NNYADP Research Evaluating Dairy Forage Option with Alfalfa-Grass Combinations
Northern NY; May 25, 2016. The Northern New York Agricultural Development Program has posted the results of a 2013-2015 research project evaluating ways to improve dairy cattle forage options, specifically with alfalfa-grass combination crops.
Project leader and Cornell University Soil and Crop Sciences Professor Jerry H. Cherney says, “Research to identify the best combinations of alfalfa and grass for regional growing conditions will help dairy farmers maximize forage quality to support milk production.”
Alfalfa-grass mix crops are popular as forage for dairy cattle in the Northeastern U.S, especially so in northern New York where more than 95 percent of the alfalfa acreage is planted as an alfalfa-grass mix.
Cherney cites Cornell University and University of Wisconsin research trials that concluded alfalfa-grass forage fed to dairy cows can result in as much milk production as feeding pure alfalfa.
“An alfalfa-grass survey we conducted in New York State in 2015 showed a range of grass species planted, and a very wide range in seeding rates for both alfalfa and grass, well outside recommended rates,” Cherney notes.
NNYADP-funded trials planted in 2013-2015 at Miner Institute in Chazy, NY, and at the Willsboro Research Farm in Willsboro, NY, provided initial data on eight grass cultivars. Those trials showed the severe impact that northern New York winter weather can have on crops.
The grass plantings in the early trials in NNY, however, averaged 3.5 percentage units higher in neutral detergent fiber digestibility, NDFD, a measure of the feed value of forage crops. High NDFD forages encourage dairy cows to eat well to meet their daily energy needs.
“With new higher quality grass options and several new types of high quality alfalfa available, we want to test various combinations on farms to develop the best planting and management strategies for the dairy industry,” Cherney says.
In 2016, Cherney is overseeing trials on NNY dairy farms to continue the search for the best alfalfa-grass combinations and management practices for the northern New York state climate and growing conditions.
Cherney is particularly focused on meadow fescue, which is winter hardy, as an option for alfalfa-grass stands. He will plant two new meadow fescue cultivars recently developed in Wisconsin in the 2016 field trials funded by the farmer-driven Northern New York Agricultural Development Program.
Funding for the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program is supported by the New York State Senate and administered by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets. NNYADP economic impact reports, project reports, and resource links are posted on nnyagdev.org.
More than 100 farmers provide input to the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program on dairy, crops, fruit, greenhouse, livestock, maple and vegetable production.
NNYADP-funded research by Cornell University is evaluating winter-hardy grass-alfalfa crop combinations in support of the dairy industry. In this photo, USDA researchers examine frost-stressed forage in West Virginia, 500 miles south of New York’s harsher northern winters. Photo: Peggy Greb, USDA