Focusing on Agriculture in the Champlain Valley and BeyondBy 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 LandscapeBy Nate Severy. UVM Extension and the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition are working together to provide farmers with valuable insights for adaptive management.
Spring 2017 started relatively dry, but Mother Nature has certainly made up for it, with above average rainfall in May, and the seventh wettest June in 100 years (National Weather Service, Burlington, VT).
While this spring’s rainfall may average out to be normal, the timing of it has caused some problems. Rain started to increase just as corn planting season began, keeping soils cold and postponing planting. Cold soils delayed emergence and slowed growth in planted fields. More to the point, nitrogen fertilizer that was applied pre-plant or at planting time has seen extremely susceptible to loss. Nitrogen is lost through denitrification in saturated soils, and is lost through leaching in well-drained soils. Either way, nitrogen is often not there when the corn needs it. This will prompt many farmers to think about applying nitrogen to corn while it is growing, a technique known as sidedressing, which is a more efficient
use of nitrogen, especially on soils prone to leaching.
The good news is that the organic nitrogen in manure has been slow to mineralize because of the cool temperatures and will still be there as the season progresses. However, it is safe to say many farms will be sidedressing corn with extra nitrogen this year.
The old, reliable way to predict how much sidedress nitrogen to apply is the pre-sidedress nitrogen test (PSNT). PSNTs are simple and affordable ($6-8). However, they require effort and only offer a snapshot in time; they do not account for previous activity nor for future nitrogen mineralization.
An alternative way to generate sidedress recommendations is Adapt-N software. Nitrogen is very dynamic in the soil so it is difficult to predict how much will be plant-available. Therefore, it is necessary to have as much information as possible about fertilizer, manure, previous crop and soil type to generate a good recommendation with Adapt-N. You can also assess the nitrogen needs of corn using chlorophyll meters, active sensors and aerial imagery. These can be effective when used properly, and local agricultural consultants can provide these services.
PSNT is recommended for corn fields 2 or more years after a sod, and/or where manure rate is uncertain, or if manure application is not expected to meet corn N requirement. PSNT is not recommended in first-year corn after a grass sod; first-year corn after an alfalfa grass stand is plowed down; or if enough manure was applied to meet corn N requirement.
Below are the PSNT sampling guidelines, a link to the UVM sample submission form, and the updated UVM nitrogen recommendations
based on PSNT results. Results are usually sent out within 24 hours since the information is time-sensitive.
PSNT Sampling Guidelines:
1. Wait 2-3 days after significant rainfall (due to nitrate
2. Sample when corn is 6-12” tall and sample to a depth of
12” – deeper than a regular soil test.
3. Take 15-20 cores per field from in between rows to avoid
fertilizer bands. Mix sample thoroughly.
4. Air dry samples ASAP to stop further mineralization.
5. Submit samples in small plastic bag (about 1 cup).
Nutrient Management Plan (NMP) classes have been a major emphasis of activity for the past months and 31 farmers completed their NMP through
the UVM Extension goCrop™ classes that were held in Richmond, Middlebury and Pawlet. Statewide, over 70 farmers completed the classes offered by the St. Albans and Middlebury Extension Crop teams so farmers can develop their own crop management plans. There are plenty of field meetings, corn planter clinics, farmer manure trainings, stream floodplain restriction discussions, and buffer workshops going on now and more to come this spring, all geared toward how farmers will adopt practices to meet the Required Agricultural Practices (RAP) rules. Stay updated about current events via e-mail: join our email list at www.uvm.edu/extension/cvcrops.
We will be starting some new projects this year with financial support from the NRCS Vermont Conservation Innovation Grant Program; the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets; and the Northeast SARE program to continue our work with local farmers. One study
will start a benchmark program for the economics of growing cover crops and using no-till for crop planting. What is the true cost and benefit of moving to no-till with cover, and then how profitable are you? We need better data about the Vermont farms who have changed to these new crop systems to be sure of the right investments for your particular farm. Starting with a handful of farms who have agreed to provide the details
about their operations, the data from this project will reflect current finances of these conservation practices as they are used here on our soils.
Whole-farm phosphorus (P) mass balance has been around for some time,
but few farms complete the accounting of where the extra P comes from. We have a project to work with several farmers and their feed consultants to collect data on the extent of P imported to local dairy farms. This is good information to have, but really the issue is what to do then? Not all P is leaving the farms, and that is why farmers use the P-Index to better understand the risk of P loss and “plug” any leaks in the farm system.
We will be field testing the new 2017 Vermont P-Index and a new Northeast P-Index on several farms and relate that data to whole-farm P-Mass balances and farm conservation. We will collect data to help farmers with crop management decisions under the revised Vermont P-Index. This will then be used to address the NMP 590 standard, which is the basis for all farm nutrient plans. What to do then if you have a high phosphorus soil test? Another study we have is to evaluate the use of field applications of amendments to reduce soil test P in the field. We will be looking at three types of gypsum, including one with humates, also contrasted with short-paper fiber (SPF). When spring does get here, we
will also see how good the cover crops perform that we planted last fall.
VERMONT RAP RULES
The Vermont Required Agricultural Practices rules affects all farmers this year, and so it affects our Extension work. Focus on Agriculture means a focus on helping you to learn (like Poop Skool) and then figure out the best next steps to take (whatever that is). Give us a call, or just come to the meetings that we host with the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition.
This is a great way to keep up with new ideas so you can deal with changing times in Vermont agriculture.
This winter we have been very busy putting together workshops and meetings focused on new manure spreading rules and how farmers and custom applicators can make them work on their farms. Manure or other “agricultural wastes” cannot be spread within 25 feet of a stream and 10 feet of a ditch. There are also new restrictions when spreading in floodplains, training requirements, and recordkeeping requirements. Everyone under the certified small, medium or large farm definition must spread manure according to a Nutrient Management Plan (NMP), and all farms must apply manure based on agronomic rates.
We received a grant last fall from the Vt. Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM) to develop an educational and certification program for custom manure applicators in coordination with the Northwest Crop and Soil Team. This program will be very similar to the Pesticide Applicator Program: applicators will have to take and pass an exam, recertify yearly, and accumulate 8 hours of professional development over 5 years to maintain the certification. The first exam will take place next winter, most likely before Christmas.
For this upcoming cropping season, even though custom applicators will not have their applicator certification, these businesses will be expected to follow all of the RAPs pertaining to spreading manure, including keeping application records. To help everyone learn about the RAPs and what records need to be kept, we helped organize 3 custom manure applicator workshops and 5 farmer and custom applicator employee workshops throughout Vermont. At these events, attendees learned about the new rules and what is expected from them. These workshops also provided a forum where people were able to ask questions and engage in open dialogue with VAAFM staff. At each meeting there were good conversations that generated important questions and it is great to hear respectful conversations. Even when people do not agree they can still have a good discussion. We are here to help applicators sort out their questions about the RAPs and will continue to keep the dialogue going.
Going into the 2017 cropping season, I believe that recordkeeping is going be a big obstacle for many people. Good recordkeeping takes extra time, patience, and dedication, even on a small farm. If someone is not prepared, recordkeeping could be challenging for a custom applicator that spreads manure on thousands or even tens of thousands of acres on many different farms. At our meetings, we stressed that the key to good recordkeeping is to seamlessly integrate it into your business. Some are already doing this through technologies like UVM’s goCrop™ or flow meters where fieldby-field data is automatically recorded and downloaded into a computer. Other people have put recordkeeping logs on the back of employee timesheets and require that the employee fill out the log in order to be paid. For custom applicators who need help with recordkeeping, UVM Extension has developed a recordkeeping book (copies available at our office). Each page has a carbon copy so at the end of the day the applicator can fill out the page, tear off the top and give it to the farmer for his/her records, and then tear off the carbon copy and put it in a file at home. All of these systems are acceptable, but it is important to use the system that will work best for you, and will help strengthen your business going into the future. Even though there is an initial inertia required to make record keeping successful, the hope is that it can also pay off for the farmer by documenting and improving on agronomic practices.
If you have questions about manure application or would like more information or materials on record keeping, contact our office. If you do not have an NMP and need to obtain one, contact your local conservation district or NRCS office for funding possibilities.
As farmers, nutrient management planners and soil conservationists, many of us deal with the estimated loss of soil from fields. We often use a very important tool called the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation (commonly referred to as RUSLE2). If you have a nutrient management plan, you know about RUSLE2. This tool, however, only estimates soil loss in the form of sheet and/or rill erosion. This is the gradual and sometimes unnoticeable erosion that sheets off fields or that forms small, uniformly spaced and sized channels (less than 4 inches deep). With proper crop rotations, reduced tillage, good cover cropping, good organic matter and even proper manure applications, we can manage for this erosion fairly simply and inexpensively.
Gullies, on the other hand, are the “unaccounted for” erosion that can have a major impact on soil loss, soil health, water quality, and crop yields. Gullies are water formations with increased intensity to sheet and rill erosion, and can also exacerbate sheet/rill erosion. While we have all seen photos of giant gullies big enough to consume a tractor, those tend to be rare. However, the gullies in Vermont farm fields are no less impactful on our landscape. According to an older, but interesting analysis from USDA-NRCS in 1997, they estimated that (19 years ago), roughly 6.1 tons/acre of soil loss per year was attributed to gully erosion, making up roughly 58% of the total sediment lost through water erosion annually (the remaining 4.5 tons/acre/year was from sheet and rill erosion).
Types of Gullies
Ephemeral gullies recur in the same area each time they form, can be partially or totally erased or filled in with tillage, and frequently form in well-defined depressions or natural drainage in a field. As described by the USDA –NRCS (1997), “most ephemeral gullies occur on fields with highly erodible soils, little or no crop residue cover or where crop harvest disturbs the soil.” They are associated with water flow in areas where runoff is great, including snow-melt runoff like that experienced in the Northeast.
True or ‘classic’ gullies are “channels too deep for normal tillage operations to erase.” (NRCS, 2015). They may get bigger in subsequent years, but can also stabilize and become more permanent drainage channels. They tend to start as ephemeral gullies that were left untreated. They can also start as a result of tillage, for example adjacent to a dead furrow. Or they may start at the edges of established grassed waterways or buffers that were inadequately sized or not maintained.
In this pictured example, a gully started upland as an ephemeral gully, but when it reached a dead furrow, this larger scale channel formed. You can see how quickly a gully like this can be an even more significant contributor of soil loss than typical sheet and rill erosion. Depending on how the field is managed a gully like this can account for two to four times the sheet and rill erosion from an entire 25-acre field. It’s hard to tell, but in the picture you can see the field had been cover cropped and no-till planted to corn, but it was too late to prevent the ultimate result. This gully has subsequently been repaired and now has a diversion at the upland slope to prevent its reoccurrence.
This type of significant erosion has many costs associated with it: water quality degradation, decreased yields, and the sometimes significant costs to repair (potentially tens of thousands of dollars). The cost of fixing and maintaining an area where a classic gully has formed can be drastically more expensive and time intensive than preventing them from forming. Once a gully begins forming, additional measures will need to be implemented. Continuing to till and level out an ephemeral gully every year only introduces more soil into the drainage area for erosion.
Conservation practices to prevent gullies include grassed waterways, cover crops, crop rotation and no-till. These practices relate to not re-tilling the gully area, maintaining residue on the soil surface, keeping soil covered and preventing erosion from starting in the first place.
Grassed Waterways are constructed channels that are planted with fast growing grass species that are mowed regularly to reduce sedimentation. These waterways convey the water to a stable outlet where it will not cause erosion. They not only significantly reduce erosion, but are located in the areas of the field where drainage wants to occur anyway and tend to not be very productive. Once installed, they can be permanent with proper maintenance.
Conservation Crop Rotation is a management practice that simply changes the rotation pattern of the field in question. In dairy forage systems this includes reducing the number of years of corn production, and rotating into a perennial sod.
Cover Crops are close growing crops (grasses, legumes, forbs) planted to provide protection from soil erosion on annually cropped fields in the times between cash crop growth. In addition to other conservation benefits, they provide significant decrease in erosion.
No-Till otherwise known as Residue Management is the limiting or elimination of soil disturbance to maintain plant residues on the soil surface all year. By not tilling, soil is not exposed to erosion and it is more stable and able to infiltrate more water and support equipment operations without disturbance. In conjunction with cover cropping, it may eliminate the need for grassed waterways or other more expensive conservation practices, if the gully erosion has not already become a serious problem.
An existing classic gully will need repair. This is a big ticket item. It often requires significant machine time, may need stone or pipe, and often includes a water diversion structure to prevent it from forming again. These can cost more than $20,000 per gully to repair.
Gully erosion is the not so hidden, but unaccounted for, source of erosion in our watersheds. It is detrimental to our waterways, our cropland and pastures, and the sustainability of our farms. Take an afternoon and take a look around your fields. Do you see any gullies forming? Do you see where gullies could potentially form? See a gully in need of repair? Visit your local NRCS office and get help, either stopping gullies before they start or fixing existing gully problems.
+ Estimations based on field observations and NRCS erosion calculations based on dimensions, frequency and soil type.
This has been a busy year for our Extension team in Middlebury. I prepared a summary for my boss, and during this past year we offered 72 workshops, conferences, classes and field day events and tallied 8,143 “educational contacts” who came to our programs. Many farmers and ag business members came to more than one event. We also provided 1,873 individual consultations this year for one-on-one education and production technical assistance. I hope you were able to be there. We have several new projects starting this fall and look forward to many more farm demonstrations with new cover crop mixes planted, no-till corn strategies, calcium sulfate (gypsum) and other soil health amendments, reducing compaction in clay soil, actual farm crop budgets and whole-farm mass nutrient balances. This winter will be just as busy with meetings and classes for no-till corn, cover crops and soil health, pasture and grazing, manure applicator training, nutrient management plans, updates on farm environmental laws, and regular meetings of the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition.
New RAP Law Comes Into Effect this Fall
The rules have changed again for Vermont farmers this fall with the new RAP laws (Required Agriculture Practices) going into effect before the snow flies. Once these rules clear the last legislative hurdle, this will be a dramatic change to meet the demands for cleaner water for the future of Vermont. Not so big news if you have been following the progression of increasing restrictions on how soil and farm nutrients will be kept on the farm and not lost to our lakes and streams. All farmers need to know how this will affect them and the Agency website has all the latest news regarding these new rules for farmers: http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/regulations/rap
With the ever present focus on water quality in the state of Vermont, now is a good time to know where you sit on a map. Watersheds are not always an intuitive concept, particularly in Vermont where things can drain in unpredictable ways. A watershed is an area of land where the brooks, streams, and rivers all drain into a common location such as a lake or larger river. You can think of watersheds as a hierarchy. A drainage basin is the larger watershed unit for which all waters drain into a common large water body, such as Lake Champlain. Watersheds and sub-watersheds are a division of basins into smaller units. The entire lake is subdivided into sections for the management of water quality. One such segment is South Lake, which includes the McKenzie Brook watershed.
There have been efforts in the state to focus on these smaller watershed and sub-watershed units as a way to target efforts and resources in reducing phosphorus loading on Lake Champlain. Part of this effort is a funding focus on the part of NRCS. This approach is being piloted in an attempt to demonstrate whether more success can be gained from a geographic strategy. It should be noted that the “targets” are areas where additional money and time is being allotted, with the possibility that those “targets” will move as successes are reached. This is the first year of this approach.
The Champlain Valley Crop, Soil and Pasture Team has been participating in this focused effort. The watershed currently targeted that falls within our farm community is McKenzie Brook. Other watersheds currently in NRCS focus are Pike River, Rock River, and St. Albans Bay. McKenzie Brook proper is actually in New York, but this is the name of the watershed that extends above Crown Point Bridge in the north (near DAR state park, Addison VT) to Route 73 in the south (just north of Mt. Independence state park, Orwell VT) and covers a narrow geographic region inland from the lake including Hospital Creek, Whitney Creek, Braisted Brook and the Lake Champlain Tributary.
One of our grants that recently wrapped up was assessing the status of farmer’s nutrient management plans and helping farmers who needed new or updated plans get through the process. A second grant focused on the McKenzie Brook watershed is ongoing assisting farmers in signing up and following through with NRCS EQIP contracts to implement best management practices (BMPs). Thus far, NRCS has been able to obligate $800,000 of a $1 million dollar allocated potential for targeted conservation practices in McKenzie Brook watershed.
We will continue to assist farmers in signing up and implementing practices. In addition, we are happy to help farmers try projects on small plots that may be outside the payment structure of NRCS. Collectively, we hope to quantify both NRCS and non NRCS funded practices in McKenzie Brook to demonstrate conservation success over time. We also have demonstration projects set up specifically in McKenzie Brook, and will continue to facilitate discussion over successes and agronomic realities of practices. Look for information about upcoming events on our events webpage. However, you don’t have to be in McKenzie Brook to try a new practice. We have a lot of work going on in and around Chittenden, Addison and Rutland Counties, and imagine that “targets” may eventually move to other areas within the South Lake region.
This spring we also began engaging in a unique collaborative project with Middlebury College and the Department of Environmental Conservation that we will be continuing this fall/winter and hopefully into the future. Middlebury College students in a capstone environmental studies class embarked upon a semester long group project of their choosing. This spring students mapped existing water quality data in McKenzie Brook watershed, attended some of our workshops and meetings to distribute a farmer survey about water quality and tile drainage, attempted some water quality sampling, and presented findings to farmers. This fall another group of students will continue this work on water quality and land use mapping, water sampling, and/or “ground-truthing” of water quality modeling.
One important outcome of this work this spring was the visualization of data in a digestible format. The average concentration of phosphorus at five sample sites from 2012 to 2014 taken by the DEC is depicted in the map below (click to enlarge).
It should be noted that concentration and loading are two different things. We do not have flow data corresponding with this map (which may explain for example why concentrations in Upper Hospital Creek are greater than that of the West Tributary of Hospital Creek). We hope continued work will include flow monitoring to capture loading rates in addition to concentrations.
Another take-away point that should be reiterated in all this discussion of the Lake is that turning off the “valve” of phosphorus from sources isn’t the same as removing the phosphorus in the Lake. It may take substantial time to see efforts realized in the Lake even if various sectors in VT come together to reduce phosphorus loading, particularly as other factors such as rainfall and temperature continue to impact algal blooms. Therefore, we are hoping to capture an increase in farming BMPs over time as we work together with farmers, and hope to see that correlate with reduced phosphorus loading in particular tributaries. We aim to demonstrate the utility of BMPs and that the farming community is actively engaged in this process. This is an ambitious goal, and success will require buy-in from farmers and dedication from parties involved.
How do we have the “watershed moment” about watersheds? Hopefully, with continued engagement on this topic we can foster a collaborative community where farmers can learn from their neighbors and technical service providers can share information among farmers about how conservation practices are making for thriving agriculture and cleaner water in their own corner of the map.