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Sustainable Cropping Systems Research Tour

Posted: September 1, 2011

A mix of Ag Producers, Industry, Agency, Extension, and Educators gathered on June 22, 2011 to learn about the new NESARE Sustainable Dairy Cropping Systems Project at Penn State. The project goal is to sustainably produce all of the food and forage for a 65 cow dairy herd, as well as the fuel for a straight vegetable oil (SVO) tractor.
Ron Hoover demonstrated the 7-row high residue cultivator, which is one of the novel weed control tactics the NESARE project is using rather than relying solely on herbicides.

Ron Hoover demonstrated the 7-row high residue cultivator, which is one of the novel weed control tactics the NESARE project is using rather than relying solely on herbicides.

The day began with an introduction to the dairy cropping systems that the project team designed in consultation with an Advisory panel. Two diverse crop rotations that include no-till, cover crops, green manures crops, and winter canola are implemented on 12 acres, to represent 1/20th the size of a 240 acre dairy farm. The project team, including 14 researchers and educators and 6 graduate students, are evaluating two manure management strategies and a suite of weed management practices to reduce herbicide use.

Next, the 86 attendees boarded wagons to visit each of four field stations. At one station, team members shared strategies to minimize pests and enhance beneficial organisms, such as pollinators, predators, and mycorrhizal fungi. At another, they discussed small-scale canola oil processing, why canola oil is preferred for SVO tractors, and some no-till canola production challenges that they are examining. At a third station, they compared broadcasting manure with two other manure application methods, shallow disk injection and aeration. Shallow disk injection is approved for no-till systems, because it minimizes soil erosion and ammonia emissions even as the manure is incorporated about 6 inches down into the soil. At the last station, the team shared multiple weed control tactics being used to reduce herbicide use, including banding herbicides over the crop row followed by a high residue cultivator to kill weeds in the rows, and rolling cover crops with a crimper to create a weed suppressive mulch.

After lunch, attendees heard about the project’s virtual dairy herd from Virginia Ishler, who described how she used the 2010 crop yield and forage and grain quality data collected in the field to develop rations for the virtual cows. She also shared forage and feed storage plans for the year and estimates of income over costs for two different farm scenarios. Finally, a practitioner panel that included farmers and a manure hauler who uses injection manure equipment, spoke about sustainable practices they use on their own farms. And a NRCS representative spoke about programs available to support sustainable farming practices. The panel ended the day by opening up the floor to questions. And as one attendee said of the day, it was an “excellent program tying together the whole farm system.”

For more information about the project, visit the Sustainable Cropping Systems website.

By Glenna Malcolm, Post-Doctoral Scholar, Department of Plant Sciences