Focusing on Agriculture in the Champlain Valley and BeyondBy Jeff Carter. This season’s challenges and ways to move forward.
News, Events & Info You Should Know Agricultural Conservation Highlights Tour; NMP Updates; Mock Inspections; Business and Ag Support for You; New Grazing Class; No-Till and Cover Crop Symposium.
What Do I Do Now? RMA Update By Jake Jacobs. Coping with weather unpredictability by planning ahead.
Demonstrating Success: Corn Hybrid Trials By Kirsten Workman. Corn hybrid trials were a successful way to see what shorter season hybrids might be paired with cover crop adoption.
Newsletter Feature – Grazing as a New Management Practice By Cheryl Cesario. The process of adopting grazing management seen through one farmer’s experience. Also – new grazing class to teach you how to develop a grazing plan!
Managing Slugs Begins in the Fall By Rico Balzano. Making decisions now to manage slugs next year.
Helping Farmers Adapt to a Changing LandscapeBy Nate Severy. UVM Extension and the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition are working together to provide farmers with valuable insights for adaptive management.
By Jeff Carter, Agronomy Specialist, Champlain Valley Crop, Soil & Pasture Team
Corn fields look a lot different this year and many people are taking notice of the changes. Yet the weather seems to repeat itself in Addison County; early warm, then too wet, and then too dry. This reminds me of two years ago, when we experienced extensive prevented plantings and over-mature
hay, followed by a good old drought for two months. I sure hope you are working closely with crop insurance agents and FSA to protect your business from the financial risk of weather extremes that we are seeing this year. This season has been a roller coaster as the early spring turned sour, and we are almost a month behind schedule for corn planting
and hay harvest.
Just taking a ride around the Champlain Valley, you see the difference in fields, with so much more cover crop activity and no-tillage taking place. I know that the rye cover crop can seem way out of control but think again, because this is a new way to farm (thanks, Robert Rodale.) The tall rye can
be a blessing for farmers who have jumped into no-till corn and use the rye to their advantage. Most of the early corn planted in May was planted no-till straight into standing winter rye, while many of the fall-plowed fields had delayed or prevented plantings. Harrowing-in a tall rye crop can be a nightmare that delays conventional planting and ties up nitrogen. However, leaving the tall rye standing can shade the new corn plants too much, even when killed. We want cover crops to benefit, not hurt, the corn crop. A few local farmers are now knocking down tall winter rye with a roller-crimper as they plant corn. (Read more about this technique
on page 4.) This looks very different, and may be a bit scary, compared to a bare soil field that was plowed and harrowed multiple times.
The rye provides a nice mulch to conserve soil moisture for a dry August and saves soil. Like other practices, it takes a new mind-set to adapt and succeed when working with these fine-textured clay soils since cover crops influence the dynamics of insect and weed pressure on the crop. Let’s see how this turns out. We have seen some great success with no-till on clay and we have also seen some disasters. Cautious, yet steady, is how you need to adopt these new farming practices for success.
We are also moving into a new set of projects this year and stretching our limits with agronomy – “the science and technology of producing and using plants for food, fuel, fiber, and land reclamation.” In coordination with partners, we are looking at the economics of no-till and cover crop systems; soil amendments such as humates, mycorrhizae, gypsum and liming materials for soil productivity; testing manure slot-injection with a drag hose into hay fields; testing P levels in streams and tile outlets; developing pasture planning and grazing classes; and evaluating a new P-Index for Vermont. We are here to help, let us know how these new farming ideas work for you.
Extreme weather can put a farmer out of business, and anyone involved in production and agricultural business knows this very well. Given the variability of weather conditions in Vermont, it is somewhat common to experience excess water early in growing season, as is the case with this spring. This is in stark contrast to last summer’s drought, which caused different problems for area farmers. One tool to deal with this variability is insurance.
Forage seeding is insurable if:
1. It is alfalfa, or forage mixture
containing at least 50 percent alfalfa, clover, birdsfoot trefoil or any other locally recognized and approved forage legume species (by weight); or
2. It is planted during the current crop year to establish a normal stand of forage. This policy does not cover any acreage that is grown with the intent to be grazed, or grazed at any time during the insurance period; or interplanted with another crop (except nurse crops).
VERMONT CROP INSURANCE
DEADLINES: Fall-Seeded Forage 2017
• Sales Closing Date: July 31
• Final Planting Date: August 31
• Acreage Report Date: November 15 Spring-Seeded Forage 2018
• Sales Closing Date: March 15
• Acreage Report Date: May 15
• Final Planting Date May 10
Self-Certification of Small Farm Operators (CSFO) triggered by the Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs) is now ongoing. Info and forms for small farmers now required to certify at: agriculture.vermont.gov/sfo
One big change is the number of farms now falling under the requirement to have a nutrient management plan (NMP). “Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (VAAFM) understands that few Certified Small Farm Operations will have a complete Nutrient Management Plan (NMP) for 2017, but that farmers should be actively working towards NMP
completion by taking modified Morgan extractant soil samples and applying manure at agronomic rates.” If you have questions about CSFOs, taking samples, getting your NMP or other RAPs regulations, we can help you navigate this transition. Stop by our Extension office or give us a call!
August 7, 8 a.m.-noon – Drop off crop entries to participate in our FIELD CROP EXHIBIT. Addison County Fair and Field Days August 8-12: We are looking forward to your entries. This is one way we connect with the public, describe the importance of agriculture, and how farming has changed over the years. From corn and hay to wheat and soybeans, help us show and tell everybody about the great crops you grow – then use your prize winnings on fair treats for the family!
Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition’s monthly meetings and field day events are a great way for farmers to connect on water quality issues that go hand-in-hand with farm profitability. When faced with changing regulations and public views, we are stronger together. Come to a CVFC meeting or field day: discover and join this progressive, exciting group
of farmers and supporting business members. Schedule at: www.champlainvalleyfarmercoalition.com
With support from Mark Cannella, Farm Business Management Specialist
It should not be news that the new Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs) are coming into effect this month. While some farms may have to make relatively small adjustments to their production systems, others may have to make drastic changes to fully comply with the law. In economic terms, this law is an attempt to “internalize” some “externalities” of farming. That is, the costs of compliance will be borne by the farmer. In many cases, most notably “conventional” dairy production, these internalized costs are not easily pushed up the chain from farmer to processor to consumer.
As farmers are acutely aware, fluid milk prices are low. With the exception of the incentive program through Caring Dairy, milk payments to farmers are generally not connected to adoption of these practices. Therefore, farmers have to navigate how these practices, minor or major, play into their farm’s economic viability. Farmers without a comprehensive business plan or economic analysis may now need to take an honest look at where they stand.
In addition, major fixes to farmstead structural projects can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and take substantial amounts of time and effort to implement. Experts working in the fields of regulation and farmer outreach need to be asking the question: “What is the phosphorus reduction in comparison to the costs of a given project, and how can both
conservation and farm viability be met?”
Practices and engineered structures, by rule, have to meet very specific guidelines in order to meet Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) standards for financial assistance, though it may or may not always be in the best interest of the farm operation for a given structural investment. Farmers navigating these choices should have a clear understanding of their business finances, and what the horizon looks like for their operation.
AGRICULTURAL BUSINESS PROGRAMS: A UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY FOR WATER QUALITY RELATED BUSINESS PLANNING
Enter Agricultural Business Programs (also known as Farm Viability) at UVM Extension. These programs teach and advise farm owners working to make the best decisions for all aspects of their business. This includes business planning support, financial analysis, research projects and educational training. Right now, the UVM Agriculture Business Team is inviting farms to participate in water quality business analysis. This is in addition to their foundational “farm viability” program that is always available for in-depth business planning or transfer/succession planning.
Farms enrolling in Water Quality Business Analysis projects work one-on-one with a business educator. The team facilitates strategic planning and nut-and-bolts financial analysis to ensure positive cash flow as farmers make changes to meet water quality goals. UVM Extension business educators serve in the key coordination role of the planning process when multiple people from state agencies, NRCS and land trusts need to be at the table to see a project move forward.
On June 13, UVM Extension and the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition
teamed up to host a bus tour to six farms throughout Addison and Chittenden Counties highlighting spring conservation practices. The tour showcased manure injection, cover crop and no-till systems, pasture management, and nutrient management on dairy and vegetable farms. It was a long, information-packed day. One of the most amazing things was that all of the host farms had the same general message: they care about our environment, and are working hard, taking risks, and investing a lot of time and money to try to be the best farmers they can.
One tour participant commented that they were flooded with information and hadn’t realized just how much farmers are standing up and taking a leadership role to protect water quality. The event was a great example of how farmer organizations and UVM Extension can work together to support the agricultural backbone of Vermont.
One of the demonstration projects on the bus tour was a trial of rolling-crimping a winter rye cover crop, using farm built equipment. Rolling-crimping works best on a more mature cover crop, which may be useful in a spring like this one if winter rye becomes thick and tall because spring rains prevent termination. Rolling-crimping also helps facilitate the
mulching effect of the cover crop and, with correct furrow adjustment, should address issues of light penetration to young seedlings.
Separately, Jeff Sanders, from UVM Extension Northwest Crops
and Soils, received a grant to purchase and demo a planter-
mounted roller-crimper. This is actually a shield and two disks on the front of each planter unit, as opposed to a single roller-crimper. These attachments are angled to part the cover crop material and roll it away from the furrow where the corn is planted.
We used this technology on two Addison County farms totaling around 50 acres. After 4 hours of adjusting the planter, we were successfully rolling-crimping! One farm field had manure injected several inches below the surface a month before planting and another field had large scale
cover crop trials. When compared to a regular no-till field, which can
look chaotic, there is a very satisfying symmetry when the field
However, we had some setbacks while planting. There was so much residue that every few acres we had to stop and clean the closing wheels because at least one would plug with winter rye. Specific closing wheels seemed to be plugging more often, and we will have to investigate that further. We also had issues getting adequate down pressure to crimp the rye stalks properly; this may not be an issue with a heavier corn
We will monitor the fields over the next few months, observing changes in water infiltration/retention and drought stress response, weed and pest levels, nitrogen availability, and corn yield.
Thanks to Jeff Sanders and the participating farmers! We look forward to sharing results and to future trials.
Farmers are planting cover crops at a rapidly increasing rate across Vermont – and for good reasons. The water quality and soil health benefits of this farming practice are undeniable. However, a farmer who manages that cover crop in a spring like this one will attest to the added complexity cover crops bring to the challenges of growing annual crops in Vermont.
Through our work with many innovative producers in the Champlain Valley, we identified the need to think about planting cover crops differently. We should not only ask questions about how late we can plant or how to get the most biomass possible, but can we take a more nuanced approach to decision making? In order to use cover crops as a management tool, a farmer should first decide on the goal for that cover
crop, and then implement a plan to accomplish that goal.
The main goal is usually to reduce erosion and nutrient loss. However, are you also trying to reduce weed pressure, decrease nitrogen applications for the subsequent crop? Will you be interseeding into a standing crop? Do you want to maximize spring biomass either to harvest it as forage or to use a rollercrimper device? Or, maybe you hope to minimize spring biomass to ease spring field management without sacrificing erosion control and nutrient retention.
The latter example is one goal we have heard from many producers who value the role cover crops play in reducing soil and nutrient loss in the sensitive fall and early spring seasons, but who don’t want so much biomass to deal with in the spring when it’s time to plant annual
crops, especially on heavier soils.
Borrowing an idea from one such farm, last fall we planted cover crop plots on nine farms, from Westford to Pawlet, on sandy loam to clay soils. Our goal was to determine the “magic” combination of seeding rates for planting winter rye and spring oats in the fall to maximize fall performance, while minimizing spring biomass. The dry fall and wet spring thwarted some of our efforts, but we were able to collect data at six locations. We don’t have the final answer yet, as one year doesn’t tell the whole story. However, we found that all combinations did comparably
well at providing at least 30% ground cover to protect from erosion in the fall. With the exception of the all-oat plots, all combinations increased soil cover and biomass from fall to spring.
This trial supported previous observations that winter rye – planted with a grain drill – provides similarly high biomass in the spring at different seeding rates, down to 45 pounds per acre. The two combinations that seemed to maximize fall performance and spring soil coverage while minimizing spring biomass were 30 pounds of rye with 45 pounds of oats, and 15 pounds of rye with 60 pounds of oats. The lowest rate of rye is probably not an advisable rate on steep ground, but it should provide enough soil coverage on flat ground.
Our aim is to help farmers identify the pros and cons of different methods of cover cropping, and evaluate which methods accomplish particular goals. We are moving beyond the basics in Vermont, and it is important to utilize this important conservation tool in a way that benefits not only the watershed, but also your farm.
When farmers are considering grazing as a new management practice, or want to change or improve an existing system, there are many questions from both the animal perspective and the land perspective: Is this going to work? Will my animals like it? What will this look like? How will I do it?
These are all reasonable questions, which are not easily answered in a one or two-hour farm visit. I find the most successful grazing systems develop when there is farmer involvement in the planning process, and the farmer has a good relationship with a service provider and other farmers who can answer questions and share ideas.
This fall we will start offering a new grazing management course for farmers who want to learn about the benefits and challenges of grazing – from both economic and environmental perspectives. Each farmer will develop a plan specific to their operation which takes into account their
farm goals. The class will meet once per week over the course of a month, and each farmer will receive a copy of Sarah Flack’s book The Art and
Science of Grazing as the course textbook and helpful future reference. Outside of class, one-on-one farm visits will provide additional support
as new practices and strategies are implemented on the ground.
Here is a sampling of what the class will cover:
• Pasture plant identification of common species, looking at favorable growth conditions and how plants respond to grazing impact.
• Pasture nutrition – how it can affect grazing behavior, overall intake, and animal performance.
• Grazing management concepts such as measuring dry matter availability, determining paddock sizes, stocking rate versus stock
density and overall acreage requirements.
• Soil health in pasture systems and the benefits of soil, forage and manure testing to understand nutrient cycling and nutrient management within pasture systems.
• Pasture system design to determine infrastructure needs, and management techniques to avoid overgrazing damage, decreased
carrying capacity and other negative impacts.
• Grazing record keeping systems and the benefits of monitoring and documenting activities.
Eligible farmers will be able to use the grazing plan they develop in class to apply for USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) funding opportunities to help cost-share a variety of grazing practices. However, new infrastructure alone will not create improvements. Achieving healthy pasture ecosystems requires an understanding of the relationship between the soil, the plants and livestock grazing behavior. A clear goal and a plan based on plant and animal needs are essential for success. We anticipate the course will run from mid-October to mid-November, with up to 12 hours of classroom and planning time. If you are interested in participating, or want to know more, please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org; (802) 388-4969 x346
Successful grazing plans can include laneways to reduce mud and erosion, as seen in photos before installation (above left) and after (above right). Stream crossings and water tubs eliminate animal impact on surface waters (below).
Nutrient Management Plan (NMP) classes have been a major emphasis of activity for the past months and 31 farmers completed their NMP through
the UVM Extension goCrop™ classes that were held in Richmond, Middlebury and Pawlet. Statewide, over 70 farmers completed the classes offered by the St. Albans and Middlebury Extension Crop teams so farmers can develop their own crop management plans. There are plenty of field meetings, corn planter clinics, farmer manure trainings, stream floodplain restriction discussions, and buffer workshops going on now and more to come this spring, all geared toward how farmers will adopt practices to meet the Required Agricultural Practices (RAP) rules. Stay updated about current events via e-mail: join our email list at www.uvm.edu/extension/cvcrops.
We will be starting some new projects this year with financial support from the NRCS Vermont Conservation Innovation Grant Program; the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets; and the Northeast SARE program to continue our work with local farmers. One study
will start a benchmark program for the economics of growing cover crops and using no-till for crop planting. What is the true cost and benefit of moving to no-till with cover, and then how profitable are you? We need better data about the Vermont farms who have changed to these new crop systems to be sure of the right investments for your particular farm. Starting with a handful of farms who have agreed to provide the details
about their operations, the data from this project will reflect current finances of these conservation practices as they are used here on our soils.
Whole-farm phosphorus (P) mass balance has been around for some time,
but few farms complete the accounting of where the extra P comes from. We have a project to work with several farmers and their feed consultants to collect data on the extent of P imported to local dairy farms. This is good information to have, but really the issue is what to do then? Not all P is leaving the farms, and that is why farmers use the P-Index to better understand the risk of P loss and “plug” any leaks in the farm system.
We will be field testing the new 2017 Vermont P-Index and a new Northeast P-Index on several farms and relate that data to whole-farm P-Mass balances and farm conservation. We will collect data to help farmers with crop management decisions under the revised Vermont P-Index. This will then be used to address the NMP 590 standard, which is the basis for all farm nutrient plans. What to do then if you have a high phosphorus soil test? Another study we have is to evaluate the use of field applications of amendments to reduce soil test P in the field. We will be looking at three types of gypsum, including one with humates, also contrasted with short-paper fiber (SPF). When spring does get here, we
will also see how good the cover crops perform that we planted last fall.
VERMONT RAP RULES
The Vermont Required Agricultural Practices rules affects all farmers this year, and so it affects our Extension work. Focus on Agriculture means a focus on helping you to learn (like Poop Skool) and then figure out the best next steps to take (whatever that is). Give us a call, or just come to the meetings that we host with the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition.
This is a great way to keep up with new ideas so you can deal with changing times in Vermont agriculture.
By Jake Jacobs, University of Vermont Risk Management Education
Farmers are time-strapped folks. Having to report the same thing to multiple agencies can seem like a waste of time. Welcome, ACRSI.
ACRSI is a joint effort among producers, Farm Service Agency (FSA), Risk Management Agency (RMA), and the crop insurance industry. The Acreage Crop Reporting Streamlining Initiative (ACRSI) replaces duplicative crop reporting of common acreage information by producers to both the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Risk Management Agency (RMA). Producers now have multiple ways in which to report their common acreage data and will not have to report the same information twice to both FSA and their crop insurance agents, saving time and potentially reducing inadvertent errors. ACRSI is available nationwide for the 2017 acreage reporting season.
Crops shared under ACRSI include alfalfa, barley, canola, corn, grass, oats, rye, sorghum, soybeans and wheat, as well as acres under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and fallow fields. Other crops in this program: cotton, peanuts, rice and sunflowers. These cover approximately 94% of the cropland acres reported to FSA and RMA, and have similar reporting requirements with both agencies. FSA and RMA will gain experience collecting and sharing data for these crops, and will use the
lessons learned to make informed decisions whether to include additional
commodities in the future.