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HPAI H5N1 in U.S. Dairy Cattle Updates and Resources

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N1 is a virus historically carried by wild birds and was first identified in 1996.  The virus spread to domestic poultry and caused outbreaks in 2022 on U.S. commercial and backyard poultry operations resulting in high rates of mortality.  In March 2024,  HPAI H5N1 was identified in lactating dairy cattle on a dairy farm in Texas.  Much is unknown about how the virus spreads in cattle.  The virus appears to concentrate in the mammary tissue and may be shed in the milk of lactating dairy cattle.  There has been one confirmed case of HPAI H5N1 in a human that had contact with infected cattle in Texas.  These infections have been non-fatal and have had a 100% recovery rate.  Currently, there have been no confirmed cases of HPAI H5N1 in dairy cattle in Vermont or surrounding states.

Animal Health Considerations

Among the confirmed cases of HPAI cattle, most likely to be infected are older (second lactation and greater) that are in mid to late stage of lactation. Clinical signs of the virus in lactating cattle include decreased feed intake and milk production, thickened milk that may look like colostrum, fever, nasal discharge, and changes in manure texture and consistency.  Symptomatic animals should be isolated from healthy animals and treated with supportive therapy associated with depressed rumen activity and dehydration.  These cattle fully recover within 2-3 weeks.

A fact sheet on HPAI H5N1 in U.S. Dairy Herds is available on the Northwest Crops and Soils website and linked here: Highly_Pathogenic_Avian_Influenza_H5N1_in_U.S._Dairy_Herds_April2024.pdf (uvm.edu)

Milk Supply Safety

Pasteurized milk and other dairy products, infant formula and beef have all tested negative for live or infectious HPAI virus.  Additional testing and research efforts by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continue.  The commercial milk supply is safe.  Milk and meat from unhealthy animals are prohibited from entering the food supply. 

Federal Order and Interstate Transport Guidelines

A Federal Order announced by the USDA was made effective on April 29th to better track and understand any spread of HPAI H5N1 in livestock.  The order requires that all lactating cattle traveling across state lines test negative for the virus within 7 days of transport and move with a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection.  Interstate movement of lactating cattle to slaughter facilities (without any interim stops) may travel with Owner Shipper Statement documentation, which must be submitted to both the origin and destination state.  Lactating animals exhibiting any signs of illness are prohibited from interstate transport.

The Owner Shipper Statement Form is available here: National OSS fillable form effective April 30, 2024.pdf (vermont.gov).  In Vermont this completed form should be emailed to agr.animalhealth@vermont.gov or stephanie.parks@vermont.gov

Additional details regarding interstate movement of lactating dairy animals are available on the Northwest Crops and Soils website and linked here: HPAI_H5N1_In_Dairy_Cattle_Update_and_Federal_Order_5.2.24.pdf (uvm.edu)

Testing

Contact your herd veterinarian if you have animals exhibiting HPAI H5N1 symptoms or healthy animals that need to be transported across state lines.  A licensed veterinarian may submit milk (composite sample with milk from all 4 quarters) or nasal swab samples to be processed only by an approved National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) facility.

Biosecurity

Implementing a biosecurity plan on your dairy farm offers a greater level of protection against exposure to a variety of threats.  Much is still unknown about how HPAI H5N1 is spread.  In addition to standard farm biosecurity practices, precautions should be taken when handling symptomatic livestock and their milk, traveling between farms, or moving animals between farms.  A full list of disinfectant products that are effective against HPAI, including the active ingredients, product names, and required contact times is available on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website EPA’s Registered Antimicrobial Products Effective Against Avian Influenza [List M] | US EPA

Dairy Biosecurity Recommendations for HPAI are available here: Dairy Biosecurity Recommendations for HPAI and More (aabp.org)

Resources for creating a biosecurity plan for your farm are available on the Healthy Farms Healthy Agriculture website Biosecurity Plan – Healthy Farms Healthy Agriculture and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) website Biosecurity – National Dairy FARM Program

No-tillage and Dry Bean Variety Performance

Alternative market classes of dry beans, such as navy, small red, and pinto, are valued by consumers for their culinary characteristics and visual appeal. Modern breeding efforts have expanded the market classes (beyond black beans) that can be direct-harvested, lowering the barrier to entry by reducing the need for specialized equipment.

Current management practices for organic dry beans can deplete the soil, relying on tillage and cultivation for weed management and harvesting. Direct-harvesting dry beans, specifically black beans, has shown promise in organic no-till systems and could reduce the negative impacts on soil health while suppressing weeds.

In 2023, the University of Vermont Extension Northwest Crops and Soils Program initiated a research trial to evaluate the performance of four dry bean market classes (black, navy, pinto, and small red) in an organic tilled system compared to an organic no till system. Check out the 2023 No-tillage and Dry Bean Variety Performance report to see how these varieties performed under different management systems.

This research is supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) NE SARE under federal award number LNE22-444 and by the USDA NIFA Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) under federal award number 2022-51300-37881.

Harvest Timing and Height

It’s almost go time! Be ready for 1st cut to maximize quality.

The snow has finally left the fields and while the ground is still wet, the first cut will be upon us within a few weeks. While there is always so much to do, take the time to make sure you’re ready to head to the field when the time is right. Timing is everything and as we experienced last year, you just never know when that dry warm stretch is going to arrive.

With the first cut we are really trying to balance dry matter yield with forage quality, namely fiber digestibility. As cool season grasses mature, they move from leafy vegetative growth to reproductive growth. As they start to elongate, woodier stems grow to support seed heads. These stems contain more fiber, and a higher proportion of that fiber is less digestible. Figure 1 shows this transition in orchardgrass that was harvested weekly starting on 12-May and through 23-May when it began showing seed heads. At the early harvest when the plants were still vegetative, fiber content is low and fiber digestibility is high. As harvest is delayed a week, fiber content increases, in this case by about 2.5%, and fiber digestibility decreased by about 5%. As we reach heading, fiber content is now another 3% higher and fiber digestibility reduced by another 5%. Some research has shown a 0.5 lb milk increase for every 1% increase in fiber digestibility. That means delaying harvest too long can really impact milk production.                                                                 

Figure 1. Weekly changes in quality of orchardgrass.

The timing of this transition from vegetative to reproductive stages is going to largely depend on the species and varieties out in the field. Table 1 shows average heading dates we’ve noted in our perennial cool season grass variety trials over the last three years.

Even if you are running short on feed this spring, resist the temptation to go out and scalp the fields down to the ground! Mowing to the ground removes all the plant leaves but can also remove the plant crown and new side shoots (tillers).  Grasses store energy and new growth potential in their crown and the crown is found in the first 2 to 3 inches of the plant. When this is removed, instead of the plant collecting the sun’s rays to regrow the plant must draw on root energy reserves to elongate those leaves to restart photosynthesis. This takes longer and over time diminishes plant vigor and resilience to drought or other adverse conditions. Repeated low mowing will cause your stands to weaken and thin leading to overall reduced yield, quality, and persistence. While that crown holds energy for the plant, it is actually the least nutritious and digestible portion of the plant. Therefore, while you may be getting a little more tonnage, it is of low quality and increases the risk of soil contamination. This tradeoff is demonstrated in Figure 2 which shows yield and fiber digestibility at three cutting heights. We observed a 7% reduction in yield when cutting at 3.0” vs 1.5” but fiber digestibility increased by 5%.

Figure 2. Yield vs quality of forage cut at three heights.

Leaving more stubble in the field has some additional benefits too. Higher stubble can help lift the forage off the ground, allow for better air flow, and faster drying. Faster drying means more plant sugars available to encourage proper fermentation of the feed. More residual protects the soil and helps to maintain cooler ground temperatures. This can help retain moisture and keep the soil microorganisms cool. If the soil gets too hot, these microorganisms slow down or go dormant, limiting the soil’s ability to cycle nutrients and provide other critical functions.

For all these reasons, take the time to get ready for the first cut and be ready to roll by mid-May. Check over your equipment, install some high skid shoes, and go make some high-quality 1st cut! For more information from our trials, visit our website https://www.uvm.edu/extension/nwcrops/research.

Impacts of Winter Rye Biomass on No-Till Soybeans

Winter rye is used as a cover crop in the Northeast because it is cold-hardy and grows quickly in the fall and continues to produce more biomass in the spring. Winter rye can be planted later than many other crop crops and gives farmers the opportunity to plant a cover crop even after harvesting a full season crop like soybeans. Over the past two field seasons, the UVM Extension Northwest Crops & Soils Program has conducted research trials on the impact of winter rye planting date & seeding rate on no-till soybeans. Keep reading for a summary of how cover crop planting date impacted soybean yields in these trials. Additional information, including the full research reports can be found on our website.

In 2021-2022 and 2022-2023, rye was planted at five planting dates (Table 1). Cover crop biomass was measured the following spring just before it was roller crimped and then soybeans were planted into the mulch using a no-till planter. At harvest, soybean yield was measured. Figure 1 provides a summary of the relationship between rye biomass and soybean yield in planting dates 1, 3, & 5. Rye biomass was higher in 2023, but decreased with the later planting dates in both years. Soybean yields were also higher in 2023. The soybean yield response to rye planting date was quite different. In 2022, soybean yields were highest when planted into the first planting date, and lowest in the last. The opposite trend was observed in 2023; soybean yields were negatively impacted by the increase in rye biomass, and yields were highest in the last planting date.

Winter rye produced exceptionally high biomass in 2023 due to above average temperatures in the fall and through the early months of 2023 (Table 2). In 2021, fall temperatures were also warm, but cold winter and early spring temperatures limited rye growth. Rye biomass in 2021-2022 reflects average yields for our region, approximately 2 tons of dry matter per acre. Excessive rye biomass taking up water in the soil and limited precipitation in May 2023 resulted in a dry seed bed at soybean planting. Cool temperatures persisted, and excessive rainfall during the remainder of the season resulted in above average precipitation. Sub-optimal growing conditions and high rye biomass likely resulted in soybean yield reductions in the first planting date of the 2023 trial. Temperatures were also cooler than average during the 2022 soybean growing season. But there was more precipitation in May & June 2022 compared to 2023 and this resulted in saturated soil conditions that persisted throughout the season. In this scenario, the additional rye biomass in the first planting date may have reduced soil moisture by taking up available water in the soil.

Moderate amounts of rye biomass in the spring may help reduce soil moisture in years with increased precipitation and improve soybean yields. But too much rye biomass can deplete the soil of moisture, and exacerbate dry soil conditions, resulting in yield reductions.

Table 1. Winter rye planting dates by trial year.

Figure 1. Spring rye biomass and soybean yield by planting date in 2022 & 2023 field trials.

Table 2. Monthly average temperature & total precipitation by trial year compared to the 30-year average.

2024 Funding Opportunities for Dairy & Crop Operations

Below is a list of organizations that offer funding that may be applicable to systems and improvements you are interested in pursuing this year.  Please click here to view the full document with detailed descriptions for each funding opportunity. You can also feel free to reach out to the UVM Extension Northwest Crops & Soils Team with questions or for assistance.

Vermont Housing & Conservation Board – Vermont Farm & Forest Viability Program
VHCP Vermont Farm & Forest Viability Program Water Quality Grants, Apply by January 19th, 2024.
https://www.vhcb.org/viability/grants/water-quality-grants

Vermont Working Lands Enterprise Initiative (several listed)

ARPA Primary Producer Impact Grant. Apply by January 19th, 2024.
https://workinglands.vermont.gov/grant-contract-opportunities/arpa-primary-producer-impact-grant

Supply Chain Impact Grant. Apply by January 19th, 2024.
https://workinglands.vermont.gov/grant-contract-opportunities/supply-chain-impact-grants

Business Enhancement Grant. Application likely to reopen in November 2024
Business Enhancement Grants | Working Lands Enterprise Initiative (vermont.gov)

Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (several listed)

Pay for Performance. Apply January 2nd-January 24th, 2024.
Vermont Pay for Performance Program | Agency of Agriculture Food and Markets

Engineering Services & Farmstead Best Management Practices (BMP) Program. Apply by April 1st, 2024.
https://agriculture.vermont.gov/bmp

Farm Agronomic Practice (FAP) Program. Apply by April 1st, 2024 for Spring practices. Apply by June 15th, 2024 for Rotational Grazing. Apply by August 1st, 2024 for Fall practices.
https://agriculture.vermont.gov/fap

Capital Equipment Assistance Program (CEAP). Apply by November 1st, 2024.
https://agriculture.vermont.gov/ceap

Grassed Waterways & Filter Strip (GWFS) Program. Application is on a rolling basis.
https://agriculture.vermont.gov/gwfs

Farm Agronomic Practice (FAP) Training Grants. Applications required at least 45 days prior to event.
https://agriculture.vermont.gov/fap/training

Pasture & Surface Water Fencing. Application is on a rolling basis.
https://agriculture.vermont.gov/pswf

Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). Application is on a rolling basis
https://agriculture.vermont.gov/crep

Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center

On Farm Milk Storage & Handling. Apply by January 18th, 2024.
https://nedairyinnovation.com/grants/on-farm-milk-storage-handling/

Dairy Farm Improvement & Modernization Grant. Application likely to reopen in fall/winter of 2024.
https://nedairyinnovation.com/grants/farm-improvement-modernization/

USDA Rural Development. Rural Development for America Program (REAP).
Applications accepted quarterly — next period apply by December 31st, 2023
Rural Energy for America Program Renewable Energy Systems & Energy Efficiency Improvement Guaranteed
Loans & Grants | Rural Development (usda.gov)

Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education. Farmer Grant Program. Application likely to reopen in fall 2024. Farmer Grant Program – SARE Northeast

Reach out to the UVM Extension Northwest Crops & Soils Team with questions or for assistance at 802-524-6501 or by email to Amber Machia, amber.machia@uvm.edu or Susan Brouillette, susan.brouillette@uvm.edu.

Impacts of Extreme Precipitation and Flooding

We have posted a few new reports to read on our website – http://go.uvm.edu/nwcrops

Impact of Extreme Precipitation on Nutrient Concentration of Stored Manure Slurry. The extreme precipitation during this past summer and fall heavily impacted the volume and nutrient concentration of the stored manure slurry. To understand this impact, UVM Extension worked in partnership with custom manure applicators and farmers to collect manure samples from farms this fall. View our program webpage at http://go.uvm.edu/nwcrops to access this article that will share the results, which were compared to the average book value for slurry manure in Vermont.

Monitoring Flooded Forages for Clostridial Contamination. After a year of record flooding and precipitation, many producers are faced with feeding forages that were harvested from fields contaminated with soil and flood water. These fields likely have high levels of ash, silt and soil microbes such as clostridia bacteria. Read this article for more information.

Wrapping up the Fiber Field Season

October 23rd marked the end of the 2023 hemp fiber field season, with the collection of the final data points in our retting sensor trial. This trial aimed to monitor localized temperature and moisture at the site of fiber actively dew-retting on the ground. These sensors arrived a bit later in the season, but luckily one of our longer-season varieties was able to lend itself to the last-minute experimental design. That variety was none other than the mighty Yuma; a towering dioecious variety native to China with broad leaves and heights reaching 14 feet, sourced from Kanda Hemp.

Prior to data collection, the NWCS team hand-harvested all 400sqft of Yuma, trucked it to where the sensors were installed, and got to work forming 32 retting piles (8 piles per 4 reps). This was all quite a feat as the plants were nearly twice the size of the 8-foot farm truck bed. Samples of five stems were collected from corresponding piles and photographed twice weekly for 8 intervals spanning 5 weeks.

Photos collected over the course of the experiment show the alchemy of the retting process. Retting is the natural process by which microorganisms colonize the hemp stalks and feed on the pectin and lignin that bind the outer “bark” layer of bast fiber to the inner woody core, known as the hurd.

In the second sample photo (on right), it is possible to see the bast fiber pulling away from the hurd as those natural glues diminish within the stalk. All the samples were then dried and sent for lab testing in hopes that we can gain a better understanding of what is happening within the stalks while they ret, and how this activity corresponds with temperature and moisture at the ground level.  

For many in Vermont it was a tough growing season, but the monster stature of the Yuma and all of its giant neighbors in the variety trial managed to put a smile on our faces every day. Stay tuned this winter for the corresponding research reports that are sure to shed even more insight on how our fifteen 2023 hemp varieties expressed themselves this year. Our research reports can be found at www.uvm.edu/extension/nwcrops/research.

Hemp Fiber Outreach Recap

There was no shortage of hemp fiber outreach events in the Northeast this growing season. In May, UVM Extension’s hemp fiber specialist Laura Sullivan presented our previous year’s findings at the inaugural Northern New England Fibershed Round Table Event at Sanborn Mills Farm in Loudon, New Hampshire. In June, she held a soggy Lecture and Demo at Two Sisters Mill and Mercantile in Jeffersonville, Vermont.

Hemp Demo in Jeffersonville on June 17, 2023

In July, attendees of the 2023 Annual Crops and Soils Field Day at the Borderview Research Farm in Alburgh were invited to escape the rain and try their hand at hemp processing using antique hand tools after viewing a demo of Roger Rainville’s homemade decorticator.

Field Day Attendants at Borderview Farm on July 27, 2023

Early August brought sunshine and a hemp fiber event to Proctor, VT at the new headquarters of Zion Growers, located in the historic marble building. This event featured a demonstration of hempcrete block making by Green Designers Alex and Bob Escher. Artist and professor Steven Kostell also held a design thinking and ideation session for developing hemp fiber product types and product classifications with attendants. Attendants were enthusiastic to see the building live on as the new home of another one of Vermont’s natural resources.

In September, Laura Sullivan and hemp farm collaborator Andrea Myklebust attended Cornell University’s Hemp Field Day Event. In addition to seeing Cornell’s trial fields and several new prototypes of harvesting equipment, they were invited to tour the USDA germplasm trial fields in Geneva, and interface with industry leaders across the country.

Cornell's Larry Smart speaking in his research Trials on September 14, 2023

Early October saw hemp fiber represented at the Women Can Do Conference, which is held annually at Vermont Technical College in Randolph. Laura Sullivan attended with her regular repertoire of one hundred-year-old hand tools to show high school students and chaperones alike how to process hemp stalks into spinnable fibers.

Laura Sullivan at the Woman Can Do conference on October 5, 2023

Later in the month, she traveled to the New York Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck to represent both UVM and the Northern New England Fibershed with her fellow Fibershed representatives. Rhinebeck is an event that often attracts upwards of 30,000 fiber enthusiasts from all over the country. She and her small cohort of NNE Fibershed representatives were the only ones at the entire event to offer bast fiber education and were met with an outpouring of enthusiasm. They have since been awarded a microgrant to move forward with a New England Bast Fiber Mini Mill Feasability assessment, in which the UVM bast fiber research is playing a major part.

November and December might see a slowing down of public-facing events but an uptick of reporting, grant writing, and generating of educational materials to share with interested parties. Research farming is a year-round job that moves with the seasons. Before we know it, it will be time to gather genetics and begin the planning for the 2024 field season! For updates on future events and our research reports, check out our website www.uvm.edu/extension/nwcrops.

Beginning the Hemp Field Season

May 25, 2023 marked the planting date for our hemp fiber trials. This year represented a major expansion of our hemp fiber research.  Our goal is to learn more about practices that will help our farmers produce high quality fiber! Tinkering with varieties, seeding rates, crop rotations and retting times to start. All of this made possible by funding received from the USDA CARE & SARE Grant programs. Thank you!

This multi-year funding allows us enough time to learn, reflect, and perfect. In research farming, there are few opportunities for ‘do-overs’. Often, there is only one opening in the whole year to ‘get something right,’ and any edits to the experimental design must wait an entire year to be implemented. Our team must be intentional with our actions and reflective about what we would do differently in the next year to yield a more favorable outcome. That said, isn’t this what we all love about farming, and what keeps us coming back!? Over the course of this first year of expanded fiber research, much was learned, but like any well-designed experiment, follow-up questions and deeper inquiries have also risen to the surface. Stay tuned for the research reports that will be made available over winter, and for what may come next for hemp fiber in Vermont. Be sure to visit our website www.uvm.edu/extension/nwcrops.

Are you getting ready to order corn seed for 2024?

The NY & VT Corn Silage Hybrid Evaluation Program 2023 results are in! With 5 locations across NY & VT, these 75 hybrids were put to the test across a wide variety of growing conditions. While it was wet and soggy across much of VT this summer, other parts of the region experienced severe drought conditions. Comparing hybrid performance across such a range of environments provides valuable insight for selecting hybrids that perform consistently despite such variable conditions. Data on silage yield, predicted milk yield, and nitrogen utilization are presented for each test location in the full report which can be found here. Tables summarizing the results of the trials conducted just at the VT location can be found here (short season hybrids) and here (long season hybrids). You can view all our research results at https://www.uvm.edu/extension/nwcrops/research.

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