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.
Join the UVM Extension Champlain Valley Crop, Soil and Pasture Team and the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition for a field day at Bonaspecta Holsteins Farm to see innovative agricultural practices designed to reduce erosion and protect water quality. Come learn more about:
Using a Roller-Crimper to flatten and terminate Winter Cover Crops
No-till corn tips and troubleshooting problems
Cover Crop mixes and how to decide on species and seeding rates
Water quality monitoring in the McKenzie Brook Watershed: methods and data to quantify water quality in an agricultural watershed
TWO (2) Water Quality Training Credits for farmers!
This event is one in a series of events happening for Clean Water Week.
Free lunch at 12:30 generously sponsored by Seedway. Come join the fun!
Thursday, August 31st 2017 Short Season Corn Hybrid Field Day11:00 AM – 2:00 PM
Vorsteveld Farm | 3925 Panton Road, Panton, VT (just across the street from the telephone building, next to the new solar panel installation)
Join the UVM Extension’s Champlain Valley Crop, Soil & Pasture Team and local seed suppliers in the field to see our corn hybrid demonstration, comparing shorter season corn varieties (85-98 day). Can we accomplish high yielding corn and timely cover crop seeding? Come check it out. We’ll take a trip down the road and check out some long season hybrids too! Research in northern VT has suggested that variety, as opposed to just day length, is important in determining corn yield. To this end, we have planted 21 corn hybrids ranging from 85 DRM to 98 DRM to assess yield and quality. The objective is to test varieties on our soils and find optimum day length so that there is more time in the fall for cover crop seeding and establishment without sacrificing yield. We will also have the opportunity after lunch to look at some longer day hybrids in a different field and take a look at this farms novel approach to no-till, manure application and cover cropping.
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.
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.
We know, buffers and grassed waterways are not always the favorite
topics of farmers, but when it comes to water quality, they can
make a big difference. With our grant focus in the McKenzie Brook
we will be hosting spring and summer field events. Look for event
details soon, and please let us know if you would like to host one
on your farm. We will discuss: New RAP rule on buffers in effect April 15, 2017. All farmers covered under the RAPs will be required to have a 25-foot buffer on streams and a 10-foot buffer on ditches. Let’s face it, this will mean adjusting plowing and planting practices this spring. Grassed waterways. Although not mandated, these can be very
effective, particularly where other practices aren’t enough to
prevent gully erosion.
Planter Clinics: Getting Ready to No-Till
For the third year, our team is hosting no-till corn planter clinics in coordination with Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition. Are you on our e-mail list to find out dates and details? Like conventional till, successful no-till comes down to healthy soil, a properly set-up planter, and the right timing: they’re even more critical since you can’t correct mistakes with an extra harrow pass!
April 6, 2017 at Gosliga Farm in Addison, VT from 10 am to 12 pm, located on Sunset Lane (off Rte 17). For more information about this event, see our flyer or contact Rico Balzanzo at (802) 773-3340 ext. 281
We all have learned a lot about using no-till and cover crop farming practices on clay soils over the past few years, and feel good about it because improving soil health for the future really is important. If not, I don’t think you would be farming.
But the fabric of agriculture is a bit tricky as one side pulls the covers off the other, then back, and over and over. Field practices to improve crop yields and water infiltration come back to bite us with reports of fear that this will increase the amount of dissolved phosphorus in the soil, which is exactly what you want for better crops, but not if it leaks out and pollutes Lake Champlain. Now the quilt comes off again and it becomes apparent that the environmental damage may be increased by activities like improving soil health with tile drainage, no-till planting, even cover crop roots that go down into the soil to reduce compaction. All are field practices we promote with confidence that this will solve the “problem”.
Now in a recent report from Farm Journal, Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie discusses how improving soil health increases the concerns about nitrate and water-soluble phosphorus losses down through the soil. But let’s not stop with that part of the equation. This is not a bad thing; it’s just that now farmers need to be even more aware of how their field management practices impact their P losses. And how important the work we do at Extension to compare different cropping system components helps farmers decide what balance of tillage and crop types is right for their farm. One response is to stop if we are afraid; the other is to carefully move ahead with calculated confidence that we are making a positive difference, measure the effect, recognize some new problems, and move ahead.
The Required Agriculture Practices are now here, and we will have a lot of “quilt pulling” as changing one thing like – requiring buffers along ditches – may trigger responses that are counter-productive like installing tile in the whole field and burying those ditches. Which way is better? I’m not sure; just that when the quilt gets pulled off me, I pull back. Switching to no-till corn is a proven way to help soil aggregate structure, greatly reduce soil erosion and reduce fossil fuel use. Yet the reaction is that preferential flow paths through the soil form as a conduit to move manure and P too fast through the soil matrix.
The Vermont Tile Drainage Advisory Group report has been submitted to the Agencies of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and will inform the Secretaries for their joint report to the legislature in January. I participated on that advisory group and the discussions highlighted that these issues are not simply good and bad. Every action, like improving soil drainage, forces a conflict between a current farm business and family sustainability, and the cost of water quality remediation for past indiscretions in our lake that we are faced with fixing.
The only way that we will be able to keep a reasonable perspective is for everyone (both sides of the bed) to continue to be vigilant to maintain a good balance of using our land resources to make money, but keep the water clean. This will never end, as the challenges of farming in Vermont are made more difficult with awareness of how a little P makes such a big problem in the Lake.
I heard a great quote: “there are no wrong turns on the journey, just course corrections when we figure out where we want to go next.” I think we should be focused on learning how to make the best next moves, together, for farming practices that will help us meet the P reduction goals of the Vermont Clean Water Act. I don’t agree with the folks who want to curtail the dairy industry in Vermont with hopes that a different farming model or land use is better. Get active in your local farmer watershed group (there are three in Vt.), come to conferences and workshops we offer to get better at these decisions, speak up so the general public and legislative policy makers hear your voice.