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.

Stay Cool and Read Our Newsletter – Summer 2019

In this Issue:

  • Focus on Agriculture: Summer Seeding Options & Other Management Adjustments, by Jeff Carter
  • News, Events & Info You Should Know
  • Save-the-Date 2020 No-Till and Cover Crop Symposium
  • USDA 2017 Census of Agriculture Results, by Kristin Williams
  • Focusing on Effectiveness with Grass-Fed Beef, by Cheryl Cesario
  • Vermont Farmers Are Conservation Leaders, by Nate Severy
  • Nutrient Mass Balance: Operating in the Green Zone?, by Rachel Orr 
  • Research Update: Gypsum Trails, by Kristin Williams

View our 2019 Summer Newsletter Here!

Fall 2017 Newsletter

Our Fall 2017 Newsletter is out! View it HERE.

In this Issue:

Focusing on Agriculture in the Champlain Valley and Beyond By 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 Landscape By Nate Severy. UVM Extension and the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition are working together to provide farmers with valuable insights for adaptive management.

 

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Two Great Events in Two Weeks…Don’t Miss Out

Don’t miss these two great events.  You can RSVP for either or both at
802-388-4969 or champlain.crops@uvm.edu

Wednesday, August 23rd
Innovation in Action: No-till roller crimper
(A #CleanWaterWeekVT Event)
12:30 – 3:00 PM
Bonaspecta Holsteins | 1133 Jersey Street S., Addison, VT

Click HERE for the flyer

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!
To register (free) and for more information contact:
Nate Severy
nsevery@uvm.edu or (802)-388-4969
www.champlainvalleyfarmercoaltion.com

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)

Click HERE for the flyer

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.

FOCUS ON AGRICULTURE IN THE CHAMPLAIN VALLEY AND BEYOND

By Jeff Carter, Agronomy Specialist, Champlain Valley Crop, Soil & Pasture Team

 

Corn fields look a lot different this year and many people are taking notice of the changes. Yet the weather seems to repeat itself in Addison County; early warm, then too wet, and then too dry. This reminds me of two years ago, when we experienced extensive prevented plantings and over-mature
hay, followed by a good old drought for two months. I sure hope you are working closely with crop insurance agents and FSA to protect your business from the financial risk of weather extremes that we are seeing this year. This season has been a roller coaster as the early spring turned sour, and we are almost a month behind schedule for corn planting
and hay harvest.

Just taking a ride around the Champlain Valley, you see the difference in fields, with so much more cover crop activity and no-tillage taking place. I know that the rye cover crop can seem way out of control but think again, because this is a new way to farm (thanks, Robert Rodale.) The tall rye can
be a blessing for farmers who have jumped into no-till corn and use the rye to their advantage. Most of the early corn planted in May was planted no-till straight into standing winter rye, while many of the fall-plowed fields had delayed or prevented plantings. Harrowing-in a tall rye crop can be a nightmare that delays conventional planting and ties up nitrogen. However, leaving the tall rye standing can shade the new corn plants too much, even when killed. We want cover crops to benefit, not hurt, the corn crop. A few local farmers are now knocking down tall winter rye with a roller-crimper as they plant corn. (Read more about this technique
on page 4.) This looks very different, and may be a bit scary, compared to a bare soil field that was plowed and harrowed multiple times.

“GOT RYE? WE DO!” ROLLING-CRIMPING WINTER RYE OVER 5 FEET TALL!

The rye provides a nice mulch to conserve soil moisture for a dry August and saves soil. Like other practices, it takes a new mind-set to adapt and succeed when working with these fine-textured clay soils since cover crops influence the dynamics of insect and weed pressure on the crop. Let’s see how this turns out. We have seen some great success with no-till on clay and we have also seen some disasters. Cautious, yet steady, is how you need to adopt these new farming practices for success.

We are also moving into a new set of projects this year and stretching our limits with agronomy – “the science and technology of producing and using plants for food, fuel, fiber, and land reclamation.” In coordination with partners, we are looking at the economics of no-till and cover crop systems; soil amendments such as humates, mycorrhizae, gypsum and liming materials for soil productivity; testing manure slot-injection with a drag hose into hay fields; testing P levels in streams and tile outlets; developing pasture planning and grazing classes; and evaluating a new P-Index for Vermont. We are here to help, let us know how these new farming ideas work for you.

Have a question for Jeff Carter?
(802) 388-4969 ext. 332, jeff.carter@uvm.edu

SPRING BUS TOUR SENSATION; CAN ROLLING-CRIMPING HELP MANAGE COVER CROPS?

By Nate Severy, Agronomy Outreach Professional

On June 13, UVM Extension and the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition
teamed up to host a bus tour to six farms throughout Addison and Chittenden Counties highlighting spring conservation practices. The tour showcased manure injection, cover crop and no-till systems, pasture management, and nutrient management on dairy and vegetable farms. It was a long, information-packed day. One of the most amazing things was that all of the host farms had the same general message: they care about our environment, and are working hard, taking risks, and investing a lot of time and money to try to be the best farmers they can.

One tour participant commented that they were flooded with information and hadn’t realized just how much farmers are standing up and taking a leadership role to protect water quality. The event was a great example of how farmer organizations and UVM Extension can work together to support the agricultural backbone of Vermont.

One of the demonstration projects on the bus tour was a trial of rolling-crimping a winter rye cover crop, using farm built equipment. Rolling-crimping works best on a more mature cover crop, which may be useful in a spring like this one if winter rye becomes thick and tall because spring rains prevent termination. Rolling-crimping also helps facilitate the
mulching effect of the cover crop and, with correct furrow adjustment, should address issues of light penetration to young seedlings.

Separately, Jeff Sanders, from UVM Extension Northwest Crops
and Soils, received a grant to purchase and demo a planter-
mounted roller-crimper. This is actually a shield and two disks on the front of each planter unit, as opposed to a single roller-crimper. These attachments are angled to part the cover crop material and roll it away from the furrow where the corn is planted.

No-till corn planted into tall winter rye cover crop in Addison County clay soil using the UVM planter with Dawn roller-crimper attachments on the front of each planter unit.

We used this technology on two Addison County farms totaling around 50 acres. After 4 hours of adjusting the planter, we were successfully rolling-crimping! One farm field had manure injected several inches below the surface a month before planting and another field had large scale
cover crop trials. When compared to a regular no-till field, which can
look chaotic, there is a very satisfying symmetry when the field
is roller-crimped.

However, we had some setbacks while  planting. There was so much residue that every few acres we had to stop and clean the closing wheels because at least one would plug with winter rye. Specific closing wheels seemed to be plugging more often, and we will have to investigate that further. We also had issues getting adequate down pressure to crimp the rye stalks properly; this may not be an issue with a heavier corn
planter.

We will monitor the fields over the next few months, observing changes in water infiltration/retention and drought stress response, weed and pest levels, nitrogen availability, and corn yield.

Thanks to Jeff Sanders and the participating farmers! We look forward to sharing results and to future trials.

Videos of the planter in action:

 

THINK SPRING WHEN PLANTING COVER CROPS

By Kirsten Workman, Agronomy Outreach Professional

Farmers are planting cover crops at a rapidly increasing rate across Vermont – and for good reasons. The water quality and soil health benefits of this farming practice are undeniable. However, a farmer who manages that cover crop in a spring like this one will attest to the added complexity cover crops bring to the challenges of growing annual crops in Vermont.

Through our work with many innovative producers in the Champlain Valley, we identified the need to think about planting cover crops differently. We should not only ask questions about how late we can plant or how to get the most biomass possible, but can we take a more nuanced approach to decision making? In order to use cover crops as a management tool, a farmer should first decide on the goal for that cover
crop, and then implement a plan to accomplish that goal.

The main goal is usually to reduce erosion and nutrient loss. However, are you also trying to reduce weed pressure, decrease nitrogen applications for the subsequent crop? Will you be interseeding into a standing crop? Do you want to maximize spring biomass either to harvest it as forage or to use a rollercrimper device? Or, maybe you hope to minimize spring biomass to ease spring field management without sacrificing erosion control and nutrient retention.

The latter example is one goal we have heard from many producers who value the role cover crops play in reducing soil and nutrient loss in the sensitive fall and early spring seasons, but who don’t want so much biomass to deal with in the spring when it’s time to plant annual
crops, especially on heavier soils.

Borrowing an idea from one such farm, last fall we planted cover crop plots on nine farms, from Westford to Pawlet, on sandy loam to clay soils. Our goal was to determine the “magic” combination of seeding rates for planting winter rye and spring oats in the fall to maximize fall performance, while minimizing spring biomass. The dry fall and wet spring thwarted some of our efforts, but we were able to collect data at six locations. We don’t have the final answer yet, as one year doesn’t tell the whole story. However, we found that all combinations did comparably
well at providing at least 30% ground cover to protect from erosion in the fall. With the exception of the all-oat plots, all combinations increased soil cover and biomass from fall to spring.

Winter rye (left) and winter-killed oat (right) cover crop plots at Pouliot Farm in Essex on May 1, 2017.

This trial supported previous observations that winter rye – planted with a grain drill – provides similarly high biomass in the spring at different seeding rates, down to 45 pounds per acre. The two combinations that seemed to maximize fall performance and spring soil coverage while minimizing spring biomass were 30 pounds of rye with 45 pounds of oats, and 15 pounds of rye with 60 pounds of oats. The lowest rate of rye is probably not an advisable rate on steep ground, but it should provide enough soil coverage on flat ground.

Our aim is to help farmers identify the pros and cons of different methods of cover cropping, and evaluate which methods accomplish particular goals. We are moving beyond the basics in Vermont, and it is important to utilize this important conservation tool in a way that benefits not only the watershed, but also your farm.

Cover and biomass for winter rye and oat cover crops.

 

Upcoming Events: May 2017

Events hosted or with programing support by us:
  • Spring Pasture Walk. This Friday, May 5, Addison, VT. For more information and rsvp contact Cheryl Cesario (802-388-4969 ext. 346).
  • Cover Crops as Forage Crops. Next Monday, May 8, Cornwall, VT, 11:00-12:00 pm. Meet at the Champlain Valley Motorsports parking lot. Coordinated with the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition, this informal “crop patrol” for farmers will explore growing and harvesting a winter rye cover crop for forage. We will explore how would you manage a cover crop to maximize forage yield, fit into an annual crop system, and utilize for grazing before a summer crop.  For more information contact Nate (802-388-4969 ext. 348).
  • Spring Bus Tour – Celebrating Local Farm Conservation Efforts. May 17, 9:30 am-3:45 pm. Coordinated with the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition, this is a day long bus tour of Chittenden and Addison County Farmers participating in conservation work and supporting the joint mission of agricultural economy and improving water quality. This bus tour is for farmers, representatives, state and federal professionals. For more information and rsvp, contact Nate (802-388-4969 ext. 348)

More information or questions about any of these events can be obtained by contacting our office.

802-388-4969 ~ 23 Pond Lane, Suite 300 Middlebury, VT 05753

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Events hosted by other affiliates:
  • Dairy Science and Sanitation. May 10-11, 8:30 am-5 pm, UVM, Burlington, VT. Hosted by the UVM Extension and Cornell University. More information can be found here.
  • The Youth Agricultural Individual Development Account (IDA) Program, a collaboration of University of Vermont (UVM) Extension 4-H and the UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture, has extended its deadline to May 15 for applications for its next program cycle. The free one-year program helps young farmers, ages 14 to 21, acquire the necessary financial skills and business assets to operate their own agricultural business. More info/applications here.
Other News:
  • The New RAP rules are now in effect, including vegetative buffer requirements. If you are plowing and/or planting annual crops, you should be informed of buffer rules. To see the entire list of RAP rule effective dates, see this link. Questions should be directed to VAAFM. You can also contact us if you’d like help on your farm determining how to make compliance work for your operation.
  • The Agricultural Business / Farm Viability Program, through UVM Extension has ongoing funding for water quality business analysis, to help farmers analyze options for meeting conservation and regulatory compliance goals. Analysis will include financial planning, strategic planning and coordination with related agencies. For more information or to sign up, contact Mark Canella (1-866-860-1383, toll free in VT).