Innovation is in the air…and on the ground

by Kirsten Workman, Agronomy Outreach Professional

(Originally published on the WAgN Blog on May 28, 2014)


The growing season if finally starting to take hold. I have seen corn plants poking through the ground, vegetable crops starting to look like something edible, and first cut hay is on the ground in some places with hopes of a dry day to bale tomorrow. And with a new growing season comes all the hope and suspense of another year…all the potential for the best year ever or the worst, or maybe something in between. Farmers are going all out this week. We may not be able to predict what the weather will do this year, but one thing is for certain. Farmers in Vermont are innovative.

Planting Green:  no-till planting corn into a standing crop of winter rye
Planting Green: no-till planting corn into a standing crop of winter rye

As I traveled from farm to farm today, I had the pleasure of talking with several different farmers – all of whom are trying something new this year. I saw fields of winter rye that were ‘planted green,’ that is no-till planted corn into standing rye before the cover crop was terminated. Innovation. I measured out 16 strips in a soon-to-be corn field with one farmer to help analyze two different reduced tillage systems this year. Innovation. He wants to interseed three different cover crops over those strips once the corn is up. Innovation. Another farm rounded out a SARE partnership project that analyzed two different cover crop mixes by no-till planting corn into those cover crops right next to a conventionally managed part of the field to see how these two systems will perform on his farm. Innovation. Another farm asked to borrow our GPS and try their hand at some precision agriculture. Innovation. A vegetable farmer is trying out different strategies to implement cover crops in his rotations for green manure, weed suppression, mulch and livestock forage. Innovation. A soybean grower has just modified his corn planter so he can no-till soybeans in 30-inch rows and will be trying out higher populations and some interseeded cover crops in those same soybeans. Innovation. I talked to three farms who have agreed to partner on a cover crop mixture demonstration project and will be hosting field days on their farms to share the results. Innovation. I have spoken with several farmers this week growing new crops like chicory, quinoa, and berseem clover.  Innovation.  I emailed with a new member of the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition who is excited to be part of a farmer-based watershed group looking to protect Lake Champlain and thriving agriculture in Vermont. Innovation.

As you walk around your own farms, identify the many ways you are being innovative. As you drive down the road, what are your neighbor farmers doing to be innovative? If you see some fields this year that look a little different – instead of wondering if something went wrong, maybe its just another Vermont farmer trying something new.

Here’s to Innovation!

A grain grower marking out strips in a field to compare tillage practices.
A grain grower marking out strips in a field to compare tillage practices.
Winter rye with hairy vetch used for a green manure before vegetables and ear corn.
Winter rye with hairy vetch used for a green manure before vegetables and ear corn.
Chicory planted with grass, clover and alfalfa in a pasture

Two Great Upcoming Events…Pastures & Cover Crops

The Champlain Valley Crop, Soil & Pasture Team is pleased to announce two fantastic events in November:

November 8th * 10:00 am to 11:30 pm  *  Ferrisburgh, VT
No-Till Cover Crop FIELD DAYinterseed

Can no-till, cover crop mixes and manure work in corn silage on the clay soils of the Champlain Valley??  We’re trying to find out.  Please join us at the site of one of our on-farm research trialsJoin the Champlain Valley Crop Soil & Pasture Team and Deer Valley Farm as we share our preliminary results from our  Cover Crop Diversity in No-Till Systems SARE Partnership Project.  Come check out our on-farm research plots of two different cover crop mixes in corn silage on CLAY SOIL

Click HERE for the Field Day flyer

RSVP to (802) 388-4969 or


November 14th  *  10:00 am to 2:30 pm  *  Bridport Community Hall
Champlain Valley Grazing SymposiumOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Join us as we wrap up this year’s grazing season and think ahead to next year! Come hear how planned grazing can be fun
and profitablee. Troy Bishopp, aka “The Grass Whisperer” is an accomplished grazier on his own farm in NY state, in addition to working with the Madison County Soil & Water Conservation District/Upper Susquehanna Coalition as their regional grazing specialist. Troy brings a holistic approach to grazing planning by helping farmers chart a course that pays attention to their personal goals as well as their profits. Julie Smith, UVM Extension Dairy Specialist, will also be here to discuss how to manage and troubleshoot common herd health issues including Johne’s, BVD, and nutritional deficiencies. Julie’s focus is on biosecurity and preventive animal health management. Hope to see you there!

Click HERE for the Grazing Symposium flyer

Register & purchase tickets:


Please join us for one or both of these fantastic events. 

If you have  any questions or need more information, please give us a call at (802) 388-4969 or email us at


Frost Seeding: Simple, But Not Foolproof

by Rico Balzano, UVM Extension Agronomy Outreach Professional

Frost seeding can be an efficient and cost effective way to reseed or introduce new forage species to pastures and hay meadows. Successful frost seeding can improve forage quality, and research in Michigan has shown yield increases by 1.5-2.0 tons of dry matter per acre. That is a pretty good return on the cost the cost of the seed and the time to broadcast it. However, frost seeding is not right for every situation and not every year presents the ideal conditions. The basic idea behind frost seeding is the freeze-thaw cycle and rain of early spring will help incorporate seed broadcast over the surface. It is a simple process, but timing is critical: seed too early and seed may die, seed too late and there is no frost to do the work. Frost seeding can be accomplished with broadcast spreaders that mount onto ATVs or tractor 3-point hitches.  Roller seeders are also very effective but will require more passes across the field. This can be done over minimal snow cover, but broadcasting over deeper snow before a rapid melting can result in losing seed to runoff.  In Vermont, most frost seeding happens in late February or March. But now is the time to start planning.

Site Selection– Choose where you frost seed carefully. Pastures and hay meadows that are predominately sod-forming grasses, such as bluegrass or reed canary grass, can have a thick thatch barrier that can make seed establishment difficult. Grazing livestock “stomping” the seed in can be worth a try in these situations. Also, soil type is important. Soils that have natural moisture through the early summer, such as loam and clay soil, work best for frost seeding. Sandy soils should be avoided.

Soil Test, Lime, and Fertilizer– If possible, apply any needed lime a year in advance. Nitrogen should be avoided the year before and the year of seeding. This only stimulates grasses and weeds making them too competitive. Legumes need phosphorus and potassium, however, to compete with grasses.

Preparing the fall before seeding- Seed to soil contact is critical for frost seeding to work. Grazing or clipping pastures and hay meadows down to about 2” the previous fall or winter opens the canopy and allows broadcast seed to reach the soil. Grazing tightly will also reduce the vigor of the existing forages the following spring, helping the new seedlings to better compete.  In some cases, lightly disturbing the soil with a disk the fall before frost seeding can help increase success.

Seed Selection, Legumes: Alfalfa, clover, and trefoil can all be successfully frost seeded. Alfalfa should be frost-seeded on well drained soils with near neutral pH and adequate levels of phosphorus and potassium. Avoid fields where alfalfa already exists.  Autotoxicity will prevent new alfalfa plants from becoming established. Clovers have better success on poorly drained and with less lime and fertilizer. Red clover establishes quickly and produces for one or two years, while white clovers can last three years or more. Although birdsfoot trefoil is slow to establish, it is long lived, improves with time, and can become the dominant legume as red clover dies out. Be sure to inoculate all legume seed.

Seed Selection, Grasses: Older alfalfa stands that have become less productive can sometimes benefit from grasses being introduced. This can be challenging because most grasses tend not to be as successful as legumes when frost seeded. Research from the University of Wisconsin has shown that perennial ryegrass and orchardgrass have the best success in years when moisture is adequate for growth. However, perennial ryegrass is not as winter hardy as other cool season grasses so persistence may be a problem.

Seed Mixtures: In many cases, seeding more than one species can be advantageous. For example, red clover and birdsfoot trefoil seeded together can ensure a long-term legume presence in a pasture. In research done at Iowa State, red clover established quickly and was productive for two years before declining, while birdsfoot trefoil became productive in the second and following years. For this reason, many producers frost seed red clover every two to three years to maintain legume production. Also, especially when seeding mixes using broadcast type seeders, be sure to determine the spreading width. Different species and mixes will vary. For example, legume seed tends to “throw” further than grass seed. Therefore it is recommended to separate grass and legume seed and spread them in two passes.

Grazing management after seeding:  Establishment of legumes depends on control of grasses and weeds, especially in the first two to three months after emergence. Immediately after seeding, but before emergence, animals can be used to control early spring growth. Hoof action will assist the freeze-thaw cycle to incorporate seed. Cattle should be removed before emergence to prevent seedling damage.  After legume emergence, moderate but quick grazing, not shorter than 3-4”, after the grass starts growing will give legume seedlings a chance. Periodic mowing, or an early hay cut, may be necessary to control grasses and weeds. If possible, birdsfoot trefoil will benefit from an early fall rest period.

Recommended Rates for Frost Seeding into Existing Sod (U. of Wisconsin)

Rate (lb./acre)

Expected Establishment

Plants per Square ft.


Seeded Alone

In Mixture

Red Clover




Ladino Clover




Birdsfoot Trefoil



6-9 (in 2nd year)





Perennial Ryegrass









Stand Density of Two Forage Legume Following Frost Seeding (Michigan State U.)

Red Clover


————————————–Months after seeding———————————-





Established plants as % of herbicide treated stand

0 cuts





2 cuts





4 cuts











Additional Information and links: