Volume 17: Issue 7 September 2015
BOTTOM LINE To share ideas, solutions, resources and experiences that help dairy producers succeed.
The balance of dairying: professional and personal Keep runoff down – see Page 4
Produce high-quality milk – see Page 10
Devil is in the Details – see Page 12
Match tillage to landscape – see Page 13
Fourth crop is cut, the kids are back in school and a strong harvest is underway. Life is in motion at home and on the dairy – it’s all in balance, right? As a dairy farmer, you have millions invested in your land, facilities and animals. The question arises, with all of it at stake, what can you do to propel your dairy farm and business mind through the peaks and valleys? PROFESSIONAL GROWTH With so much on the line, excelling beyond the status quo is principal to your success. As dairy’s professional development organization, we have meetings to grow your farm team’s knowledge base with the newest techn o l og i e s, h a rd - to - f i n d resources and innovative ideas to ignite that next project. Take a 360-degree view of your farm. What can be tightened up? Where are the gaps? Technical Trainings: • Calf Care Connection: Oct. 13, 14, 15, 21; Eau Claire, Chilton, Madison, Wisconsin, and Sioux Center, Iowa
Don’t forget that your human resources – you, your family and team members – are your No. 1 asset supporting the dairy.
• Reproduction Conference: Oct. 27, 28; Oshkosh, Fennimore • Dairy Feed & Nutrition: Nov. 17, 18, 19; Arlington, Appleton, Marshfield • 2016 PDPW Business Conference: Mar. 16-17; Madison
the time and investment. Do not forget that your human resources – you, your family and team members – are your No. 1 asset supporting the dairy. Have you been caught taking it for granted? Make a commitment to take back the gavel and grow your skillsets to strengthen your farm’s posiPERSONAL GROWTH tion in your community and Your development as a hired industry. hand, manager, owner or See DAIRYING, on page 3 industry leader is always worth
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September 2015 • PDPW • Dairy’s Bottom Line 3 PDPW Board of Directors President Mitch Breunig Sauk City, Wis. 608-643-6818 email@example.com Vice President Marty Hallock Mondovi, Wis. 715-495-2812 firstname.lastname@example.org Secretary Kay Zwald Hammond, Wis. 715-796-5510 email@example.com Treasurer Charlie Crave Waterloo, Wis. 920-478-3812 firstname.lastname@example.org Directors Brian Forrest Stratford, Wis. 715-650-0267 email@example.com Jay Heeg Colby, Wis. 715-507-0030 firstname.lastname@example.org Jeremy Natzke Greenleaf, Wis. 920-371-1968 email@example.com Dan Scheider Freeport, Ill. 815-821-4012 firstname.lastname@example.org Linda White Reedsburg, Wis. 608-393-3985 email@example.com
PDPW Advisors Dr. Steve Kelm University of Wisconsin-River Falls River Falls, Wis. Steve Schwoerer Badgerland Financial Fond du Lac, Wis. Dr. Richard Wallace Zoetis McFarland, Wis.
Dairying Continued from page 1
Professional Development Training: • Dairy’s Visible Voice: Nov. 5, Dec. 17, Jan. 27, Apr. 28;
Dairy’s Bottom Line is published by PDPW in cooperation with Agri-View. 1901 Fish Hatchery Road Madison, Wisconsin 53713 Toll-Free: 888-247-4843 firstname.lastname@example.org www.agriview.com Editorial Managing Editor Julie Belschner 608-219-8316 email@example.com Advertising Sales Manager Tammy Strauss 608-250-4157 firstname.lastname@example.org
Oshkosh, Appleton, Fond du Lac, Chilton • Management Assessment: Nov. 3-4, Madison; Mar. 29-30, Wisconsin Rapids • Business Transition: Dec. 1, 2, 3; Wisconsin Dells, Wausau, Appleton • HR Multi-Cultural: Dec. 8-9; Green Bay • Managers Academy for Dairy Professionals: Jan. 19-21; San Antonio, Texas • Cornerstone Dairy Academy: Mar. 15-16, Madison
BALANCE Whether analyzing your dairy’s reproduction program, nutrition management or calf-care practices, balance is key. It takes just one missing link to put your dairy’s prod u c t iv i ty i n a ta i l s p i n . Remember, though, balance doesn’t pertain to the dairy alone. Keep your family and team members in mind – show gratitude, schedule a date night with your spouse, take
your children out for a movie night, or attend a community event and give back. These little moments and memories will be yours – and theirs! – to cherish. Take them when you can, as you will never have those moments back. PDPW is producer-led and producer-driven. Our board members are active dairy farmers and keep a pulse of farmer’s needs to bring the ideas, solutions, resources and experiences you expect. They have released their 2015-16 PDPW Educational Program & Event Calendar. See above for a full listing of upcoming programming in which it would be advantageous for your farm members to participate. Thank you for being an invested member of the dairy industry. Your time, talents and devotion to delivering safe and pure meat and milk products is always top-of-mind. Enjoy it and always invest in your No. 1 asset.
4 September 2015 • PDPW • Dairy’s Bottom Line
Track nutrients through the seasons AMBER RADATZ Co-Director, UW Discovery Farms
There are many benefits to using manure in crop production. Those that have access to manure are able to reap benefits, increasing organic matter, supplying slow-release nutrients and more. Those that grow crops and don’t have Amber Radatz manure often wish they had the benefits, but none of the headaches. Manure has a challenging side. It can be costly and labor-intensive to handle, and dairy manure often has a low nutrient content with a high water content. It isn’t cheap
– or easy – to haul that much water around. There’s another black eye, which relates to environmental quality. Manure can h a ve n e ga t i ve a i r - a n d water-quality impacts when handled improperly. Negative environmental impacts are often the reason that animal agriculture and water quality are found in the news together. The positive benefits of properly applied manure in cropping systems are quickly overshadowed by lakes overgrown with algae or with suffering aquatic life. The University of Wisconsin-Discovery Farms Program has for the past 14 years been monitoring water quality on dairy farms and other farms that utilize manure. The monitoring results have given
Applying manure late in the winter — open circles on the graph — means higher phosphorus loss during the winter months.
important insight in Wisconsin to proper manure handling, which results in the lowest sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorus loss possible. Take a season-by-season look at what Discovery Farms data shows about manure handling. In the fall, be mindful of soil temperatures. Fall in Wisconsin is the last stop before winter. Soil conditions in September are night and day different than in December. Not just because they are frozen in December, but also because the life in the soil is much more active in September. In particular, nitrifying bacteria are active in the soil until the soil temperature dips consistently below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. These nitrifying bacteria change ammonium – a common type of nitrogen in manure – to nitrite and then nitrate – the preferred forms of nitrogen for grasses and row crops – which is mobile and
easily leached from the root zone. When manure is applied while nitrifying bacteria are still active, the nitrogen concentration in tile lines increases. For those who don’t have tile lines, leached nitrogen could make its way toward groundwater sources. On one farm monitored by Discovery Farms, a fall manure application made when the soil was 50 degrees F increased nitrogen concentration in tile lines the following spring. The highest nitrogen concentration from the previous two years was 40 parts per million, while the next spring following a fall application had nitrogen concentrations ranging from 40 parts per million to 70 parts per million. Fall is a common time for manure application. There is a low risk of surface runoff, and usually a lower risk of soil compaction than manure hauling in the spring. It also provides a window when fields are open.
September 2015 • PDPW • Dairy’s Bottom Line 5 There are three options for fall spreading of manure that minimize nitrogen leaching loss. • Wait to apply until soil temperatures have cooled down. By late October, after the 20th, soil temperatures have usually cooled enough to slow bacterial activity and decrease the risk for nitrogen loss. • If you need to spread in the fall on warmer soils, use a nitrification inhibitor to reduce the activity of nitrifying bacteria. This solution may allow spreading two to three weeks earlier, but the risk protection doesn’t extend much beyond that. • Establish a cover crop that could take up nitrogen for putting growth on before winter. Harvesting the cover crop for extra forage may mean another manure-application window will open in the spring or fall before the next crop. Most of dissolved
Average monthly runoff from a Discovery Farms watershed project highlights the high risk of runoff in March and June.
phosphorus loss in Wisconsin happens in March. While the soil is frozen or snow is melting, the amount of runoff that leaves the field is mostly dependent on weather factors. Things like depth of snow, how it melts, how frozen the soil is and whether there is rain all determine the amount of runoff during the winter, specifically during March. Land use doesn’t play much of a role in the volume of runoff during this time period.
While there might not be much control over how much runoff leaves the field in March, some factors can be controlled regarding what is in it. There are two main management considerations for decreasing the amount of dissolved phosphorus loss from fields. • Avoid manure application shortly before snowmelt or runoff. In late winter, soil and snow conditions are more risky for nutrient loss than early winter. Discovery Farms data
shows that late-winter manure applications lead to phosphorus losses two to four times higher than early-winter, or no winter, manure application. The Runoff Risk Advisory Forecast can be a great tool for a toolbox to make decisions about when to spread. Consider placement of phosphorus, surface application or incorporation. Using no-till or limited tillage does a great job of eliminating soil loss, but continuous surface application of phosphorus can lead to dissolved phosphorus runoff. It’s a real challenge to have good placement of nutrients without doing too much disturbance and causing soil loss. Placement of phosphorus is a subtle adjustment that needs more attention, but not at the expense of soil conservation. See NUTRIENTS, on page 6
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6 September 2015 • PDPW • Dairy’s Bottom Line
Examine a fall-planted rye cover crop in June. The rye reduces runoff, and uses nutrients before spring-planted crops are up and going.
Nutrients Continued from page 5
The riskiest time period of the year for runoff is March. Runoff in March is twice as high as in June, the next closest month. Discovery Farms data show that dissolved phosphorus loss is two times higher in March than any other month. On one monitored farm, the farmer was able to reduce phosphorus loss from nearly 4 pounds per acre to 1 pound per acre annually just through closely watching weather conditions and finding ways to avoid spreading right before runoff. If manure must be spread during every month of the year, work with a conservation-resource professional to identify fields that are at a lower risk for surface runoff or groundwater impact. Spring is a good time for applying nutrients, close to when the crop needs them, but it has a high chance for runoff. March draws a lot of attention for having a high risk for runoff.
But the truth is that June is the next highest month for runoff, and a time when crops are really starting to use nutrients for rapid growth. An interesting practice to think about is fertilizer use after the first cutting of alfalfa. There are three things to consider about fertilizing alfalfa in June. • Make sure to match fertilizer with what the crop actually needs. Does hay need an extra shot of nitrogen and phosphorus to get a yield response? In most cases, probably not. There is seldom a time when a healthy alfalfa field actually needs nitrogen fertilizer. Extra potassium – potash – may be the only nutrient needed to give alfalfa the boost it’s looking for. If the crop doesn’t need it, don’t put it on. • There is a good chance there will be runoff in June. That makes it difficult to time the application so that it isn’t applied shortly before a runoff event. On one farm monitored by Discovery Farms, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium were See NUTRIENTS, on page 9
September 2015 • PDPW • Dairy’s Bottom Line 7
New technologies: what to know before investing STEVE SCHWOERER AND JON ZANDER Dairy lending specialists at Badgerland Financial
The world continues to change at a rapid pace, especially when it comes to technology. Some days it’s hard to keep track of the “latest and greatest” mobile phone, tablet, computer and other gadgets on the market. These same challenges hold true on the dairy farm, with new technologies continually emerging that milk cows faster, keep better records, support calf health and more. If you’re like most farmers, all this technology that is supposed to make your jobs easier often causes more stress in trying to determine which tools to actually utilize on your farm! From a lender’s perspective, following are a few things we
Unmanned aerial vehicles are one of the newest technologies to captivate farmers and ranchers.
recommend farmers consider as they evaluate new opportunities for technology on the farm:
make sure you know what the technology can and cannot do for you. Carefully evaluate all the pros and cons.
USE First and foremost, you need to be honest and ask yourself, “Will I use the technology to its fullest to maximize the investment?” The last thing you want to do is invest in technology and then not use it, or only use a fraction of its capabilities. And
TOTAL COST Have a clear understanding of ALL the costs involved to implement the technology. The cost of the technology is one thing, but sometimes you need to invest more money on other systems on your farm to complement the
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technology to make it work best for your farm. For example, do you need to rearrange a building to create group pens for calves before purchasing an automatic calf feeder? Or if you install a heat-detection system, what, if any, changes need to be made to your parlor? See TECHNOLOGIES, on page 8 ©2015 Badgerland Financial, ACA. NMLS ID 458065.
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8 September 2015 • PDPW • Dairy’s Bottom Line
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Technologies Continued from page 7
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Implementing technology is often done to reduce the number of man hours needed to do a certain job. However, keep in mind the impact it can then have on the kind of labor you need and what it might cost you to hire that skill set. With technology, we tend to see a shift to fewer workers, but a more unique and specialized skill set is needed to analyze and manage the data created by these technologies. You may need to pay more or look harder for these employees. On the flip side, perhaps there is an opportunity for a family member looking for a promotion or a next generation is willing to take this on.
IMPACT TO YOUR BALANCE SHEET When a major capital purchase is made, we want to know if it will either increase income or decrease expenses. We also look at how the investment will affect the balance-sheet equity. We know different types of capital investments will add value at different rates, technology included. Generally the more proven the technology the less depreciation you will see. Depreciation is a product of how much it’s used, how old it is and how much it is in demand by other people. New, unproven technology will probably see more
depreciation, but if it’s profitable and can pay for itself, then it does not matter. Lastly, we want to see how the investment will affect the collateral position. Cash flow of course is the most important factor to consider.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK If you are serious about investing in a technology to improve your farm, be sure to reach out to other farmers who are already using the technology you are considering. Innovative farmers are typically happy to “show off” their technology to others for the greater good. Ask them what they’ve learned, and what they would change or do differently if they did it again. If you don’t know other farmers who have what you are looking for, reach out through your networks such as PDPW or your county Extension agent to put you in contact with other farmers. Also, it can be good to meet with a dairy consultant to determine things such as cost savings, management changes needed and maintenance costs of implementing certain technologies. In closing, while technology can be a great addition, it’s not a magic answer to solve every challenge on every farm. You must think of these technologies as tools in your management tool box. When used effectively, they can help create solutions to save your farm time and money. Badgerland is a proud Mission Sponsor of PDPW.
September 2015 • PDPW • Dairy’s Bottom Line 9
Nutrients Continued from page 6
applied as part of a blend in early June, after first cutting of alfalfa. A runoff event occurred within a week of application two years in a row. Runoff losses of phosphorus and nitrogen spiked to 1.5 pounds to 2 pounds per acre in June alone. This was a dramatic increase compared to the first two years of the study, when June losses of phosphorus and nitrogen were less than a quarter-pound per acre. • If alfalfa does indeed need the extra phosphorus along with the potassium, can it be applied earlier or later in the season? Applying the fertilizer in April will allow nutrients to be in place when grasses are searching for them, before first cutting. If later in the season is an option for a field that will be
Manure injection is one way to put manure below the surface without too much disturbance.
around a few years, July and August have a much lower risk for runoff. Are there different ways for alfalfa to get the phosphorus and sulfur it requires? Often nitrogen applied to alfalfa fields c o m e s a l o n g w i t h DA P
– diammonium phosphate – meant to supply phosphorus or AMS – ammonium sulfate – to supply sulfur. A manure application prior to alfalfa establishment may serve this purpose. Fertilizer and manure application is as much art as
science when all these factors are considered. It’s a delicate balance to strike. Sometimes it must feel like there are only about three suitable days per year to spread manure and fertilizer. There is tremendous power in understanding the conditions that can lead to runoff. Making small tweaks based on conditions knowledge can pay big dividends toward achieving sustainable levels of nutrient loss. There may be only three perfect days a year, but there are many more good days than bad days, especially if a producer knows what to look for. Amber Radatz is co-director of UW-Discovery Farms and has spent the past decade working with dairy farmers on manure management and nutrient-loss risk reduction. She can be reached at aradatz@ wisc.edu or 715-983-5668.
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10 September 2015 • PDPW • Dairy’s Bottom Line
Trends in somatic cell counts provide management insight PAMELA RUEGG, DVM, MPVM University of Wisconsin-Madison
Most Wisconsin dairy producers understand the importance of producing high-quality milk that is valued by processors. Meeting international quality standards allows our dairy products to compete in the international marketplace and is important to Pamela Ruegg m a i n ta i n i n g the image of our dairy industry. The bulk-milk somatic cell count – SCC – is one of the most important indicators of milk quality and is used globally to define high-quality milk. A history of bulk milk SCC in Wisconsin can be found in data from the Federal Milk Marketing Orders. The data is summarized each year by the National Mastitis Council and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal Plant Health Inspection Service. In recent years, Wisconsin dairy producers have made tremendous progress in improving bulkmilk quality. In the year 2000, the bulk milk SCC of Wisconsin dairy farms was 304,000 cells per milliliter whereas by 2014, that value had dropped to 196,000 cells per milliliter. However, if we want to produce the best milk in our region, we still have room to improve, because the bulk-milk SCC of our neighbor farmers in Michigan was a mere 160,000 cells per milliliter. The SCC of bulk milk reflects the percentage of cows that are affected with subclinical mastitis. Improving bulk-milk SCC requires knowing which cows
are infected. All cows with SCC of less than 200,000 cells per milliliter are considered to have at least one-quarter that is affected with subclinical mastitis. Within each herd, the percent of cows with SCC above this threshold is an important key-performance indicator that is referred to as the “prevalence of subclinical mastitis.” Minimizing prevalence is the key to reducing bulk-milk SCC. That value should be reviewed each month with the goal of preventing new infections. I recently used SCC data from several thousand herds that test with AgSource CRI, to compare the prevalence of subclinical mastitis between 2000 and 2015. Looking at this data, it is apparent why bulk-milk SCC values have decreased. For herds of all sizes, the prevalence of cows with SCC of less than 200,000 cells per milliliter has dropped dramatically. In June 2000, the prevalence of subclinical mastitis ranged from 26 percent to 33 percent of cows, depending on herd size. By January of this year, the prevalence had dropped to 18 percent to 23 percent of cows. Decreases in prevalence were seen for herds of all sizes, but the biggest progress occurred in the smallest herds; in 2015 these herds have about 30-percent less infected cows as compared to 15 years ago. This progress has occurred in response to improved management of individual cows and increased adoption of standardized milking practices. To continue to improve milk quality it is extremely important to monitor individual cow SCC
September 2015 • PDPW • Dairy’s Bottom Line 11 values each month. The use of monthly SCC testing of cows is highly adopted by larger Wisconsin dairy farms. We recently p u b l i s h e d a s u rvey t h a t included 325 Wisconsin dairy farms that milked at least 200 cows (Rowbotham and Ruegg, 2015 J Dairy Sci, available online). Of these farmers, 82 percent tested cows monthly for SCC and almost all herds had adopted a complete milking routine that includes forestripping, predipping, drying teats with individual towels and the use of post-dip. The high adoption of these practices has clearly paid off with improved milk quality, but some future challenges were apparent. While milk quality on all study farms was acceptable, some differences in udder health were associated with use of different types of bedding. Farms that used inorganic
From Rowbotham and Ruegg, 2015 J Dairy Science. available online Bedding Used During Study Period Inorganic (mostly sand)
Organic (mostly mattresses & wood products)
Manure based products
Percent of daily milk not sold
Percent of cows milking on <4 quarters
Number of herds Rolling Herd Average Bulk Milk SCC
Above are results of a survey that included 325 Wisconsin dairy farms that milked at least 200 cows.
bedding – primarily fresh or recycled sand – had the highest rolling herd average and the lowest bulk-milk SCC, whereas herds that used manure-based bedding had the lowest rolling herd average and the highest bulk-milk SCC. We believe that
the lower rolling herd average is at least partly a consequence of increased mastitis. The herds using manure-based bedding had greater bulk-milk SCC, likely indicating a greater prevalence of sub-clinically infected animals. They discarded more
milk each day, likely indicating that more cows were being treated, and the percent of cows milking on less than four quarters was about 30 percent greater on those herds – likely indicating they contained more chronically infected cows. As herd management continues to evolve, these challenges need to be recognized and addressed. Wisconsin is the dairy state and we are proud of our dairy industry. Looking back at our bulk-milk SCC data shows the tremendous progress we have made and allows us to recognize the important milk-quality management practices that have helped to achieve this success. The marketplace is always demanding higher standards and the continued willingness of our industry to adapt and respond to these demands will be a defining characteristic of our future.
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12 September 2015 • PDPW • Dairy’s Bottom Line
Dry-cow treatments: What should we consider? DR. DAVID RHODA Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association Food Armor Committee
There are two primary objectives when selecting a dry-cow treatment product for a dairy. The first is to cure existing sub-clinical infections and the second is to prevent new infections during this vulnerable period in a cow’s lactation cycle. Developing a plan that measures the outcomes of these two objectives becomes important. When developing a dry-cow treatment protocol for a dairy, Food Armor is an excellent tool to ensure food safety and proper drug use. The process of deciding a proper drug treatment uses all six sections of the Food Armor program: VCPR, Drug list,
Protocols, Standard Operating Procedures, Records and Veterinary Oversight. Developing a drug-usage plan, which satisfies the objectives above, along with the goals of preventing drug residues and assuring appropriate drug usage, is not as simple as deciding what colored box pleases our buying practices. The easiest section to start with within Food Armor is the drug list. This section will assist with the development of a protocol that matches a dairy’s udder-health needs and management practices. From observing the labels on several dry-cow treatment products available, here is a list of specific pieces of useful information the labels contain that assist in
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The dry period is the most important phase of a dairy cow’s lactation cycle. During this phase, the cow and her udder are prepared for the next lactation; hence any abnormalities during the dry period will have a negative effect on the cow’s health and milk production after calving.
making a proper drug selection. This list helps find the product that will meet the needs of the dairy, using knowledge of management practices and pathogens specific to that dairy. Included on the label of dry cow treatment products • Indication, including specific pathogens • Minimum dry period required for use of the product • M ilk withholding time post-calving • Meat withholding time post dry treatment Applications of dry treatments on a dairy are typically given by knowing the animal’s due date. However, due dates are calculated and the actual calving date is at the discretion of the cow. This means the employee(s) on each dairy who carries the responsibility for returning treated animals into the saleable milking string plays an important role. The individual or individuals must be aware of the total days since dry treatment to freshening for each individual cow, to determine when a fresh cow can be returned to saleable milk. Accurate information is crucial for the production of a safe food product. The Food Armor program
maintains the position that we cannot test our way out of improper drug use, but instead safety and quality need to be built into the product through proper protocols, standard operating procedures and drug selection. However, all dairies face the lack of predictability of due date with actual calving date. Due to this lack of predictability an oversight plan needs to be in place to monitor situations when the period of time between dry-treatment infusion and calving is shorter than what the label requires. These situations can benefit from on-farm antibiotic testing, specific to the dry treatment used, to ensure there are no antibiotic residues caused from the dry-cow treatment. It is easy to see how all six steps of Food Armor have equal importance in proactively planning residue prevention and appropriate drug usage relative to developing a dry-cow treatment strategy. The National Mastitis Council on-line Dry Cow Therapy is an excellent reference for additional reading that can assist in developing a farm-management plan for maintaining udder health during this vulnerable period in a cow’s life.
September 2015 • PDPW • Dairy’s Bottom Line 13
Erosion comes at a cost. Why pay it? CALLIE HERRON Outreach Specialist, University of Wisconsin-Discovery Farms
Soil is a most valuable resource. It’s formed slowly so even a little bit of topsoil erosion each year can add up. When soil is lost, with it goes valuable nitrogen and phosCallie Herron phorus. The first step to keeping nutrients on the field, where they are most valuable to both the producer and the environment, begins with minimizing soil erosion. Whatever type of tillage is chosen will impact erosion risk, thus impacting the bottom line and the environment. It’s
possible to align field-production tillage needs and soil-conservation needs. The ultimate goal is to use the minimum amount of tillage necessary to accomplish the production goals of the farm and landscape, which will in turn result in low or reduced soil and nutrient loss.
FINDING THE PERFECT MATCH How nice it would be to say, “We’ve figured it all out. If you just adopt no-till it will be great for water quality, soil health and your bottom line.” However, like so many things in life, there is no one-sizefits-all approach, even when it comes to tillage. Simply suggesting one tillage-management strategy over another fails to recognize the
differences that exist between and within farms. Differences in slope, soil type and other soil characteristics can limit the potential for one tillage practice to be feasible on any landscape. Promoting one type of tillage would also oversimplify the complex relationship that exists between tillage, or the lack there of, and nutrient and soil loss. We live in a world of options. The question is no longer to till or not to till. The question is to strip till, minimum till, no-till, incorporate, disturb a little, disturb a lot, field cultivate … and the list goes on. So in a world of unlimited choices and no silver bullet, how to choose? And what factors should be considered when deciding?
PROTECT SOIL IN APRIL, MAY AND JUNE From April to June soil is at its most vulnerable: the ground is no longer frozen, there is no crop canopy protection and intense rainfall is common. More than 80 percent of annual soil loss occurs during the months of April, May and June, according to Discovery Farms Program data (Figure 1, page 14). Assess the land during these months to see if and where soil is being lost. Too little soil cover and too much soil disturbance for the landscape are indicated by large soil losses during these months. Look for obvious signs of erosion like the appearance of a gully. And watch for other important soil movement indicators: See EROSION, on page 14
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14 September 2015 • PDPW • Dairy’s Bottom Line
Erosion Continued from page 13
Twohig Rietbrock Schneider & Halbach “Attorneys for Agriculture”
• S edimentation in lower areas of the field, • R ills running down hillsides, and • Soil-covered emerging crops. If any of these signs are seen, it might be time to consider adjusting management strategies. Checking for signs of loss during these critical months is an important practice no matter what type of management. There might be areas on the farm that are particularly prone to loss, like fence lines, and the top or bottom of waterways. These areas may need special attention. Even no-till farms contain critical sites and might suffer from soil losses.
MATCH TILLAGE TO LANDSCAPE
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Discovery Farms programs of Wisconsin and Minnesota have collected water-quality information for more than 12 years from farms with tillage systems ranging from intensive to no-till. There are other differences between monitored fields, which include location, soils, slopes, crop rotation, study period and manure application. Long-term Discovery Farms edge-of-field surface-runoff data suggests the
main soil-loss difference between no-till and intensively tilled farms is in the higher ranges of soil loss. There are no years where no-till farms had more than 1,000 pounds per acre of soil loss, meaning that no-till sites have maintained a sustainable level of soil loss. Loss from no-till sites ranged from almost no loss to just under 1,000 pounds per acre, compared to tillage sites that ranged from almost no loss to upward of 6,000 pounds per acre. Seventy-five percent of tillage sites also maintained a sustainable level of loss – area under the top line of orange box in Figure 2. Although no-till reduces variability, on average no-till and tillage sites did not lose substantially different amounts of soil. The points on the tillage boxplot that fall above the 75 percent mark are examples of systems where the tillage practices did not appropriately match the landscape. No-till systems are good at limiting soil loss and controlling for weather variability, but no-till may not be appropriate on every landscape or desirable for every farmer. There are instances where low levels of loss can be maintained even if some tillage is involved. The key is finding a level of tillage that works for a producer’s management and matches the landscape.
September 2015 • PDPW • Dairy’s Bottom Line 15 Because when the latter isn’t accomplished, high levels of soil loss are a real possibility. Comparing all Discovery Farms no-till sites to all tillage sites provides interesting insight into the importance of managing landscape. Pulling out information from two specific sites makes this point even more clear. One would expect that if soil losses from a no-till site and a tillage site were compared, the no-till site would have substantially lower levels of loss. Interestingly, some tillage sites were very comparable to losses from no-till sites. Farms with low levels of loss had one important thing in common: their level of tillage was appropriate for their landscape. Discovery Farms data shows that low levels of soil loss occur when tillage matches landscape, not just from practicing no-till. In this example, both farms have a corn-soybean rotation. Farm 1, the no-till site, is on a 5 percent slope and lost an average of 167 pounds per acre of soil during the monitoring period (Figure 3). Farm 2, the tillage site, is on a 1.9 percent slope and lost an average of 210 pounds per acre of soil. The tillage site chisel-plows in the fall and finishes in the spring. This site is poorly drained and relatively flat compared to the welldrained and hilly no-till site. Although the level of disturbance between these two farms varies substantially, the levels of soil loss are similar and consistently low. Both farms have installed appropriate conservation practices like waterways
and contour farming. Both farms have identified management strategies that work to achieve their production goals while maintaining low levels of soil loss. Sloped landscapes, like that of Farm 1, are more vulnerable to soil loss and require careful management. The tillage stakes are much higher on these landscapes. If tillage is mismatched soil loss would be a real risk like the higher points on the boxplot, which signify a level of loss much higher than the majority of all sites studied. For flatter landscapes, there are more tillage options because the risk for soil loss is lower. However, as mentioned previously, if no-till is a desirable option for a Figure 2 farm, it will always perform well to keep soil loss at a minimum when paired with appropriate conservation practices. As weather variability increases, using the least amount of tillage necessary to achieve production goals will be even more important no matter the landscape. Take the time to walk the land. Consider all the tillage options and the inherent vulnerability of the landscape. One option will not fit every farm but one goal should exist across farms. What to do to make sure to maintain a low level of soil loss? Remember: • Soil loss means a loss for the bottom line. • It is important to assess the land in April, May and June to see if soil is being lost. • Identify sites within the land that may be at risk and require special attention. Figure 3 • Match tillage to landscape.
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