a new biological strategy for corn rootworm in New York and throughout the Corn Belt. The discovery of using native New York entomopathogenic nematodes (EPNs) that have not lost their genetic ability to persist across adverse conditions, along with mixing EPN species to cover the agricultural soil profile, controls soil insects including CRW, across multiple growing seasons with a single application. This new strategy has opened a new door in biological control of a broad range of agricultural soil insect pests. The concept of using native EPNs in EPN species mixes to tackle soil insect pest problems was developed during research to find an effective management strategy for alfalfa snout beetle, an insect that destroys alfalfa in a single year with its root feeding larvae. Alfalfa snout beetle is currently restricted in North America to nine northern New York counties and a small portion of southeast Ontario, Canada. Currently, the concept of applying a single application of native persistent EPNs for multi-year control of alfalfa snout beetle has been applied to more than 28,000 alfalfa snout beetle- infested acres. As a result, alfalfa stand life has returned to four to six years rather than one to two years. Within this research, it was observed that these native EPNs are also effective on CRW, when the alfalfa field was rotated to corn.