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Out Croppings: Important crop news from the field!

Gearing Up for Spring: Improve Your Pasture & Hayland through Frost Seeding

Posted: February 23rd, 2017 by outcropn

With the spring-like weather these past few days, now’s the time to consider frost seeding as a cost-effective method to improve forage diversity and quality in your hayland and pastures.

Frost seeding is a low cost seeding strategy that relies on the action of the soil freezing and thawing to achieve the seed-to-soil contact needed for germination. Frost seeding may begin when fields are without snow cover but when the ground is still frozen.

Some keys to successful frost seeding include:

  • Removal of extra vegetation before seeding (ideally grazing or mowing in the fall),
  • Seeding early in the spring (after the snow is gone but while the ground is still frozen),
  • Selecting species that can germinate when cold–Ideal species for frost-seeding include red and white clover seeding at rates between 6 and 8 pounds per acre–and,
  • Allowing for new seedlings to establish (avoid over grazing and letting plants grow to 6 to 8 inches before harvesting).

For more information on frost seeding, visit our article, “Frost Seeding: A Cheap Alternative to Improve Hay and Pasture Land.”

Our First Year Growing Industrial Hemp

Posted: February 7th, 2017 by outcropn

Industral hemp, Alburgh, VT

During 2016, our Northwest Crops and Soils Program began researching industrial hemp. Hemp is a non-psychoactive variety of cannabis sativa L. The crop is one of historical importance in the U.S. and is re-emerging as manufacturers seek it as a sustainable resource for a wide array of food and fiber products.

Vermont is among 32 states allowing hemp production and growers have begun experimenting with it; however, hemp remains mostly prohibited at the federal level. The 2014 Farm Bill has allowed universities, like the University of Vermont, and state departments of agriculture to produce hemp for research purposes. Hemp is poised to be a “new” cash crop, creating a potential market opportunity for Vermont farms. To help farmers succeed with this new crop, regionally adapted agronomic research is needed. In 2016, we performed research trials to evaluate planting dates, varieties, seeding rates, and row spacing for their impact on hemp yield and pest pressure.

Research Trial Results

Industrial hemp yields in Alburgh, Vermont by variety and planting date, 2016. Click on image to enlarge.

Planting Dates and Varieties

Twelve varieties of hemp were grown over the course of four planting dates: 26-May, 2-Jun, 12-Jun, and 17-Jun and seeded at 25 lbs ac-1. All hemp varieties at all planting dates reached full maturity. The best time to harvest is when 50% to 70% of the seed is visible and brown; the remaining seed is covered with a green husk that surrounds the seed while it is developing (if the green shell is removed most of the seed is mature). When we harvested past this point of maturity, there were significant seed losses due to bird damage, shatter, and tougher, more mature hemp fiber gumming up the combine. Harvest from the first planting date (26-May) showed optimal yields, averaging 850 lbs ac-1, above the Canadian yield averages of 500 to 1200 lbs ac-1. The 2-Jun planting date averaged a yield of 575 lbs ac-1, the 12-Jun planting date averaged a yield of 407 lbs ac-1, and the 17-Jun planting date averaged a yield of 552 lbs ac-1. Differences in variety performance were observed and can be seen in Table 1.

Row Spacing

Three row spacing treatments were evaluated including a STANDARD at 7.0” between rows, WIDE at 9.0” between rows, and a BANDED treatment that created 5” banded seed rows and 6” between rows. The variety Anka was used for this trial and planted on 24-May at 25 lbs ac-1. The WIDE and BAND treatments were cultivated with a row cultivator on the 16-Jun.  Weed cover in the treatments ranged from 7.03 to 17.1 percent, which was not significantly different between treatments. Hence, row spacing did not appear to impact weed biomass and cultivation did not appear to improve weed control. In addition, row spacing did not significantly affect yields. Average yields for the trial were 1120 lbs ac-1.

Industrial hemp seed harvest, Alburgh, VT.

Seeding Rate

Five seeding rates–20, 25, 30, 35, and 40 lbs ac-1–were trialed over two varieties, Anka and CFX-2, planted on 31-May. Hemp yield and test weight were not impacted significantly by seeding rate. The average yield across all seeding rates was 1140 lbs ac-1. Plant populations measured at harvest were significantly higher for the 35 lbs ac-1 seeding rate at 7.07 plants ft-2 and comparable among all other seeding rates.

Looking Forward

We plan to continue this research for the 2017 season. For more information on the results of our 2016 research, please check out our website: uvm.edu/extension/cropsoil/hemp.

Preliminary Results from 2016 Winter Wheat Variety Trials Give Snapshot of Yields

Posted: August 31st, 2016 by outcropn


Click on table to enlarge.

This year, the University of Vermont Extension Northwest Crops and Soils team conducted an organic hard red winter wheat variety trial–both heirloom and modern day varieties–to determine those that perform best in our northern climate. The following provides harvest results from the trials at Borderview Research Farm in Alburgh, Vermont.

The project evaluated 34 winter wheat varieties: 20 Heirloom (Table 1) and 14 Modern-day (Table 2). The experimental plot design was a randomized complete block with three replications. The seedbed was prepared by conventional tillage methods and the plots were managed with practices similar to those used by producers in the surrounding area. The soil type was a Benson silt loam soil. The plots were seeded with a Great Plains NT60 Cone Seeder on 25-Sep 2015 at a rate of 350 live seeds per m2. The plots were harvested with an Almaco SP50 plot combine on 21-Jul 2016; the harvest area was 5’ x 20’.


Click on table to enlarge.



The highest yielding variety was 112313W at 4,336 lbs ac-1 (Table 3). Other high yielding varieties include: Byrd (4,090 lbs ac-1), Forward (3,966 lbs ac-1), Winterhawk (3,616 lbs ac-1), WB-Cedar (3,524 lbs ac-1), 10007W (3,507 lbs ac-1), Brome (3,484 lbs ac-1), and Fredrick (3,411 lbs ac-1). The lowest harvest moisture was 1007W at 15.1% moisture and the highest harvest mois-ture was Brome (20.8%). All of the varieties were above the 14% moisture and therefore had to be dried down for before storage.

Click on table to enlarge.

Click on table to enlarge.



The variety with the highest test weight was Expedition (62.8 lbs bu-1). Out of the 34 varieties trialed, 28 of those met or exceeded industry standard for test weight. Additional quality measurements–protein, falling number and DON concentration–are currently being evaluated for these varieties. We will continue to com-pile data from this and other trials; results will be posted to our website at www.uvm.edu/extension/cropsoil/research.

For a pdf version of the information in this post, please visit the Northern Grain Growers website at: http://northerngraingrowers.org/wp-content/uploads/2016-WWVT-Pre-Results.pdf.

Dry Weather Impacts Corn Harvest

Posted: August 29th, 2016 by outcropn

Drought Impacted Corn in Grand Isle County, 2012.

While the past weeks have brought some much needed rain to Vermont, above average accumulation of growing degree-days (GDDs) and droughty conditions for much of the growing season has impacted corn growth and development.

We expect that we will start our silage corn harvest sometime this week.

For more information, please refer to our 2012 blog post,
Impact of Dry Weather on Corn Growth and Development, available at: http://blog.uvm.edu/outcropn/2012/08/20/impact-of-dry-weather-on-corn-growth-and-development/. Happy harvest!

It’s Time to Plant Cool Season Annual Forages

Posted: August 9th, 2016 by outcropn

Although it’s still summer, now is the time to think about fall feed. Exceptionally hot and dry weather this season has really put the pinch on pastures and stored feed. To fill in the gaps, consider planting cool season annuals. These annual forages can provide grazing options into late fall and/or can be harvested for storage. Now is the perfect time to plant these forages, giving them ample time to establish and produce plenty of biomass before the hard frosts arrive.

Annual Ryegrass

A blend of oats, peas, turnip, and triticale.

A blend of oats, peas, turnip, and triticale.

Annual ryegrass is a fantastic fall forage. It establishes quickly and is very palatable for grazing. Annual ryegrass can produce about 0.5 ton of dry matter per acre in our region if sown by late August. The seed is typically quite inexpensive compared to winter grains or brassicas making it a very affordable way to boost fall grazing and/or feed stores. Annual ryegrass can be drilled at a rate of 20 to 30 pounds per acre at a depth of ¼ to ½ inch.

Winter Grains

Winter grains are also great options for fall forage. Winter triticale, wheat, and rye can produce large quantities of biomass in the fall prior to going into dormancy for the winter. They can also provide early spring forage that can be harvested prior to planting corn or soybeans. Oats are another annual forage option — they can also be planted in the fall but will winterkill in our region.

Grains may be seeded with a grain drill into a well prepared seed bed or seeded with a no-till drill at a rate of 125 to 150 pounds at a depth of about 1 inch. Plant these winter grains as early as possible to maximize fall forage production. Grains planted later than mid-September will not yield much, if any, forage this fall. For more information on managing winter grains for forage see: http://www.uvm.edu/extension/cropsoil/wp-content/uploads/managing-cereal-grains-for-forage.pdf.




Forage brassicas–such as turnips, kales, and radishes–can provide plenty of very high quality fall forage. They may be seeded alone or in combination with other annuals. Yields of 1500 to 2000 pounds of dry matter per acre can be attained.

Brassicas are highly digestible and therefore need to be grazed with caution to avoid bloating. Animals should only be allowed to graze brassicas for short periods of time and given adequate fiber.

Brassicas can be drilled at a rate of about 6 pounds per acre at a depth of ¼ to ½ inch.

For More Info

For more information on using cool season forages, see our latest reports on:


Summer Forage Seeding Options

Posted: July 13th, 2016 by outcropn

Poor establishment of a spring forage seeding due to dry conditions.

Poor establishment of a spring forage seeding due to dry conditions.

Persistent dry weather has led to poor establishment of many new forage seeding throughout the region. Many farmers are wondering what to do with these failed or very poor stands?

The first step is to complete a thorough assessment of the field to see how much of the area did not establish.  If the stand looks like it is growing but just far behind where it should be at this point, the best measure may be to mow off the likely dense sward of weeds to allow the struggling forages to gain some sunlight. The recent moisture may push these forages along allowing them proper growth prior to the winter months.

It may be possible to just fill in poorly established spots with a no-till seeder in the late summer, preferably in late July or August so that forage seedlings have the six to eight weeks of growth needed to get established before a killing frost. Also, to reduce competition from the existing stand, mow the stand just previous to seeding. If soil conditions are extremely dry, this method may not be successful.

If you are in dire need of feed, it is not too late to seed a summer annual. The best choice in early to mid July would be a sudangrass or sorghum-sudangrass cross. These forages establish quickly in the heat and can produce ample forage even in dry conditions. If seeding later than July, consider planting a cool season annual such as oats, annual ryegrass, or triticale. Any of these choices will produce 1 to 2 tons of dry matter of high quality feed. Check out our warm and cool season forage reports at: http://www.uvm.edu/extension/cropsoil/forages.

Sudangrass (with sunflower and sunn hemp).

Sudangrass (with sunflower and sunn hemp).

A final option is to consider replanting the forage seeding in the late summer. These late summer seedings generally occur in August so that they have plenty of time to establish prior to fall dormancy. A rule of thumb is to plant 6 to 8 weeks before your average date of a killing frost. Seeding rates and seeding depth (1/4 to 1/2 depth) should remain the same for late summer seedings. Weed control is generally not an issue this time of the year so a nurse crop is not recommended and only competes with the new seeding for moisture, nutrients, and space. Avoid Italian or annual ryegrass in your mixtures as these grasses tend to grow rapidly in the fall and can be very competitive with other forage species.

Soil is warmer this time of the year so with adequate moisture the crop will develop and canopy at a much faster rate. Forage yields of late summer seedings during the first production year are often comparable to mature forage stands! Remember ample moisture needs to be present to get these shallow seeded crops off and running. If we go into August extremely dry, it is best to wait until there is some adequate rain.

Getting Started in Grains: Recap of Field Day at Rogers Farmstead

Posted: July 1st, 2016 by outcropn

Jessie and Nate Rogers.

Jessie and Nate Rogers.

On the first official day of summer, a crowd gathered in the barnyard of Rogers Farmstead in Berlin, Vermont. The topic was to learn the ins and outs of small grain growing and processing from beginning farmers Nate and Jessie Rogers. This event was the first in a series on grain production offered in collaboration by the UVM Extension Northwest Crops and Soils Program and NOFA-VT, sponsored by King Arthur Flour.

The Rogers started their farm in 2012. “We started growing with the intent of getting to human food,” said Nate, “Our plan was for our first crops to be used for chicken feed.” The business has changed in these past few years; thanks in part to fellow farmers, and support organizations like NOFA-VT, UVM, and the Northern Grain Growers Association.

Taking a look at Nate's combine.

Taking a look at Nate’s combine.

Currently, Nate and Jessie grow 60 acres of hard red winter wheat, 10 acres of hulless oats, an acre of spelt, and buckwheat, in addition to a small raw milk dairy and yogurt operation. They sell 95% of their wheat crop to Elmore Mountain Bread, a wood-fired micro bakery in Elmore, Vermont. Elmore Mountain Bread buys the wheat berries and mills them into flour using their own custom-built mill.

Asked about the challenges to starting their farm, Nate said, “Equipment, equipment, equipment!” Access to and the cost of purchasing the basic equipment needed to produce a grain crop was daunting, but a grant from the Working Lands Enterprise Initiative helped.

Nate reviewed the equipment they’ve acquired to date; he started with tillage tools necessary to prepare the seedbed for planting, including a moldboard plow, discs and spiked tooth harrow, not to mention a tractor to pull all of these implements.

After the seedbed is prepared, the Rogers use a grain drill to plant the seed, although, Nate added, it’s possible to broadcast the seed but you risk spotty stands if you don’t use something like a seed roller to increase seed-to-soil contact.

The next necessary piece of equipment for grain growing is the combine. Nate purchased their combine from Michigan; he mused that the cost of shipping was almost as expensive as the machine itself!

The Rogers' refurbished grain drier .

The Rogers’ refurbished grain drier.

As for postharvest equipment, Nate stressed the importance of drying grain down to below 14% moisture necessary for proper storage. They use a refurbished grain drier and grain storage containers. Grain cleaning equipment, another crucial tool in grain production, and the flour mill complete the equipment list.

Even with doing everything “right,” Nate said, “You can end up an unsalable product if the wheat doesn’t meet basic quality standards, the most challenging in this ever changing climate, is DON levels.” DON or deoxynivalenol is a mycotoxin produced by the fungus Fusarium graminearum under cool and wet conditions; the FDA has a 1 ppm DON limit for wheat for human consumption. Nate stressed the importance of identifying and growing Fusarium resistant varieties like the Redeemer winter wheat he currently grows.

The workshop ended with a stop at the NOFA-VT pizza oven for some freshly baked pretzels — yum!

For more about grain production in the Northeast, the cereal quality testing lab, and our latest grains research reports, check out the Northwest Crops and Soils website, www.uvm.edu/extension/cropsoil, and the Northern Grain Growers Association website, www.northerngraingrowers.org.

Be On the Look Out for Loose Smut

Posted: June 20th, 2016 by outcropn

Loose smut infected wheat head.

Loose smut infected wheat head.

As winter grains are heading out and flowering, it’s time to start scouting your fields for loose smut (Ustilago nuda, Ustilago avenae, and Ustilago tritici). Loose smut is found in winter and spring spelt, barley, and wheat, as well as oats.

Spelt and barley are particularly susceptible to infection. Loose smut is one of the easiest grain diseases to spot in the field. During spike or head emergence, diseased heads emerge slightly earlier than healthy ones and appear as a mass of dark brown spores covered with paper-like membrane. This membrane tears easily as healthy plants begin to flower, and windblown spores infect the embryos of developing seed. After the fungus invades the grain seed embryo, it remains dormant until the seed is planted and germinates. Infected plants appear to be normal, but develop smutted heads.

Planting contaminated seed, especially in organic systems, can exponentially increase grain infection rates, resulting in yield reductions; 100% of the smutted heads are lost. Eating loose smut infected grain poses no harmful health effects and doesn’t appear to impact baking quality.


 If you find loose smut in your fields, don’t save the seed.

  • Plant certified or otherwise high-quality, disease-free seed.
  • Plant resistant varieties.
  • Infected seed can be treated with various systemic fungicides in conventional systems.
  • In organic systems, hot water seed treatment can be used to rid infected seed of the Loose smut fungus.

For More Information

If you have questions about loose smut or any other plant disease, the University of Vermont Plant Diagnostic Clinic can help. Click on the link below for details on submitting a sample for identification:  http://pss.uvm.edu/pd/pdc/pdf/pdcform.pdf.

Planning Your Mid-Season Corn Fertility Boost

Posted: June 14th, 2016 by outcropn

cornThe corn has been growing and, in spite of a brief cold spell, is about to begin its rapid growth phase and peak in its demand for nitrogen! A  high yielding corn silage crop can easily require 150 pounds of nitrogen per acre. Much of the required nitrogen will come from manure applications, crop residues, and nitrogen tied to soil organic matter. These sources of nitrogen are in the organic form and are not readily available to plants as they first need to be broken down by microorganisms before a plant can use them. The exact amount of nitrogen that these organic sources of fertilizer will provide varies based on moisture, temperature, and substrate quality.

To help determine how much nitrogen from these sources are available to the corn crop, we recommend taking a pre-sidedress nitrate test (PSNT). This will help you determine the right amount of nitrogen to apply–for best yields, to prevent wasting money on unnecessary fertilizer, and to prevent leaching of excess fertilizer.

What is the Pre-Sidedress Nitrate Test (PSNT)?

The PSNT measures nitrate, the main form of nitrogen used by plants. By mid-season when you take a PSNT, much of the nitrogen that was in an organic form is being broken down rapidly to the nitrate form. The amount of nitrate measured by the PSNT can be used as an indicator of how much nitrogen will become available during the rest of the season and how much additional nitrogen fertilizer the corn may need. Additional fertilizer can then be applied as a sidedress or topdress application.

How to Use the PSNT

To take a PSNT, sample your fields right before the time of topdress — when the corn is 8 to 12 inches tall, in theV4 to V7 corn growth stage. Take 15 to 20 soil cores per field, each core 12 inches deep. You can use a soil probe (preferred) or garden trowel to take a sample. We have some soil probes at our St. Albans office available to borrow on a first-come, first-served basis. Take the soil cores in a random, zig-zag pattern throughout the field, avoiding spots where starter fertilizer was applied. Mix the soil cores together in a bucket and keep about 1 cup as a sample to send to the lab. Dry the sample right away in an oven at less than 150 degrees F in a glass dish until dry (2 to 4 hours should be fine) or by spreading it out on a paper bag in the sun. Or, keep the samples cool and deliver to the UVM Agricultural and Environmental Testing Lab in Burlington the same day it was collected. The nitrate concentrations will change in the sample if it stays at room temperature or has not been dried, giving inaccurate results.

If the PSNT results are low, especially below 15 ppm, it will be worth it to fertilize. Starter fertilizer rates greater than 20 pounds per acre should be subtracted from the recommended sidedress rates. Also, reduce the recommended rate by 30 pounds per acre where the previous crop was a well-managed stand of grass, legume, or mixed forage. If the PSNT results are 25 ppm or higher, there is little or no yield increase from applying more nitrogen. See Table 6 in  Nutrient Recommendations for Field Crops in Vermont to find fertility recommendations based on your PSNT results.

A PSNT sample and submission form can be found at: www.uvm.edu/pss/ag_testing/nitrate_form.pdf. You can contact the testing lab at 802-656-3030 or AgTesting@uvm.edu, and/or visit their website at: www.uvm.edu/pss/ag_testing/. Feel free to call our office with any questions at 802-524-6501 or email us at cropsoilvt@gmail.com.

Now’s the Time to Plant Summer Annuals

Posted: June 9th, 2016 by outcropn

Planning for the “summer slump?” Now is the time to consider planting summer annuals to maintain forage production during this period of the grazing season when recovery periods slow for cool season pasture perennials, such as timothy, orchardgrass, and clover.

Summer annuals are warm-season grasses typically planted in early June (now!) and can be grazed or harvested as stored feed (hay or silage) once or twice during the season, depending on the weather. Although they require hot weather and modest fertility rates, they can grow quickly outcompete weeds and develop extensive root systems that can scavenge nutrients and water that would otherwise be unavailable to most other crops.

Sudangrass, Forage Sorghum, and Sorghum-Sudangrass Hybrids

Sudangrass (with sunflower and sunn hemp).

Sudangrass (with sunflower and sunn hemp).

Sudangrass establishes quickly, produces a lot of biomass, and has an extensive scavenging root system. Sorghum-sudangrass hybrids, and especially brown mid-rib (BMR) varieties, have been gaining in popularity as these hybrids produce similar yields to sudangrasses yet are of higher digestibility and forage. Sudangrasses and sorghums should be seeded into soils that are about 65°F with adequate moisture at a depth of about 0.5 to 1 inch at a rate of 50 lbs. per acre. High biomass production can make curing for hay difficult. At heights above 36 inches, these grasses begin to produce seed heads, and crude protein and digestibility levels will drop dramatically. Plants should not be grazed below 10 inches if regrowth is desired. These species can contain toxic prussic acid. The following guidelines should be followed to avoid poisoning:

  • Graze sorghums, sudangrasses, and hybrids when they are at least 18 inches tall.
  • Do not graze plants during and shortly after drought periods when growth is severely reduced.
  • Do not graze wilted plants or plants with young tillers.
  • Do not graze after a non-killing frost; regrowth can be toxic.
  • Do not graze after a killing frost until plant material is dry (the toxin usually dissipates within 48 hours).
  • Do not graze at night when frost is likely. High levels of toxins are produced within hours after frost occurs.
  • Delay feeding silage six to eight weeks following ensiling.


IMG_1696Millet is another warm-season grass that can be grazed or harvested as stored feed. It tends to grow more slowly than sorghum and sudangrass; however, it can tolerate more acidic soils and does not contain prussic acid. Millet should be seeded at a rate of 20 lbs. per acre via the same methods as sudangrasses. If nitrogen is to be applied, it should be done in multiple, smaller applications after grazes to avoid over-fertilization and potential problems with nitrate accumulation. Proso, foxtail, pearl and Japanese millets are the common types used for livestock feeds. Proso and foxtail millets are often ensiled as they have shorter grazing seasons and tend not to produce as much biomass as pearl and Japanese millets. Millet can be grazed when it reaches a height of about 18 inches. It should not be grazed below 10 inches if regrowth is desired.


Teff is a relatively new crop to the Northeast. It is native to Ethiopia where it is grown as a cereal crop in traditional foods. It can be grazed or harvested as stored feed. It does not have issues with prussic acid or nitrates. Teff’s thinner stems allow for faster hay curing than millet or sudangrass. It should be seeded at around 6 pounds per acre at a shallow depth of 0.25 inches as the seed is quite small; seeding deeper than 0.5 inches will likely result in very poor stand establishment. Cultipacking after seeding may be beneficial in providing adequate moisture to the seed. Teff can be grazed or harvested approximately 50 to 55 days after seeding depending on weather. Before grazing, test the stand—by pulling on a handful of the grass—to see if the roots have established enough to withstand grazing. For optimal forage production, do not graze or harvest below 5 inches as this will stunt the crop. Subsequent harvests should be possible in another 45 to 50 days after the first graze/harvest.

More Info

For information on summer annuals, see the eOrganic webinar, “Focus on Summer Annuals,” with Heather Darby and Rick Kersbergen: http://articles.extension.org/pages/68106/organic-dairy-forages:-focus-on-summer-annuals

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