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

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…

Champlain Valley Grazing Symposium – April 1st, 2013


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:

or call Donna at 388-4969.

See you there!

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