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.
By Cheryl Cesario, Grazing Outreach Professional
When farmers are considering grazing as a new management practice, or want to change or improve an existing system, there are many questions from both the animal perspective and the land perspective: Is this going to work? Will my animals like it? What will this look like? How will I do it?
These are all reasonable questions, which are not easily answered in a one or two-hour farm visit. I find the most successful grazing systems develop when there is farmer involvement in the planning process, and the farmer has a good relationship with a service provider and other farmers who can answer questions and share ideas.
This fall we will start offering a new grazing management course for farmers who want to learn about the benefits and challenges of grazing – from both economic and environmental perspectives. Each farmer will develop a plan specific to their operation which takes into account their
farm goals. The class will meet once per week over the course of a month, and each farmer will receive a copy of Sarah Flack’s book The Art and
Science of Grazing as the course textbook and helpful future reference. Outside of class, one-on-one farm visits will provide additional support
as new practices and strategies are implemented on the ground.
Here is a sampling of what the class will cover:
• Pasture plant identification of common species, looking at favorable growth conditions and how plants respond to grazing impact.
• Pasture nutrition – how it can affect grazing behavior, overall intake, and animal performance.
• Grazing management concepts such as measuring dry matter availability, determining paddock sizes, stocking rate versus stock
density and overall acreage requirements.
• Soil health in pasture systems and the benefits of soil, forage and manure testing to understand nutrient cycling and nutrient management within pasture systems.
• Pasture system design to determine infrastructure needs, and management techniques to avoid overgrazing damage, decreased
carrying capacity and other negative impacts.
• Grazing record keeping systems and the benefits of monitoring and documenting activities.
Eligible farmers will be able to use the grazing plan they develop in class to apply for USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) funding opportunities to help cost-share a variety of grazing practices. However, new infrastructure alone will not create improvements. Achieving healthy pasture ecosystems requires an understanding of the relationship between the soil, the plants and livestock grazing behavior. A clear goal and a plan based on plant and animal needs are essential for success. We anticipate the course will run from mid-October to mid-November, with up to 12 hours of classroom and planning time. If you are interested in participating, or want to know more, please contact me:
firstname.lastname@example.org; (802) 388-4969 x346
Successful grazing plans can include laneways to reduce mud and erosion, as seen in photos before installation (above left) and after (above right). Stream crossings and water tubs eliminate animal impact on surface waters (below).
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.
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.
- Management Intensive Grazing for the Diversified Farm. May 21, 10:00 am-3:30 pm. Randolph, VT. More information can be found here.
- 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).
By Cheryl Cesario, Grazing Outreach Specialist
There is a saying, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” and this holds true for pasture as well as crops. There are many ways to monitor and keep records of pasture yields and grazing activity. Personally, I am a fan of whatever recordkeeping system works for the individual farmer, as it has to be efficient, straightforward and provide useful information to be worthwhile.
One tool I have seen used with success is the Holistic Management Grazing Planning Chart. This tool was initially developed by Holistic Management International as a part of their overall decision making framework for farm planning. Troy Bishopp, of the Madison
County Soil and Water Conservation District in central N.Y., was able to bring the chart to the masses through a Northeast SARE grant, with the help of a network of service providers who then reached out to individual farmers. In 2013, I began distributing these charts so farmers who
were interested could try them out and evaluate their usefulness.
On the surface, the chart is just a large sheet of paper with a lot of rows and columns that form a grid. This grid is really a “year-at-a-glance” calendar that can be a powerful planning and recordkeeping tool. With a simple daily activity of filling in a box that corresponds to the day and
the field or paddock where the animals have moved, a pattern forms providing a visual record of the entire season laid out at once. With this chart, there is no flipping pages back and forth in a calendar to figure out what animals were where and when. I personally like being able to look at a chart and see how many days since I last grazed a given area, and it helps me readjust my plan. At the end of the season, I find it informative (or in the case of last summer, depressing) to see how many times I was able to graze a given field. For experienced grazers, try planning a month ahead by filling in the chart in pencil and then have fun seeing how close you were.
This will be the fifth year distributing grazing charts and I am seeing farmers track all kinds of interesting data including daily temperature and rainfall, periods of hay feeding and/or confinement, applications of chicken manure, bull introduction and frost dates. Organic farmers find these records keep their annual organic inspector happy, and they
are acceptable records for NRCS “prescribed grazing” payments. One farmer is comparing his grazing chart to his milk production records to understand milk per acre. Another farmer charts crops, color-coding the daily entries for planting, spraying, harvesting and manure spreading. When he comes in each fall to update his nutrient management plan,
all the information is at his fingertips.
I would love to hear from farmers who are utilizing some of the newer “apps” such as PastureMap™ or GrazingCalculator ™. Also on the horizon is goGraze™ currently in development as a companion to UVM Extension’s goCrop™ nutrient management software. Ultimately, there are tools available for everyone, whether you want to enter data on the go with your phone or like the comfort of having a tangible paper record.
A limited number of printed planning charts are available at our Middlebury office, or download a variety of templates at:
UVM Extension Agronomy Outreach Professional (Grazing Specialist)
In March 2016 a concerning milestone was reached: global levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide passed 400 parts per million (ppm). For reference, 350 ppm is recognized as the level which is needed for a healthy functioning planet.
Carbon dioxide is a heat-trapping gas, which is released through human activities such as deforestation and burning fossil fuels, along with natural processes such as respiration and volcanic eruptions. Its increasing levels is one major driver of global climate change.
In November, Architect William McDonough, who specializes in sustainable development, published an article titled, “Carbon is Not the Enemy” in the journal Nature. In it he suggests we can work with carbon in all its forms, to keep it in the right place. Climate change, he says, is “the result of breakdowns in the carbon cycle caused by us, it is a design failure. Anthropogenic greenhouse gases in the atmosphere make airborne carbon a material in the wrong place, at the wrong dose and for the wrong duration.”
A healthy carbon cycle supports life, rather than endangering it. McDonough writes that the way to work with the carbon cycle to preserve and enhance the benefits it provides starts with the soil. A healthy soil can sequester carbon, converting it to a stable form which improves its fertility and ability to hold water.
Dr. Christine Jones, an Australian soil ecologist who was highlighted in the book Cows Save the Planet, describes this process. Plants convert carbon dioxide into sugars or “liquid carbon” which is used for plant growth and is exuded by the roots to feed soil microbes. The plants obtain minerals and trace elements otherwise unavailable to them and in turn, the microbes use the sugars to create stable carbon, including humus. Dr. Jones states that much of the world’s grazing land is losing carbon due to overgrazing practices. However, she writes about the potential to sequester carbon and reduce atmospheric CO2 levels through management changes to improve soil health and activate the “liquid carbon” pathways. There is an enormous potential for the world’s grasslands to capture and sequester carbon and perhaps lower atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.
In a 2014 paper titled “Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change”, The Rodale Institute states that farming practices that maximize carbon fixation and minimize carbon loss have the potential to sequester more than 100% of current annual carbon dioxide emissions. However, to achieve this, a holistic systems approach to agriculture is needed worldwide that builds soil health by adopting cover crops, crop rotations, and conservation tillage practices.
Currently, The Savory Institute, co-founded by Holistic Management author and educator Allan Savory, is working to promote the importance of livestock in carbon sequestration and bring that message to the consumers. Well-managed pasture, acting as a giant solar panel, captures solar energy, grows dense stands of grasses, keeps soil protected, sequesters carbon and turns this solar energy into animal products. The institute will unveil a “Land to Market” program early in 2017 with a third party seal on qualifying products to indicate that sourcing is regenerative on the land on which it is produced.
Rodale describes regenerative agriculture as “beyond sustainable” – a system built on improving resources, through continual on-farm innovation for environmental, economic and social wellbeing. It is a model we will no doubt be hearing a lot more of as it may prove integral to climate stabilization solutions.
Sources and Additional Reading:
‘Carbon is Not The Enemy’. William McDonough. Nature. November 14, 2016. http://www.nature.com/news/carbon-is-not-the-enemy-1.20976?WT.mc_id=TWT_NatureNews
Cows Save the Planet. Judith D. Schwartz. Chelsea Green Publishing. 2013.
‘Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change’. Rodale Institute. 2014. http://rodaleinstitute.org/assets/WhitePaper.pdf
‘Meat, the unlikely climate hero?’. Bill Giebler. New Hope Network. November 3, 2016. http://www.newhope.com/news/meat-unlikely-climate-hero
Have a grazing question? Contact Cheryl [email@example.com, 802-388-4969 ext. 346]
How to Restore Their Perceived Value
By Cheryl Cesario, UVM Grazing Specialist
A recent study published in the scientific journal, ‘Nature’, examined the importance of species diversity in grassland ecosystems. The German-based study included dozens of researchers collecting data along various levels of the grassland food chain. The data was collected on a total of 4600 species, the most extensive ecological sampling in Europe to date. These species, they found, interact and rely on each other to provide critical grassland ‘ecosystem services’, such as food production, soil development, carbon storage, and flood and drought mitigation, among other climate regulatory functions. The study emphasizes the importance of maintaining biodiversity across all levels of the grassland food chain, which provide synergistic effects that ultimately benefit the planet and humanity as a whole.
So if grasslands play such a critical role in our planet’s health, why are they disappearing at an alarming rate? The same month the ‘Nature’ study was published, the Union of Concerned Scientists published an article about the continued reduction of grassland acres across the U.S. From 2008-2012, extensive acreage was cultivated for the first time, mostly planted to annual crops. This phenomenon was greatest in the Great Plains and western Corn Belt, where 77% of new cropland was borne from grasslands. Several crops took their place, led by corn, wheat and soybeans. These grasslands are being traded for crops that require irrigation in areas where irrigation and drinking water supplies are shrinking.
Contrast this with the ‘Nature’ study regarding the importance of grassland biodiversity and the role these ecosystems play in climate adaptation. The regions of the country with the highest loss of grasslands are also the same ones where flooding frequency has increased the most. This doesn’t seem like the best strategy for building resiliency.
There are USDA programs designed to encourage and protect grasslands, such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). CRP encourages farmers to convert highly erodible cropland or other environmentally sensitive acreage to vegetative cover, such as native grasses, wildlife plantings, filter strips, or riparian buffers. Farmers receive an annual rental payment for the term of the multi-year contract. However, enrollment peaked at 36.8 million acres in 2007, dropping to 24.2 million acres by September 2015. States such as Kansas, North Dakota, Montana and Texas have seen reductions of over 1 million acres each in CRP land over the past 8 years. For scale comparison, in Vermont our CRP acres total approximately 2,800 acres, mostly in various riparian buffer, filter strip, and habitat plantings. While we don’t have large swaths of native grasslands here in Vermont, we do import large amounts of grain from the Midwest to feed cattle and other livestock, so ultimately we are part of the grassland-biodiversity-climate adaptation issue.
When commodity prices are high, acres that transition out of the program are often not re-enrolled. The trend may continue: between 2020 and 2022, 11.6 million CRP acres are scheduled to expire nationwide and it remains to be seen what the future holds for those grassland acres. With more and more discussion and interest in adaptive, resilient and regenerative agriculture, one would hope that more policies and programs may be on the horizon to encourage biodiverse grassland ecosystems that provide so many benefits.
To read more:
Do you have questions about grazing management? Contact Cheryl Cesario [802-388-4969 ext. 346 or firstname.lastname@example.org]
Joe and Kathleen Hescock’s Elysian Fields has been certified organic since 1998, where they currently manage 225 milking cows on pasture. This workshop will look at how they have recently integrated a traveling gun irrigation system into their grazing program. We will discuss the impacts of installing pasture irrigation with opportunities to maximize dry matter yields, shorten recovery periods and increase the number of rotations.
When: Thursday August 4, 2016 at 12:30pm to 2:30pm
Where: Elysian Fields, 3658 Route 74W, Shoreham, VT
Cost: $10 for farmers, $20 all others
Register: At the NOFA VT Events Page
This workshop is part of the Summer Organic Dairy Series put on by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT) and UVM Extension Northwest Crops and Soils Program and the Champlain Valley Crop, Soil and Pasture Program.
Lately we’ve been busy bees (particularly Kirsten Workman!) and have found ourselves on Across the Fence as well as NPR. Here are some links where you can see and hear more about what we are up to!
Cheryl Cesario has coordinated a ‘Grazing School’ event to be held Wednesday June 22nd, 2016.
Sarah Flack, a prominent grazing consultant in our area will lead a discussion at both Consider Bardwell and Wayward Goose Farms. There will be something for everyone and Sarah can tailor the conversation to the grazing level of the participants.
Topics covered will include:
- Management Intensive Grazing (Intensive Discussion!)
- Multi-Species Grazing
- Small Scale Cheese Production Business Model
- Animal Welfare Approved Certification
More Information Can Be Found Below: