Government and Industry Day luncheon highlights Wednesday activities at Ag Progress Days

CEM-MR-3-APD luncheon50by Jon M. Casey
While the unseasonably cool weather took center stage at this year’s Ag Progress Days Wednesday Aug. 14, the Government and Industry Day luncheon was warm and friendly where approximately 300 members of Pennsylvania’s Ag community gathered at midday for an update on the latest in agriculture. Barbara Christ, Sr. Associate Dean at the College of Agricultural Sciences, who is currently serving as interim Dean began by saying that despite the changes in funding and departmental leadership, the overall effort continues under her leadership at the same level of “ownership, pride and passion” as it did in the past. She said the support of local and state governmental officials during the restructuring of the PSU Ag Extension Service, has been excellent and appreciated by all within the university system. These changes are the result of reduced funding.
Penn State President, Rodney Erickson, said while there have been a number of challenges during the past year including federal financial sequestration, at the same time, Penn State University has been named as one of the top 10 universities for Agricultural and Forestry education, worldwide. He noted the efforts of researchers at the university who are looking for a solution to the ongoing problem with the disappearance of pollinators like the honeybee and certain butterflies, continues as well. At the same time as this year’s Ag Progress Days, there is an international conference on Pollinator Biology taking place at the nearby Nittany Lion Inn. According to Penn State information, “Penn State’s Center for Pollinator Research is a consortium of more than 25 faculty members involved in research, education and extension efforts focused on improving pollinator health, conservation and ecosystems services.” [Read more…]

Blue ribbons flow as easily as milk at Boonville Fair Goat Show

CE-MR-3-Blue ribbons455by Pat Malin
BOONVILLE, NY — Stephanie Finn of Finndale Farms, Holland Patent, showed 15 goats in the 4-H division at the Oneida County Boonville Fair and seemed to have all the bases covered when it came to garnering awards.
Her 7-year-old LaMancha doe, “Chance,” won eight ribbons alone, including best in breed, senior champion and grand champion in the competition on Saturday, July 27. Chance was among a handful finalists in the Best of Show.
Likewise, Andrea Larry of Scotchbriar Nubians, also of Holland Patent, who has been showing goats professionally for 20 years and competing in the open show, was counting on her doe, “Ninue,” to win the top prize.
Both of them were a little disappointed after Jeremy Lesniak of Lesniak-Hill Dairy Goats of Utica took home the trophy with 3-year-old “Leia.” They shouldn’t have been surprised though, since Jeremy’s father, Stan Lesniak, is an established goat breeder in the Mohawk Valley. In fact, he does the breeding for Finndale Farms’ goats.
Patricia Lynn-Ricotta, the judge for the goat show, described Leia as “very strong in her general appearance. She has the strongest mammary system, meaning she has strength in her attachments.”
Stan Lesniak is a former dairy cow farmer who has a modest business with dairy goats. According to its Facebook page, Lesniak-Hill Farm purchased two Alpine does in 1996, and “(t)he growth has never stopped.” They can now boast of 50 show quality Alpine, LaMancha and Toggenburg does and bucks.
Jeremy Lesniak, 32, specializes in raising Alpines. His brother, Justin, raises Toggenburgs and their sister, Stacy, shows LaManchas. The three children all have careers off the farm. Jeremy and Stacy are RNs. Justin works at SUNYIT, a local college. Jeremy was accompanied to the fair by his fiancee, Kate Costello of Massachusetts, and they were planning to get married on Aug. 4. [Read more…]

NYS FFA District 5 President Kait Isaac ~ living to serve

CE-MR-2-Kait Isaac1by Elizabeth A. Tomlin
“Learning to do, doing to learn, earning to live and living to serve” is the motto of the FFA and NYS FFA District 5 President Kait Isaac, of St. Johnsville, NY, took that motto to heart when she volunteered to serve in Haiti on a team with eight other FFA members from around the United States.
“I first heard about this trip through a National FFA notification,” said Mike Settle, retired agriculture teacher/Mohawk Valley FFA advisor, who chaperoned the trip. “I posted the notification to the Mohawk Valley FFA Facebook page and Kait jumped on the opportunity to participate.”
The ‘service opportunity’, a humanitarian effort called “ffa2haiti”, involved working along side of Haitians with a team of other FFA members participating from across the United States. Kait was the only FFA volunteer on the team representing New York State.
“We went to the Village of Hope where GCN (Global Compassion Network) has created a community for the victims of the earthquake,” said Kait.
The earthquake she referred to occurred in 2010, devastating Haiti, which was already one of the poorest countries in the world. The catastrophic quake destroyed an estimated 300,000 buildings, leaving over a million people homeless and thousands of children orphaned.
Efforts are still being made to rebuild communities and lives of the Haitians. And people like Ag Ed Instructor / FFA Advisor, Melanie Bloom at Sioux Central High School in Sioux Rapids, Iowa, are determined to use this opportunity to educate FFA members, raising their awareness and providing them with life changing, service learning experiences. [Read more…]

Improving forage quality to increase milk or beef production

by Sanne Kure-Jensen
Better soils lead to better forage, improved animal health, higher milk quality and larger milk yield. “Soil fertility is the foundation to Integrated Livestock Cropping System [and] works to enhance the flow of nutrients within the biological system,” said Cynthia A. Daley, Ph.D., Organic Dairy Program Professor at California State University. Her goal is to improve pasture soil structure and biology. Daley’s research showed a clear economic benefit to amending soils for increased quality and quantity of milk in her dairy herd. She led a webinar hosted by eOrganic in late June. The webinar is posted at
Test soils and forage quality
Daley recommended farmers test pasture soils as the first step in developing and implementing an amendment and remediation program. Most state universities have soil labs. Soil tests will offer a baseline and recommendations. Forage quality reports will give fiber levels as well as digestibility, energy and mineral values.
Soil and pasture
For ideal pasture quality and forage yield, soils need a balance of macronutrients (Calcium, Phosphorus and Potassium) and micronutrients (Boron, Magnesium and Sulfur).
Ideal soil structure allows air, water and roots to penetrate into soils. Biological activity includes microbes, fungi, worms and insects. Plant roots take in nutrients and water while delivering energy/sugars and carbohydrates made through photosynthesis. Organic matter breaks down into humus, a stable source of slow release nutrients, which helps improve water retention.
Soil biology
There are many benefits to diverse soil biology:
Nutrient cycling
Nutrient retention
Improved soil structure
Drought resistance – Improved water holding capacity
Disease suppression
Degrading or tying up pollutants
Balanced micro and macro soil nutrients support ideal plant health, vigor and nutrition. Daley urged farmers “find a good Soils Coach.” She recommended a book called “Building soils for better crops – sustainable soil management” by Fred Magdoff and Harold van Es. This book is available free at Daley also recommended “The Ideal Soil: A Handbook for the New Agriculture” by Michael Astera. This book is widely available online or at major bookstores.
Optimal soils
Daley recommended farm managers seek ideal soil Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC) by ensuring optimal levels of Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, Sodium and Hydrogen. Sandy soils typically have low CEC. High CEC is more common in soils with high organic matter and/or clay contents. High CEC soils will retain micronutrients (Sulfur, Boron and Molybdenum) better than low CEC soils. It will take more time and inputs to correct high CEC soils.
Ideal crop nutrition comes from soils with this balance: Calcium 75 percent, Magnesium 15 percent, Potassium 3.5 percent, Sodium 1 percent and Hydrogen 0 percent at a pH or 7.0. When Calcium levels are high relative to Magnesium, soils are ‘loose.’ With more Magnesium, soils are ‘tight.’ Be cautious with leachability of some minerals in sandy or low CEC soils.
Calcium — essential for uptake of many other nutrients, breaks up dense clay soils, improves air and water movement in soils, improves forage pectin levels, helps mobilize other minerals and help plants build greater root mass
Boron — helps translocate sugars, aids calcium absorption, root elongation and leaches easily in low CEC soils.
Sulfur — helps protein production, lignin digestibility and plant growth.
Worms and dung beetles
Earthworms feast on microbes. Their tunnels help water and air to move through soils. Phosphorus is seven times more available and plant usable in worm castings. Traditional fertilizers and animal fly treatments often kill dung beetles. Organic soil treatments allow the return of dung beetles. Their speedy processing and burial of cow plops reduces the fly and maggot populations improving cattle health.
Daley’s research
Daley amended pasture soils per soil test recommendations each spring. Pastured were grazed intensively. Fences were moved every 12 hours. She prefers her animals graze quickly to avoid selective weeds. Forage species did not change during the year nor did the amended areas visually differ from the unamended areas.
Daley said, “It takes time to reverse five decades of traditional management.” The amended areas showed improved nutrient content. Forage samples were tested in spring, summer and late summer.
Daley’s fields have clay loam soils with high Magnesium, which need aeration. After amending and testing for several years, amended soils show rising Calcium levels and dropping Magnesium levels. All fields were overseeded each fall with a forage blend including white clover. Perennial rye comes back each fall when temperatures begin to fall.
Summer temperatures in Daley’s region require pasture irrigation each summer. Daley’s animals receive a mineral supplement on their parlor feed. Over time, farmers can reduce supplement feeding as forage quality continues to improve.
Seasonal changes
Nutritional levels and fiber digestibility shift as cool season grasses go dormant. Warm season grasses are typically less digestible. Forage during hot summers may need supplementing for ideal animal nutrition.
Daley reminded growers that the best way to grow and finish animals is to increase the energy and fiber content of grass and forage.
Forage is the cheapest feed. The animals collect it themselves reducing farmers’ labor and transportation costs of hay.
Improved soil mineral balance led to increased plant nutrition. This created forage with more vitamins and antioxidants, which improved animal health, milk quality and antioxidant levels. The amended soils generated about $200 more per dairy animal per season. Amendments cost slightly over $150 per animal. The amended fields offered extra forage yields saving $70 per animal in comparable feed (replacement hay).
Overall, the soil amendments were well worth their cost in materials and labor with returns well over $100 per animal.
Similar forage improvements will benefit the health and nutrition of beef cattle.
Daley shared her wish that milk from enhanced, balanced fields could be marketed as having improved nutrition. Even though that is unlikely in her region, soil improvements were more than economically justified. Her input expenses returned significant increased milk production.
Drought resistance
Balanced soils often have higher organic matter levels and improved water holding capacity. Good soil biology leads to good aeration and deeper plant roots. These factors help protect pastures from extended drought conditions.

4-H kids and cows compete at Lamoille County Dairy Show

CN-RP-1-4-H kids and cows 1The focus of the day was on fun as 4-H’ers from four counties vied for ribbons and championships at the 4-H/Open Peewee Youth Dairy Show, July 27, at the annual Lamoille County Field Days in Johnson.
University of Vermont (UVM) Extension 4-H and the Green Mountain Moovers 4-H Club of Morrisville sponsored the event, which attracted participants from Caledonia, Franklin, Lamoille and Orleans Counties. Lora Smith-Goss of North Haverhill, NH, who has judged open and 4-H shows for 30 years, was the judge for both the fitting and showmanship and conformation classes.
The event included a peewee division for 4-H Cloverbuds, ages five to seven, to introduce them to the show ring and give them experience showing a dairy animal in competition. Entrants in this division received participation ribbons but were not ranked. They included Bo and Sam Callan, Enosburg Falls; and Gabriel, Haley, Morgan and Natalie Michaud, all of East Hardwick.
The show got underway with the fitting and showmanship classes where the 4-H’ers were judged on their poise as well as presentation and handling of their animal. For the conformation classes, arranged by age and breed of animal, judges looked at the physical structure, condition and appearance of the animal. [Read more…]