Innovation is in the air…and on the ground

by Kirsten Workman, Agronomy Outreach Professional

(Originally published on the WAgN Blog on May 28, 2014)

 

The growing season if finally starting to take hold. I have seen corn plants poking through the ground, vegetable crops starting to look like something edible, and first cut hay is on the ground in some places with hopes of a dry day to bale tomorrow. And with a new growing season comes all the hope and suspense of another year…all the potential for the best year ever or the worst, or maybe something in between. Farmers are going all out this week. We may not be able to predict what the weather will do this year, but one thing is for certain. Farmers in Vermont are innovative.

Planting Green:  no-till planting corn into a standing crop of winter rye
Planting Green: no-till planting corn into a standing crop of winter rye

As I traveled from farm to farm today, I had the pleasure of talking with several different farmers – all of whom are trying something new this year. I saw fields of winter rye that were ‘planted green,’ that is no-till planted corn into standing rye before the cover crop was terminated. Innovation. I measured out 16 strips in a soon-to-be corn field with one farmer to help analyze two different reduced tillage systems this year. Innovation. He wants to interseed three different cover crops over those strips once the corn is up. Innovation. Another farm rounded out a SARE partnership project that analyzed two different cover crop mixes by no-till planting corn into those cover crops right next to a conventionally managed part of the field to see how these two systems will perform on his farm. Innovation. Another farm asked to borrow our GPS and try their hand at some precision agriculture. Innovation. A vegetable farmer is trying out different strategies to implement cover crops in his rotations for green manure, weed suppression, mulch and livestock forage. Innovation. A soybean grower has just modified his corn planter so he can no-till soybeans in 30-inch rows and will be trying out higher populations and some interseeded cover crops in those same soybeans. Innovation. I talked to three farms who have agreed to partner on a cover crop mixture demonstration project and will be hosting field days on their farms to share the results. Innovation. I have spoken with several farmers this week growing new crops like chicory, quinoa, and berseem clover.  Innovation.  I emailed with a new member of the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition who is excited to be part of a farmer-based watershed group looking to protect Lake Champlain and thriving agriculture in Vermont. Innovation.

As you walk around your own farms, identify the many ways you are being innovative. As you drive down the road, what are your neighbor farmers doing to be innovative? If you see some fields this year that look a little different – instead of wondering if something went wrong, maybe its just another Vermont farmer trying something new.

Here’s to Innovation!

A grain grower marking out strips in a field to compare tillage practices.
A grain grower marking out strips in a field to compare tillage practices.
Winter rye with hairy vetch used for a green manure before vegetables and ear corn.
Winter rye with hairy vetch used for a green manure before vegetables and ear corn.
Chicory planted with grass, clover and alfalfa in a pasture

Two Great Upcoming Events…Pastures & Cover Crops

The Champlain Valley Crop, Soil & Pasture Team is pleased to announce two fantastic events in November:

November 8th * 10:00 am to 11:30 pm  *  Ferrisburgh, VT
No-Till Cover Crop FIELD DAYinterseed

Can no-till, cover crop mixes and manure work in corn silage on the clay soils of the Champlain Valley??  We’re trying to find out.  Please join us at the site of one of our on-farm research trialsJoin the Champlain Valley Crop Soil & Pasture Team and Deer Valley Farm as we share our preliminary results from our  Cover Crop Diversity in No-Till Systems SARE Partnership Project.  Come check out our on-farm research plots of two different cover crop mixes in corn silage on CLAY SOIL

Click HERE for the Field Day flyer

RSVP to (802) 388-4969 or kirsten.workman@uvm.edu

 

November 14th  *  10:00 am to 2:30 pm  *  Bridport Community Hall
Champlain Valley Grazing SymposiumOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Join us as we wrap up this year’s grazing season and think ahead to next year! Come hear how planned grazing can be fun
and profitablee. Troy Bishopp, aka “The Grass Whisperer” is an accomplished grazier on his own farm in NY state, in addition to working with the Madison County Soil & Water Conservation District/Upper Susquehanna Coalition as their regional grazing specialist. Troy brings a holistic approach to grazing planning by helping farmers chart a course that pays attention to their personal goals as well as their profits. Julie Smith, UVM Extension Dairy Specialist, will also be here to discuss how to manage and troubleshoot common herd health issues including Johne’s, BVD, and nutritional deficiencies. Julie’s focus is on biosecurity and preventive animal health management. Hope to see you there!

Click HERE for the Grazing Symposium flyer

Register & purchase tickets:  http://grazingsymposium2013.eventbrite.com/

 

Please join us for one or both of these fantastic events. 

If you have  any questions or need more information, please give us a call at (802) 388-4969 or email us at champlain.crops@uvm.edu.

SEE YOU THERE!

Mending Pastures After Excessive Rains

Wet Pasture Cows grazing in wet, saturated pasture.

This summer’s rainy, severe weather has had quite a negative effect on pasture quality. Visiting several grazing farms over the last month, we have seen that many dairy herds have been periodically housed and fed in the barn or barnyard in order to help preserve pasture stands, soil quality and animal health. In some cases, as with dairy heifers or beef cows, herds have been moved up on higher ground with somewhat better drainage, to help manage mud and decrease compaction issues. Some farmers have chosen to run their herds through tall stands of grass that may have otherwise been cut for hay. Although, animals will waste a lot of this lower quality mature forage, the upside is that what they trample will form a mat that can help reduce pasture damage.

However, even with these tactics, it has been challenging. Animal traffic on wet soils can cause soil compaction; pugging (holes) from hooves, leading to rough surfaces; areas of bare soil; potential runoff issues; and reduced plant density and yield. If despite your best efforts, your pastures are showing signs of this kind of damage, there are some basic things you can do now that some sunny weather is on the horizon and soils dry out a bit.

If pastures appear to have less plant density, using the UVM Extension no-till drill to plant new seed may be an option to bump up the diversity and species composition. There are numerous options for this depending on your goals, system, etc. One option would be to drill in grass species such as perennial ryegrass or orchard grass mixed with a legume such as Ladino clover. Another option would be to try an annual crop such as oats, triticale, or turnip for fall grazing. In some cases, it may be easiest to broadcast the seed and then turn the cows in to help stomp the seed into the ground.

For pastures that are severely pugged (also called ‘ankle breakers’) you may consider running a harrow to help smooth out the soil surface, and then planting your choice of seed. For large areas of bare soil that have developed extending from gates, water tubs and other heavy use areas, consider a crop like tillage radish. It can be seeded alone or mixed with a grass such as ryegrass and seeded at 10# per acre. Last year, we saw success seeding tillage radish into a heavy use area at this rate, yielding both nutritious tops that can be grazed after 45 days and large tap roots that help break up soil compaction.

To sign up to use the drill or to discuss seeding options to help amend summer pastures, producers are encouraged to call the Middlebury UVM Extension office at 388-4969.

 

Millet: An Exciting Pasture Plant

Cow grazing Japanese Millet at the Beidler Farm in Randoph. Photo by Deb Heleba
Cow grazing Japanese Millet at the Beidler Farm in Randoph. Photo by Deb Heleba

 

Soon we’ll be coming up on the time of the summer where pastures really slow down and seem not to be growing at all. We are moving past the period of most rapid growth for our cool-season grasses (bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, and orchard grass, for example) and in late summer we’ll see that growth revive again. The thing about cool-season grasses is that they really slow down when the weather isn’t cool (surprise!). Longer rest periods for individual paddocks during this time can help prevent overgrazing damage, as plants will need longer (30+ days) before they will be ready to be grazed again.

One advanced management practice is to plant summer annual grasses such as millet. Unlike the cool-season perennials, warm-season annuals thrive when the temperatures rise. The optimal planting time for annuals such as millet is between June 1st and July 1st when soil temperatures reach at least 65 degrees. Unlike sorghum-sudangrass, millet does not carry the risks associated with prussic acid and it can tolerate wetter soils. It should be grazed at about 18 inches tall and can be grazed more than once.

Some farmers use millet when renovating pastures, plowing and then seeding down with millet for the season, before re-planting with a pasture mix in early fall. We know that farmers in other parts of Vermont have had success with this crop, but tilling up Addison County heavy clay soil in the window that is needed, can be a challenge. We are not sure how well it will do when drilled in to existing stands, but this summer we will be experimenting with no-tilling millet into perennial pastures on a handful of farms to see if we can get an increase in dry matter production in the late summer months. We are going to drill in a variety of pearl millet called ‘Wonderleaf’ as well as a mixture called ‘Summerfeast’ which contains both pearl millet and forage brassica.  The idea being that the brassica plants will also provide some forage later into the grazing season.  Stay tuned for some exciting results…

Ins and Outs of Livestock Fence Systems

Claghorn and Hunt 007

In early May, Dave Kennard at Wellscroft Farm and Fence Systems in Harrisville, NH hosted a fantastic full day workshop covering all aspects of livestock fencing. It was an information filled day with lots of helpful hints and tips on topics such as proper grounding, choosing the right sized energizer, locating it in the right spot, how to ensure lightning protection, and the latest and greatest types of fence and gates. There was really something for everyone, with a brush up on the basics as well as advanced tips to fine tune an existing system.

Here are the 6 most common mistakes with electric fence that Dave outlined for us that day:

1. Improper grounding: One thing that can help ensure your fence is well grounded is to have enough ground rods in place. The rods should be in a line and at least 10 feet apart. Galvanized rods are preferred. How many do you need? A rule of thumb is to figure 3-6’ of ground rod per joule of energizer. So a 3J energizer could require up to 18 feet of ground rods depending on soil moisture and fence resistance. Your ground field should be at least 40 feet away from utility grounds.

2. Having the wrong sized or type of energizer: Energizers are either 110 V plug-in, battery, or solar powered. Their effectiveness is measured in joules. The size of the area that is fenced, the type of animal, and type of fence used will determine what size energizer is needed. They increase from small 0.5 joule units to 50 joules or more (and so does the cost). Choose one based not just on where you’re at right now, but where you might be a few years down the road, so that you don’t ‘outgrow’ it and have to buy a new one. It is recommended to install the energizer outside of buildings in a protected three sided enclosure.

3. Improper livestock training: Since electric fence is a psychological fence, not a physical one, animals must learn to respect it, rather than run through it. Most livestock when shocked for the first time will instinctively back up. That is, except for pigs! They will keep charging ahead. For pigs, you’ll want to train them to electric fence inside an enclosed area (such as a barnyard) which will give them a physical barrier as well.

4. Improper lightning and surge protection: Lightning can cause a voltage surge and damage the energizer if the unit is a plug-in type. If unplugging the fence is not an option before a big storm, plugging the unit into a 1,000 joule surge protector can help reduce the impact if a nearby utility wire is hit. Also, lightning can damage an energizer if the fence or an object near the fence is struck. High voltage will be carried along the fence wire and through the energizer on its way to the ground. Lightning choke/diverters can be installed at the start of the fence. For areas of 5 acres or more, additional ones can be installed with their own ground rods. The surge protector and the diverter each cost less than $15. Not a bad insurance policy for a several hundred dollar energizer.

5. Not monitoring the voltage and condition of the fence: Use a volt meter or fence tester to monitor your voltage. If the fence is not adequately charged, you can start troubleshooting where the problem lies. Some volt meters are also fault finders and can point you in the direction of the problem – a definite timesaver! Monitor your fence for poor connections (snapping sounds) and keep excess vegetation off the fence which can ground it out.

6. Not choosing the right type of fence: How many strands of high tensile wire do you need on your perimeter fence? For beef, you might need 2 or 3 strands. For goats, maybe 50 wires would hold them in? Just kidding! For temporary fences when making subdivisions, a single strand of polywire can do the trick for dairy cows, while sheep and chickens do well with electric netting.

Keeping these tips in mind can help minimize problems and keep both the animals and the people happy during the grazing season.

Fact Sheets from the Grazing Symposium

Four separate fact sheets are now available from Sarah Flack’s presentation at our April 1st Grazing Symposium. Simply click on the links below to view them.

 

Grazing Resources

logo

The Extension eOrganic site has some great grazing resources with a wide variety of topics – including general design and layout, fencing and other infrastructure advice, animal behavior, and management tips to maximize dry matter intake – along with much more. Click the link for a list of articles: http://www.extension.org/pages/59464/grazing-management-on-organic-farms. Lots of great info for organic and non-organic grazing farms alike!

Champlain Valley Grazing Symposium – April 1st, 2013

GrazingSymposiumCHAMPLAIN VALLEY GRAZING SYMPOSIUM

Monday, April 1st   *   10:00 am – 2:30 pm

American Legion, Vergennes, VT

$20 registration includes a hot lunch and some great door prizes. 

Join the discussion and step up your grazing skills this coming season!  

Come hear grazing expert, Sarah Flack provide helpful tips to fine-tune your existing grazing system. She’ll also discuss the most common grazing mistakes and how to avoid them for increased pasture potential. Sarah has a diverse background in sustainable agriculture, which includes both on-farm and academic experience.  Her current work includes writing, public speaking and consulting with farms and organization to help farmers transition to new methods of farming including grass based, diversified, and organic.  She also works with several organic certification organizations as a consultant, and inspector. She received her master’s degree in Plant and Soil Science from the University of Vermont, where she studied grazing management with Dr. Bill Murphy.

Sarah Flack

Farmer Guy Choiniere of Highgate,Vermont will share his strategies for producing top quality forage, which allows him to maintain a 50-55 pound per cow production average on 6 pounds of grain per cow. Guy is passionate about soil health and building soil fertility. By making the soil a priority, it forms a foundation for him to build crop, animal and human health, as well. Guy says, “A successful farming system is a sustainable farming system.”

Guy and family

Farmer Brent Beidler of Randolph Center, Vermont will discuss his successes with annual crops such as millet, forage oats, turnips and others to increase overall pasture productivity. Brent will also cover the importance of variable paddock sizes and how he maximizes forages to minimize grain feeding. In addition to dairy production, the Beidlers have also ventured into growing grains and milling flour on the farm. Brent has played an important role in the formation of the Northern Grain Growers Association.

Brent Beidler

 Register at:http://grazingsymposium.eventbrite.com

or call Donna at 388-4969.

See you there!

 Funding for this program is provided by USDA-RMA, USDA-NRCS, and UVM Extension

Pasture Management Planning for the New Year

 

Claghorn and Hunt 008

While it may not be a common New Year’s resolution, stepping up your pasture management might be an important one. After all, improved pasture management can lead to lots of other improvements on the farm, including improved profits. Winter is a great time to think about the grazing season to come and start making plans for what you want to achieve this year. What worked last year, and what didn’t? If you are thinking to make changes, how can those be accomplished? A good starting point is to write down some simple goals. Some examples might include:

  • Bring in more species to increase pasture plant diversity
  • Increase the length of your grazing season by a month (or more)
  • Delay the feeding of stored forages until later in the fall
  • Keep better records of the movement of animals on pasture

The next step is to plan how to meet these goals, and then of course try to implement them once the season begins.