For National Dairy Month, we are highlighted Land-grant Universities conducting research aimed at improving dairy production.
Dairy farmers in the Northeast— facing a warming climate that worsens nutrient pollution but lengthens the growing season— can reduce the environmental impact of their operations and maximize revenues by double cropping and injecting manure into the soil, rather than broadcasting it. That’s according to a team of researchers led by Penn State University agroecologists, whose new study evaluated whole-farm production and the environmental and economic impacts of adopting these practices on a representative dairy farm in central Pennsylvania under recent historical and projected mid-century climate.
The researchers found that double cropping increased and stabilized the farm’s feed production by providing forage from a winter rye crop with less dependency on the summer crops of corn silage and perennial cool-season grasses. Summer crops are susceptible to summer droughts, which are expected to increase in this region due to warmer temperatures and increased evapotranspiration. Evapotranspiration is the process by which water is transferred from the land to the atmosphere by evaporation from the soil and other surfaces and by the emission of water vapor from plants.
Most people are unlikely to associate seaweed with dairy production. But University of New Hampshire (UNH) scientists are working to change that, sharing two grants totaling nearly $13 million to investigate supplementation of dairy cow diets with seaweed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve milk quality and animal health.
In this project, UNH scientists will focus on using different species of seaweed as an alternative feed in organic dairy management. Although feeding seaweed to cows is common in the organic dairy industry, only wild-harvested, dried, ground kelp meal (Ascophyllum nodosum) is widely available.
Dairy farmers continue facing finance uncertainties and are increasingly expected to contribute toward the goal of agricultural production as a mitigator of climate change. The agricultural industry is responsible for 10% of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Livestock, especially ruminants such as cattle, represent more than a quarter of the emissions of methane, which is produced as part of the normal digestive processes. Scientific innovation in feed management should help reduce these environmental effects in a cost-effective manner.
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Photo: Dairy cattle grazing a green pasture. Courtesy of Adobe Stock.