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Out Croppings: Important crop news from the field!

Now, it has started raining…

Posted: June 2nd, 2015 by outcropn

After a pretty dry Spring, the rain finally came and has pushed back a lot of our schedules. Hopefully you were able to make the first cut off your hay field, before all of this rain came in. If you haven’t, harvest will be pushed back and by that time the hay will lose up to ½ point of protein per day from its optimum harvest date. You may want to consider using this cut for dry cow and heifer feed. If you were able to make the first cut, wait to put manure down until the ground is no longer saturated with water. Vermont’s 590 Standard requires that manure not be applied onto saturated ground since there is an increased risk of runoff into waterways. Also, for those of us who were planning to put no-till corn in the ground after the first cut of hay, we’ll have to wait until the ground has dried. Muddin’ in seed will not work on most soils as it is very difficult to close the slot when the soil is wet and sticky.

For corn that has already emerged, now is a good time to scout for weeds. This rainy period may create a flush of weeds if herbicides with residuals were not applied. As for late planted corn, it would be worth it to check on germination rates as it has been wet and cool lately. Be sure to use the appropriate herbicide if you are planning to put cover crop in the ground in July. Some residual herbicides will have a lasting effect until August. UVM Extension has obtained a document, which makes good recommendations and is worth checking out. Click on this link to view the document “Improving the Success of Interseeding Cover Crops in Corn”. If you have questions, feel free to contact us at 802.524.6501.

Just Drill It

Posted: May 12th, 2015 by outcropn

Haybuster no-till drill.

Haybuster no-till drill.

Now that spring is in full swing, corn is going in the ground and farmers are evaluating their pastures and meadowlands.  Rumor has it that winter kill was substantial this past winter, and now is the time to mend your pastures and meadows.  UVM Extension has 4 drills available for rent throughout the Champlain Valley.  Currently, the Northwest Crops and Soils Program has a 10 ft Sunflower no-till drill and a 15 ft John Deere no-till drill.  Both of these drills are available for use for a fee of $10 per acre to help offset repairs (contact Jeff Sanders at 802-524-6501 to use).  The Middlebury Extension office and the Champlain Valley Crops, Soil, and Pasture team has two 10 ft Haybuster no-till drills available for use (contact Jeff Carter at 802-388-4969 to use).  If you call the UVM Extension Offices, we can help get the drills to you and instruct you on how to use them most effectively.

When using a drill, there are several important considerations to keep in mind.

  • Pay close attention to your seed mixes. When getting seed custom blended or if purchasing pre-mixed seed, you need to be mindful of seed size. Mixing clover and alfalfa with orchard grass may cause problems in the small seed boxes. Light bulky seeds like orchard or brome grass can be problematic in the seed boxes with the smaller seeds. Try to keep seeds of similar sizes and weights together for a more consistent flow through the drill and more accurate seeding rates.
  • The drills need to be calibrated. It is recommended that you put in a known amount of seed and cover a known area to check your rate. If you dump all of your seed in and only use the chart on the inside of the lid of the drill, you will probably not be happy with the results. The charts are only approximations and once you start putting multiple species of seeds together, you need to check the seed rate manually.
  • Keep track of seeding depth. Spring seeding forage seed only needs to be planted ¼ inch deep to be effective. When checking out the drill, make sure the seed depth is where you need it. The best way to do this is to drop the drill in the field and drive forward about 10 feet. Then get off and carefully investigate the seed trench and check the depth with a ruler. This becomes critical when using no-till drills in ground that has been conventionally tilled. These no-till drills are designed to plant on hard soils. They are heavy and when used in worked ground, all the settings need to be backed off to allow the seeder to “float” as much as possible on top of the soil.
  • When overseeding into a poor stand to rejuvenate it, a seeding rate of 8-10 pounds of seed should be drilled depending on seed varieties selected.
  • When drilling a clearstand or filling in winter kill spots in a field, a seeding rate of 12-18 pounds is recommended, again depending on what you are seeding. Please consult with your seed salesperson, crop consultant, or Extension personnel for more information regarding seeding rates.
  • Don’t plant when it is too wet. The key to drilling seed is getting good soil-to-seed contact and wet muddy soils will result in poor stands.
  • Using GPS. If you have access to a GPS unit, try to get it put into the tractor before you drill. It can be difficult to see where you have been and none of the drills have marker arms.

If you have questions or would like more information about drilling, please contact Jeff or Heather at the St. Albans UVM Extension Office at 802-524-6501.

Please Die Rye

Posted: May 8th, 2015 by outcropn

Over these past summer-like days, undoubtedly you’ve seen some rye growth! So now is definitely the time to be thinking about termination.

Killing the rye through plow down or herbicides are your options right now. Incorporating a winter rye cover crop in its vegetative stage will result in the quickest nitrogen release to your corn crop. An early kill can give a 30 to 50 pound nitrogen credit.

When rye reaches the boot stage (right before the head emerges), it may be harder to kill and will be slower to break down. It also may tie up nitrogen and delay its availability to the corn crop.

If you are planning a no-till corn planting, terminate with herbicide immediate after planting –timing is key so be sure planting aligns with a nice stretch of weather. If you are planning to terminate the rye with a roller-crimper, you must wait until the rye is flowering — when the anthers are clearly visible and shedding pollen. If you do not wait until this critical stage, the winter rye will likely “stand back up” shortly following rolling and crimping.

Enjoy the nice weather.

My cover crops are growing

Posted: April 28th, 2015 by outcropn

April is almost over and the wet and cool weather has everyone feeling like they are a little behind in their field work already!! It looks like we have a decent stretch of weather coming through the first few days of May. If you drove by your fields and thought to yourself ‘my cover crops are turning green that’s nice,’ it’s time to check them again. With the recent moisture and now a warming trend in the temperatures, winter rye is getting ready to GROW!!

  • If the crop is at 8 – 10 inches in height and you are not sure of when you can set it back with manure, tillage, or planting in the next 10 days, you need to start thinking of a way to terminate it before it becomes a problem.
  • If you’re planting beans, it will not be a problem. You can routinely no till into standing rye then spray and have a super bean crop.
  • If you are no-tilling corn into standing rye, in most cases as long as you terminate (spray herbicide) immediately after planting it will not be a problem although it may tie up some nitrogen as it begins to decompose (as much as 70# if rye is mature).
  • If you are planning on conventional tillage, you need to watch your cover crop carefully or you will spend considerable time fighting with it in early June trying to get it to lay down enough to plant you corn into.

If you are planning to get out and apply manure, please pay attention to your setbacks and buffers. Work towards tilling the manure in immediately after application as it will retain 50% more nitrogen then leaving it sitting on the surface for a few days (the ammonium nitrogen will volatilize quickly on the surface and be lost to the atmosphere). Its money in your pocket and you have to till it anyway. It will also mitigate runoff concerns on slopes or in case of a major rain event. If you want to test this theory split a field and try immediately working the manure in and waiting. Call UVM Extension and we will do a PSNT test for you and show you the savings in nitrogen.

On another note, UVM Extension will be taking delivery of the Hagie Highboy Seeder this week and we will be making several modifications to it to make it a more precise applicator of cover crop seeds. Please feel free to contact us if you have interest learning more about cover cropping, the highboy machine, or in having us do demonstrations on your farm, 802-524-6501.

Welcome to our Soil Health Updates!

Posted: April 23rd, 2015 by outcropn

Cover crop season seems a ways off as we still have not begun much field work, but one of the keys to successful cover cropping is planning. As part of creating a good plan with lots of options, the University of Vermont Extension Northwest Crops and Soils Program is going to start sharing regular Soil Health Update information on our Out Croppings Blog. This will include information on cover crops, no-till, soil building, improving crops, and more.

We invite you to join our Out Croppings community by signing up to receive weekly updates on what’s going on with soil health, cover cropping, and other things for you to consider. We will bring to you pictures, recommendations about planting and terminating cover crops, equipment profiles, highlight cover crop properties that improve soil health, and other options to help you make the best decisions for your operation in regards to soil health. We will let you know of NRCS, State and other sign-up deadlines, NRCS recommendations, field reports, and herbicide considerations to help you as you explore this emerging cropping system. We will share interesting links to articles and products that you can use to make cover cropping work for your operation.   Please sign-up to receive these weekly updates. You can let us know what information you are looking for, and we will find it for you. Thank you!

We look forward to sharing information with you!  If you have any questions, please contact Susan Brouillette at susan.brouillette@uvm.edu or 802-524-6501.

Evaluating and Managing Alfalfa Stands for Winter Injury

Posted: April 22nd, 2013 by outcropn

Dr. Heather Darby UVM Extension Agronomist


Many conditions occurring in the fall, winter or spring can have an impact on the winter survival or injury of perennial forage stands, particularly alfalfa. Therefore it is important to assess stands early in the spring and explore your options for managing winter injury.

How to Diagnose Winter Injury

First and foremost it is most important to determine if your fields were impacted by the winter weather. The most obvious sign of winter injury are stands that are slow to green up in the spring. If other fields in your area are starting to grow and yours are still brown, those stands should be checked for injury or death. In addition to “slow green-up,” fields with uneven growth patterns may also indicate damage.


The best way to diagnose damage is to examine the plant roots in a suspect field. To do this, walk diagonally across a field and at regular intervals (every 4 to 5 paces) dig up a shovelful of plants (4 to 6 inches deep) and examine their roots. The roots of each plant should be firm and the interior color should be white or cream colored. If the roots are soft and the interior yellow to brownish in color it most likely was winter-killed. winter_kill_alfalfa4For alfalfa, the majority of healthy crown buds should be white or pink and firm throughout the bud. It is important to try and inspect as many plants as possible to determine the percentage of the stand and/or areas of the field that are injured.


Options for Fields Moderately Affected by Winter Injury

Winter-injured stands will require different management practices than healthy stands if they are to stay in production. If winter injury is evident consider the following:

Allow alfalfa plants to mature longer than normal before cutting. This will help the plants rebuild needed energy for future production. For severely-impacted stands, allow plants to go to full bloom before taking a first cut and to the early flowering stage for subsequent harvests. Increasing the cutting height may also help stands recover (Cosgrove and Undersander, 2003). New shoots will be developing at the base of the injured plants and it is important to not remove these shoots, which would result in further detriment. Lastly, do not cut winter-injured stands late in the fall; this will allow them to build up more reserves before winter.

If a significant loss of alfalfa was seen in a predominant grass stand, then you could manage it for grass. This will work best if the grass species are dominated by tall-growing species such as reed canarygrass, orchardgrass, and/or timothy. If the grass is less than 10 inches tall, it may still be economical to apply 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre to boost yield and protein. If the grass stand consists mainly of a lower-yielding forage such as “June” grass (bluegrass) you may want to consider replanting.

If the alfalfa stand was only partially injured (25 to 50 %), interseeding with a quickgerminating forage crop in thin spots could provide additional production (Stauffer, 2009). Interseeding can be done with a grain drill. No-till application into existing sods will provide the best results. In the event a drill is unavailable broadcast seeding is an option but generally results in a less uniform stand. Species that could be considered for interseeding include clover (4-6 lbs/acre), orchardgrass (8-10 lbs/acre) or perennial ryegrass (8-10 lbs/acre). Remember that perennial ryegrass maybe a short-term option since it does not overwinter well in all areas of the Northeast. Alfalfa should not be reseeded into the stand due to autotoxicity issues. When dealing with winter-injured stands, it is particularly important to adequately fertilize and control for weed competition.

Options for Fields Severely Affected by Winter Injury

If your stand was over 50% winterkilled, you may want to consider replanting. Depending on your needs, there are several forage choices.

A small grain/field pea mixture could be a good choice if the forage is needed in early- to mid- summer. Early-planted small grains (60 lb/acre) such as oats, barley, or triticale with the addition of field peas (50 lb/acre) will be ready for harvest between late June and mid-July. Research from the University of Wisconsin has reported yields between 2.5 and 3.0 tons/acre and Relative Forage Quality (RFQ) of approximately 100-125 (Undersander, 2003). Small grain/pea mixes should be harvested when the small grain is at late boot stage.

Corn silage will be the best choice for optimizing full-season forage production. If corn silage is planted by the end of June it will normally outyield most other forages; however you risk lower quality forage. At these later dates (mid-June to early July) you may want to consider planting a summer annual. A few options include sorghum-sudangrass hybrids, sorghum -sudangrass hybrids enhanced with the Brown Mid Rib (BMR) gene, forage sorghum, sudangrass, and forage millets. Recommended seeding rates for these species vary considerably by forage type and range from 25 to 60 lbs per acre. These forages should be harvested when they reach approximately 30 inches. It is important to note that these crops need high temperatures to yield well and may not be the best choice if growers are experiencing cool to average temperatures. Studies conducted at the University of Wisconsin have reported summer annual yields between 2 and 6 tons/acre and RFV between 90 and 100 (Undersander and Lane, 2001).

There has been a lot of interest in growing sorghum-sudangrass enhanced with the BMR gene. The BMR gene has a characteristic of reduced lignin content, and hence tends to be highly digestible. The seed should be drilled ¼ to ½ inch deep at a rate of 50 lb/acre and fertilized the same as corn. Harvesting should take place after the grass is 30 inches tall or just before heading (Undersander and Lane, 2001). If planting is done by the first half of June, a second harvest can probably be made in September. Reports from Cornell University show that the forage quality of BMR sorghum-sudangrass can have a digestible neutral detergent fiber concentration (dNDF) of almost 70%and crude protein (CP) of up to 18% (Ketterings et al., 2002).

References and Citations


Posted: August 27th, 2012 by outcropn

Vermont dairy farmers will once again have an opportunity to purchase federal insurance which protects the gross margin between low milk and high feed prices through the USDA’s Livestock Gross Margin for dairy cattle program.  UVM Extension’s agricultural economist, Bob Parsons, said that Vermont dairy farmers took full advantage of the program during prior sales periods, insuring over 6.8 million pounds of milk.  With feed prices at record highs, this insurance can help pay the bills and cover living expenses, says Parsons.

Due to higher than expected nationwide interest last fall, all the remaining funds for the program were committed.  However, an additional $2.5 million has been made available nationally by the USDA.

The sales period will open this Friday, August 31, and it is expected that the demand will quickly exceed the funds.  Farmers interested in purchasing Livestock Gross Margin insurance for dairy cattle should contact a crop insurance agent immediately.   For more information, call UVM Extension at 802-349-2966.

Impact of Dry Weather on Corn Growth and Development

Posted: August 20th, 2012 by outcropn

Dr. Heather Darby, UVM Extension Agronomist

Very low precipitation over the last few months has caused drought stress in isolated areas of the state. The dry weather can have an impact on corn growth and development. For many farms corn silage harvest will begin in the next few weeks partly due to an above average accumulation of growing degree-days (GDDs) and for some due to severe drought stress. The goal of this article is to describe the impact of drought on corn development and provide suggestions for managing drought-stricken silage.

Drought Impacted Corn in Grand Isle County

Impact of drought on corn pollination
Many producers have observed leaf rolling in their corn fields especially in fields where soil compaction is severe. Some of these fields are entering the critical pollination and fertilization period where any type of environmental stress will result in yield loss. About 2 weeks before silk emergence, corn enters the period of grain yield determination. Corn is the most sensitive to drought stress during this period. Continued wilting of the plant at this stage can decrease yield 3 to 4 percent per day. Inadequate plant water can also delay silk elongation and silks that do emerge may become non-receptive to pollen. Obviously this can result in poor pollination. During the silking and pollen shed period, severe stress may reduce yield up to 8 percent per day.

Impact of drought stress on grain-filling
Water stress during grain-filling reduces yield 2.0 to 6.0% with each day of stress.
Abortion of kernels during the first 2 weeks following pollination is common during drought. Kernels can also abort during blister and milk stages if there is severe drought stress. Once kernels have reached the dough stage of development, yield losses will occur mainly from reduced kernel test weight. Drought stress during dough and dent stages can lead to premature black layer formation in the kernels.

Impact of drought stress on corn nitrate levels
Drought conditions can cause nitrates to accumulate in corn plants. Under normal growing conditions, nitrates are quickly converted into plant proteins and other compounds. When plant growth is slowed or stopped, nitrates can accumulate in the plant. Rainfall following an extended dry period may cause an immediate increase in nitrates for 2 to 5 days until the plant can utilize the nitrates.

There are several strategies that can help reduce nitrate levels in drought-stressed plants. First, try to wait 3 to 5 days after an appreciable rain or long cloudy spell before harvesting crops. Since nitrates accumulate in the stalks, consider a higher cut height. Leaving 12-inch stubble in the field can reduce nitrates but would also reduce yields. Ensiling will also help to reduce nitrates by as much as 60 percent. Allow the forage to ferment for 4 weeks to allow for complete fermentation. Any suspect feed should be tested for nitrate levels before feeding. The silage can also be tested at harvest to determine if nitrates are a cause for concern.
Symptoms of acute nitrate poisoning in animals are related to the lack of oxygen in the tissues. These include muscular weakness, accelerated heart rate, difficult or rapid breathing, cyanosis, coma, and even death. Drop in milk production, abortion due to lack of oxygen getting to the fetus, poor performance and feed conversion are seen in chronic cases. The most critical factor influencing possible toxicity is the rate of nitrogen intake, which is affected by forage dry matter intake over a given time period. Feeding practices that regulate dry matter intake can be used to manage high nitrate forages. When stored forages contain more than 1,000 ppm NO3-N, intakes generally must be managed to avoid toxic effects (Table 1).

Source: Adams, et al. 1992. Prevention and Control of Nitrate Toxicity in Cattle. Taken From: From Harvest to Feed: Understanding Silage Management, by C.M. Jones, A.J. Heinrichs, G.W. Roth, and V.A. Ishler, Depts. Of Dairy and Animal Science and Crop and Soil Sciences, Penn State University

Lastly, high nitrates can also contribute to elevated levels of deadly silo gas. Silo gas is produced 4-5 days after silo filling. During this period the nitrates are converted to oxides of N. Nitrogen dioxide or NO2 is the most common and is a yellowish orange gas with a bleach-like odor. This gas is heavier than air and can form in the silo and then escape down the unloading chute into the barn, endangering humans and livestock. Exposure to silo gas can cause immediate death or severe lung injury due. To avoid exposure to silo gases, keep the door between the feed room and the barn closed, ventilate the silo by running the blower for at least 20 minutes before entering the silo and learn to recognize the bleach odor and yellow-orange color as signals of silo gas.
For more information on nitrate testing of forage please contact Dr. Heather Darby – (802) 524-6501 or Dr. Sid Bosworth – (802) 656-0478 at the University of Vermont Extension.

Armyworm Alert!

Posted: June 11th, 2012 by outcropn

An armyworm outbreak has been reported in New York. Western NY through the western edge of the Finger Lakes is where there is the most activity. Damage to grass hay, wheat, corn, pastures, and lawns has been reported for this area. Armyworm has also been found in the greater Albany area and most recently in Clinton county (NE NY).  Over the last week very low numbers have been observed in Northeastern, VT as well.

Please don’t panic, but do go out and scout your corn and grass fields for armyworms. When full grown, the caterpillars can be almost 1.5 inches long. The caterpillars are usually greenish or brownish, but can be almost black. The sides and back of the caterpillar have light colored stripes running along the body. The caterpillars normally feed at night and much damage can occur before they mature. The preferred foods are grasses including corn, grains, and timothy. They will feed on other plants if grasses are unavailable. Feeding will start on the lower leaves and move upwards. A large population can strip an entire field in just a few days. When the field is eaten they “march’ to adjacent fields. Corn fields that are minimum or no-tilled into grass sod or fields infested with grass weeds are most susceptible.  For more information on scouting and control options please contact Dr. Heather Darby at the University of Vermont Extension at (802) 524-6501.

Winter Spreading Ban Lifted

Posted: March 21st, 2012 by outcropn

20 March 2012


As a result of unusually warm and dry weather, lack of snow and projected weather forecast over the next few weeks the Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets in agreement with the Agency of Natural Resources and Vermont Association of Conservation Districts is lifting the winter spreading ban that normally is in place until April 1st. According to Secretary Chuck Ross, “I am lifting the ban because I believe it will help farmers best manage their manure resources and is in the best interests of Vermont’s waterways.” David Mears, Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation agreed stating “Current conditions are favorable for manure application. Taking advantage of good weather now may prevent application of manure later when conditions may not be as good.”
The manure spreading ban is a regulation that has been in place since 1995 under the Accepted Agricultural Practice rules. Vermont was a leading state in developing such a ban, however in recent years several other states have been considering or adopting the idea. Research has shown that manure applications on frozen ground can increase the runoff potential. Vermont chose to select a ban period from December 15th to April 1st each year to protect water quality; however the Agency has discretion with those dates to accommodate these exact types of circumstances.
Farmers are reminded that Vermont’s Accepted Agricultural Practices Rules and medium and large farm permit requirements apply as appropriate including:

  • Manure shall not be spread within 10 feet of the top of the bank of surface waters or within 25 feet at points of concentrated runoff on small farm operations
  • Medium and Large farms shall not spread manure within 25 feet of the top of the bank of surface waters
  • Manure shall not be applied in such a manner as to enter surface water
  • Manure applied to land subject to annual overflow from adjacent waters shall be incorporated within 48 hours
  • The Agency also highly recommends that the following practices be observed while the spreading ban is lifted:
  • Avoid spreading manure during or just before rain events. Remember that manure cannot be spread in such a way as to run off the intended site during application.
  • Where appropriate, incorporate manure as quickly as possible.
  • Avoid spreading manure on fields that are subject to annual overflow from adjacent surface waters. Manure spread on annual crop land that is subject to annual overflow from adjacent surface waters shall be incorporated within 48 hours.
  • Consider using split manure applications and reduced manure application rates.
  • Do not apply to land that is still snow-covered or frozen.


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