Curl Up Next to Fire with our Newsletter – Fall/Winter 2020

This season we have combined the Fall and Winter Newsletter.

In This Issue

  • Focus on Agriculture, by Kirsten Workman
  • News, Events and Info You Should Know
  • Winter Planning for 2021 Farm Risk Management, by Jake Jacobs
  • Nitrogen, An Overlooked Macronutrient, by Kirsten Workman
  • Transition to Grazing: Farmers Thinking Outside the Box, by Cheryl Cesario
  • Giving Credit Where Credit is Due: Farmer’s Practices Make Gains Towards Meeting TMDL, by Kristin Williams

View the Full PDF Here!

See our highlighted article on Nitrogen management (which will become a series) as a blog post.

Important update on our No-Till, Cover Crop Symposium included in the newsletter:

We have made the difficult decision to forego our annual in-person No-Till and Cover Crop Symposium in order to comply with COVID safety precautions, and keep folks safe and healthy. But we have some other exciting options in the works. The 2021 event was intended to be a partnership between our conference and the Northeast Cover Crop Council’s Annual Conference. The NECC Annual Conference has moved online and will be held on March 4, 2021. Save the date and stay tuned for more details including an agenda which will be posted soon on the http://northeastcovercrops.com/ website. In addition the Champlain Valley Crop, Soil and Pasture and Northwest Crops and Soils Teams are working on bringing the NTCC Symposium ‘hyper-local” by potentially hosting smaller in-person meetings (with remote participation available) to build on the virtual NECCC meeting and fill the void of the NTCC Symposium. If there are topics you’re interested in hearing more about in your locale, reach out to Kirsten at kirsten.workman@uvm.edu and let her know.

Nitrogen: An Overlooked Macronutrient

By Kirsten Workman, Agronomy Specialist

This article was originally printed as part of our Fall-Winter 2020 Newsletter.

In the Champlain Valley, we spend a lot of time and effort managing phosphorus (P). Rightfully so, as it is the pollutant behind algae blooms in Lake Champlain. Our clay soils often bind to it tightly, making it less available to plants when they need it most, and it isn’t perfectly balanced with crop needs in our manure applications. All of this makes it a tricky nutrient to manage. However, we have taken our eye off another primary macronutrient as a result.

Nitrogen (N)

Nitrogen is the dominant macronutrient in agriculture. While it hasn’t had top billing here lately, it is probably the most important and studied nutrient from a crop production standpoint. Without adequate nitrogen, yield and quality can be compromised. Nitrogen drives vegetative growth and protein content, having a direct correlation with forage value in livestock systems and nutrition in food crops. In watersheds where the receiving surface waters are marine (e.g., the Connecticut River which drains to Long Island Sound, or the Mississippi River which drains into the Gulf of Mexico), nitrogen causes water quality issues like eutrophication and algae blooms – the same problems that phos-phorus causes in Lake Champlain. Generally, N is much more mobile than P in soil. Because of this, it is often prone to loss. The primary pathways for N loss are:

• Volatilization – N turns into ammonia gas and dissipates into the atmosphere. (Applying nitrogen when temperatures are cool, a light rain is expected to facilitate incorporation, or by physically mixing it with the soil can reduce volatilization risk. Nitrogen stabilizers can also inhibit this reaction.)

• Denitrification – Occurs in saturated soil conditions when nitrate turns into N2 and N2O gas. (Good soil drainage, high soil organic matter and proper pH, split N applications and nitrogen stabilizers can help prevent excessive denitrification.)

• Runoff – Carries nitrogen from manure, fertilizer and eroded soil off the field into ditches, creeks, rivers and streams. (Field buffers, reducing erosion, properly timed nutrient applica-tions can reduce N runoff.)

• Leaching – When N can’t attach to soil particles or be taken up by plants, it easily leaches downward with soil water toward groundwater and even out tile drain outlets. This is much more common in sandier soils that do not have the water holding capacity of heavier soils like clay and loam. (Applying manure and nitrogen fertilizer during the growing season, proper nutrient management, avoiding fall-killed sod, and utilizing cover crops to increase nutrient uptake can decrease the amount of N leaching.)

A primary reason nitrogen is analyzed so much, is that farms can often see immediate impacts from over or underutilizing nitrogen. In addition, good N management can also save a farm a significant amount of money in fertilizer savings. This often gets overlooked when N prices are low (as they have been recently), and farms are prone to “insurance applications” of N to make sure they aren’t shorting their crops. With prices averaging between $0.28 to $0.41 per pound of N¹ (depending on the type of fertilizer), it can seem like a cheap way to ensure good yields and quality. However, in a time of tight margins and increasing environmental regulation this can be an unsustainable way to operate. And if you are an organic producer, the $3 to $5 per pound cost of N fertilizer means you probably already understand the value of farm-produced nitrogen, and being as efficient as possible with those homegrown and purchased sources of N². In 2018, Vermont agricultural producers utilized almost 10,000 tons of nitrogen fertilizer, with another 7,000 tons of multi-nutrient fertilizers that likely had some portion of nitrogen³. In comparison, during this same time period, 15 tons of phosphate fertilizer was sold for agricultural use.

In the coming months, we’ll dig deeper into the world of nitrogen and see where we can do a better job providing our crops with adequate nitrogen without breaking the bank or causing unintended environmental consequences. We will consider:

– Corn and Nitrogen: Managing N in corn silage crops and how do we know if we’ve overdone N applications? A Caring Dairy Prove-It Project case study on Corn and Nitrogen.

– Managing N in hay and pasture crops and letting nature pay your fertilizer bill.

– Manure and N management – how do we make the most of the nitrogen in our manure?

– HomegrowN – taking credit for all the nitrogen on your farm, not just the stuff you purchase outright.

If you have a question about N fertilizer or manure management you can also contact Kirsten at kirsten.workman@uvm.edu.

One tool available to producers to evaluate N management strategies is the Corn Stalk Nitrate Test (CSNT), seen here on the Gosliga Farm (Addison, Vt.). It is designed to be a report card assessment at the end of the season to help modify and improve N management strategies on the farm in future years. The CSNT is a useful tool that indicates whether the nitrogen supply for that year was low, marginal, optimal, or in excess of what the corn needed this year. Corn that has received inadequate N will remove N from the lower cornstalk and leaves during the grain filling period. Plants that have received more N than needed to attain maximum yields tend to accumulate nitrate-N in the lower stalks at the end of the season.

Citations:

¹ August 2020 (Progressive Farmer by DTN), https://www.dtnpf.com/agriculture/web/ag/crops/article/2020/08/12/fertilizer-prices-remain-lower-first

² Organic N price based on estimated costs of bulk sodium nitrate (a.k.a. Chilean nitrate)

³ VAAFM, 2018-2019 Vermont Fertilizer Analysis Report https://agriculture.vermont.gov/sites/agriculture/files/documents/PHARM/Fertilizer/Annual%20Report%20Fertilizer%202018-2019.pdf

RESOURCES: https://extension.missouri.edu/publications/wq252 http://cceonondaga.org/resources/nitrogen-basics-the-nitrogen-cycle

NMP Updates for 2020

Note: UVM Extension is currently developing resources for farmers updating their NMPs using goCrop. Check back by January for more updates!

Given the realities we face, we’ve decided to make NMP Updates one-on-one, on an appointment basis only. We will be contacting folks in the New Year to remind you. We are encouraging folks who can to have personal video chats, in which we can walk anyone through the process of updates. We are happy to also help folks set up video chat if you are unfamiliar with it. We also encourage everyone to do as much work ahead of any meetings as possible, including gathering records.

Give us a call at 802-388-4969 to schedule an appointment.

Reminder:

Our Current and Ongoing Office Policy

The Middlebury Extension office is open by appointment only.  Please plan ahead and give us at least 2 days’ notice to make arrangements for your appointment by calling 802-388-4969. This way we will be able to meet your needs.

  • Face masks are required upon your arrival at the office
  • Sign in at the front desk for contact tracing
  • Use the provided hand sanitizer
  • Maintain a 6-foot distance between yourself and others

If you do not feel comfortable coming to our office, please call 802-388-4969 leave a phone message and we will return your call in one business day. We will do our best to provide you with the service you need.

Stay Cool in the Shade and Read Our Summer Newsletter

In This Issue:

See the full pdf here

Cover Crops & No-Till are a Net Benefit for Foster Brothers Farm

A Newsletter Spotlight, From Summer 2020 Newsletter

By Kirsten Workman

View the Newsletter in Full Here

This article is based on:

George Foster and son Jeremy manage crop production on the Foster family’s fifth generation 2,200-acre dairy farm in Addison County, Vermont. They grow 550 acres of corn silage, 300 acres of soybeans, 100 acres of small grains, and 1,250 acres hay/haylage each year on their farm, which is predominated by Vergennes heavy clay soils. The family not only sells milk through the Agri-Mark Family Dairy Farms® cooperative where it is made into world-famous cheese, but they also operate Vermont Natural Ag Products—home of the Moo™ line of compost and soil amendment products.

Today George has become a humble, yet impactful leader of a soil health movement in Vermont. While the farm has always had a conservation ethic, George and Jeremy have dramatically changed their cropping systems over the last eight years. After some failed attempts at no-till 20 years ago, George attended the UVM Extension No-Till and Cover Crop Symposium and that was when he knew he could make it work on their farm. He had a solid vision and took a pragmatic approach to implantation of these practices.

The Fosters agreed to help us investigate on the economic plusses and minuses of cover cropping and no-till through a state Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG).

Making the Transition

After acquiring a new no-till corn planter in 2012, the Fosters began transitions by applying no-till on their lighter soils utilized for corn silage, and then fields going into first-year corn silage on their clay fields, while simultaneously adding cover cropping. Paying good attention to nitrogen management was key to maintaining and increasing yields. Adjusting equipment was important, and they now have a roller-crimper and no-till drill in addition to the no-till corn planter. All of their crops and cover crops are now no-till and they grow their own cover crop seed!

Why Cover Crops?

When you ask George why he grows cover crops, he’ll tell you, “It’s what makes no-till work!”He’s sure it’s the reason no-till didn’t work 20 years ago when they first tried it. He explains that the cover crop roots open the soil while the leaves protect the soil surface. He has observed many of the benefits we often espouse like improved water infiltration/management, increased organic matter, increased soil biology, improved soil structure, reduced compaction, and resilient crops leading to more reliable yields which are less stressed by weather extremes.

Cost of Entry

Cost of entry of conservation practices is a common challenge and concern for producers. To manage these costs, spacing out investments, borrowing equipment, hiring custom work, cost sharing and grant funding are all ways producers manage these investments. Foster Brothers Farm utilized all these approaches. Out-of-pocket expenses made up roughly 53% of the equipment cost. Divided over their corn acres, the equipment was paid for in 5 years. Including soybeans and small grains, it only took 3 years to see a return on investment.

Changes in Costs Associated with Cover Crops and No-Till

In this project we calculated economic cost estimates (not actual cash expenses), with producer interviews and the NRCS Machinery Cost estimator (Cover Crop Economics Tool, version 3.1). Foster Brothers Farm saw an increase in costs related to planting the cover crop and use of a roller crimper for termination of cover crop. Cost decreases were seen in labor, plowing and harrowing (see graph). The net effect of these changes is approximately a $45 / acre decrease in cost as compared to conventional tillage on this farm.

Compared to their previous tillage system, this method requires less labor, leads to better crop quality, reduces/eliminates replanting costs, increases yields, and provides more resiliency to wet springs and dry summers. Their corn yields have been steadily increasing and their soybean fields saw a substantial increase. More efficient spring operations and changes in new hay seedings improved earnings.

George is still tweaking the cover crop system with his soybeans, and he is mindful that avoiding compaction is more important than ever. He reminds farmers who are trying no-till to be patient in the spring and check underneath the surface before planting.

Spring Newsletter is Here!

View the Newsletter Here (pdf link)

In This Issue:

  • Focus on Agriculture, by Jeff Carter
  • News, Events & Info You Should Know
  • Opportunities for Grazing Funding, by Cheryl Cesario
  • Grassland Manure Injection: By The Numbers, by Kirsten Workman
  • Two Bedrock Professors Retiring: Will Be Missed in Jeffords Hall and Beyond
  • End of Gypsum Project Leaves us with Important Lessons and Questions, by Kristin Williams
  • USDA Authorized Flexibilities Help Producers During the Coronavirus Pandemic, by Jake Jacobs
  • Notes on the Wild Side, by Jeff Carter

Newsletter Highlight From Grassland Manure Injection: By The Numbers (pg. 4)    With funding from VAAFM’s Clean Water Fund and the help of Ken and Debbie Hicks at Hicks Equipment, we purchased the right equipment from the Netherlands. With the expertise of Eric Severy of Matthew’s Trucking to operate it, we began demonstrating the utility of this system. Shallow slot grassland manure injection gets liquid dairy manure just two inches below the soil where it is protected from runoff during rain events while still well within the root zone where the plants will use it. Read More

Save the Date: 2021 No-Till Cover Crop Symposium March 4-5, 2021. More information coming soon.   We’re joining forces with the Northeast Cover Crop Council to bring you a full day and a half of information related to no-till and cover cropping. go.uvm.edu/ntccs    If you missed this year’s symposium you can also read presentation pdfs and the proceedings online.

Financial Assistance Through USDA Now Available!

The CARES act authorized payments through USDA for covid-19 related income losses, this is called Coronavirus Food Assistance Program or CFAP. Don’t be confused by the name – this includes financial payments to farmers for losses incurred due to the pandemic outbreak.

CFAP assistance applications are administered through your local Farm Service Agnency (FSA) office and applications are being accepted March 26, 2020 through August 28, 2020.

Information on all these rules and qualifications can be found at https://www.farmers.gov/cfap. The website includes a payment calculator and printable forms (scroll down the page to see all forms required).

Application eligibility requirements include:

  • Specified agricultural commodities that have suffered at least a 5 percent or greater price decline (dairy, beef, forage crops all qualify, mid-January to Mid-April timeline) OR or who had losses due to market supply chain disruptions and face additional costs.
  • Average adjusted gross income <$90,000 or derive at least 75% of income from farming.
  • Be in compliance with other USDA rules such as Highly Erodable Land regulations.

Application Submission:

You must apply through your local FSA office by mail, fax, hand delivery or electronic means, however offices are only open for phone appointments at this time. You should contact your local office before submitting your application. Reach your local FSA office for questions. In Middlebury, you can call 802-388-6748 and fax 802-497-3679.

Factsheets by Category:

Dairy CFAP calculations are being split into two categories: CARES Act payment which will compensate producers for price losses during the first quarter of 2020 and CCC Funds payment which will compensate for marketing channel and demand disruptions for the second quarter of 2020 (April, May, and June) due to COVID-19.

If you need assistance with HEL compliance or have other agronomy related questions that we can help with, call our office at 802-388-4969 and leave us a message.

Financial Help For Farmers in the Face of Covid-19

*This is an evolving situation and will be updated

PPP Loans: Paycheck Protection Loans are obtained through a lender (Yankee Farm Credit, VEDA, your bank, etc) that reimburses for payroll and other expenses spent over an 8 week period as long as employees are hired back or retained. You can use the money for employee salaries, paid sick or medical leave, insurance premiums, and mortgage, rent, and utility payments.

EIDL/EIDG: The latest act allows farmers to qualify for this program. The EIDL program is a loan program directly through SBA which can be used to cover a wide variety of expenses. It provides a grant (the EEIG) up to $10,000 ($1,000 per employee up to 10) whether the applicant takes the loan or not. Note, there has been a major backlog in applications and most Vermont businesses have not yet heard back from SBA after applying. Hopefully that will be resolved soon.

SBA news release as of 5/4/20 SBA has re-opened portal for applications! If you were unable apply before you should be able to apply now.

PUA: Pandemic Unemployment Insurance is available for self-employed individuals including farmers. Self-employed farmers are eligible to apply for PUA if you have had some level of lost income. Many farmers may be eligible, and if so, you’d receive a minimum of $790 per week and a maximum of $1,113 per week.

USDA funds: U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). This new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) program will take several actions to assist farmers, ranchers, and consumers in response to the COVID-19 national emergency. See the press release. The plan will provide $16 billion in direct payments to farmers and $3 billion in food product purchases for distribution through the emergency food system. Details will still need to be rolled out but we expect dairy producers will receive $2.9 billion in direct payments, and $2.1 billion will go to specialty crop producers. The payments are based on milk production and calculated through a formula. They have not announced a specific timeline, but there is indications that sign-ups will be through FSA, and payments may be as early as late May. See this Hoard’s Dairyman article on some more thoughts.

New link – Webinar on CFAP, Thursday, May 14, 2020, at 1 p.m. ET.

Do you need help navigating all of this? UVM Extension Ag Business / Farm Viability can help.

Do you have questions for our office? Give us a call at 802-388-4969 and we will get back to you.

Resources in these challenging times

Our offices are currently closed but we are still here to help you! Please give us a call at 802-388-4969 and leave us a message. We will return it! You can also email us at champlain.crops@uvm.edu

Things are changing daily, and the best way to keep up with our office is through our email list and newsletter. If you don’t already get notifications, sign up now.

Many organizations are acting as clearinghouses for links so I will not repeat the work they have been doing, but instead refer you to them below.

Consider providing feedback for the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM) on how the Coronavirus crisis is affecting your operation! We’d also like to hear from you if there are things you think UVM Extension can be doing to help.

VAAFM Covid-19 resource page

USDA Covid-19 resource page

UVM Extension Resources:

Information about Small Business Administration Loans through the CARES act can be found on their webpage.

Farm First is your connection to free and confidential support for all farmers and their families.

Vermont Housing and Conservation Board also provides business advising services.

Soil and Manure Sampling Changes and Lab Operations

As of right now, the UVM Agricultural and Environmental Testing Lab is still receiving manure and soil samples directly and the lab in Maine that UVM works with us is still open. However, we will not be transporting samples from our office in Middlebury to the lab in Burlington. Additionally, please understand that the manager of the lab will not be in the office every day and there many be an additional delay in processing samples.  Call the lab at 802-656-3030 if you have questions.

Manure Samples: It’s nearing time for manure spreading… and also manure sampling! The best time to sample manure to get an accurate sample is right when you are about to spread it. 

  • We ask that you sample, freeze and hold on to manure sample(s) for a future date to be analyzed when we can transport it to the lab. Manure can be sent in the mail, but it’s more ideal to just hold on to it. If you need a timely result, call the lab, you may be able to send it directly to Maine.
  • Manure can be frozen for months, just make sure you leave enough space in the jar for expansion.
  • Empty manure jars will be left in the sample box at the entrance of our office, but any plastic quart jar could work –  do not use glass jars.
  • Our fact sheet on how to take a manure sample can be found here.
  • The form for manure sample analysis can be found here.

Soil Samples:

  • While we recommend soil sampling at the same time each year, given circumstances, if you can wait to sample it is advised to do so. If you do need an analysis, you can direct mail your soil sample(s).
  • There will be soil test kits left in the sample box at the entrance of our office, but any clean sandwich type plastic bag will work. You only need 1/2 to 1 cup of soil per sample – over doing it doesn’t help the lab and costs you money. Just make sure you take adequate sub-samples, mix your soil sample well, and send a representative mix. Soil probes will not be available until a future date.
  • The form and instructions for soil sample analysis can be found here.

If you have any questions about manure and soil sampling you can still give our office a call, and someone will get back to you – 802-388-4969.