Recordkeeping identifies livestock profitability

2020-05-14T14:29:46-05:00May 8, 2020|Eastern Edition, Mid Atlantic, New England Farm Weekly|

by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

You may process more animals than you did last year, but how can you know whether or not your operation is profitable? John Hendrickson and Jim Munsch from the University of Wisconsin-Madison presented “Livestock Compass: A Profit Management Tool for Livestock Producers” as a recent webinar hosted by Food Animal Concerns Trust. (more…)

Crop Comments: Land-spreading… not dumping… raw milk

2020-05-08T09:38:09-05:00May 8, 2020|Eastern Edition, Mid Atlantic, New England Farm Weekly, Western Edition|

Nothing makes peaceful news headlines quite as dramatically as pictures of tanker-loads of milk being dumped into a manure lagoon — particularly when such news clips follow pictures of nearly empty dairy cases in the supermarket. A serious imbalance of raw milk supply and demand has become collateral damage brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. A shortage of truckers — some of whom are themselves sick with this virus — has intensified the logistical nightmare. Handlers are telling producers to cut back because not all the milk being produced will find a home. The word “panic” best describes the practice of jettisoning raw milk anywhere that’s quick and easy — usually involving the nearest liquid manure storage.

About 10 years ago I became familiar with the practice of applying excess raw milk to cropland in a manner which is agronomically, ecologically and economically very wise. I first read about this practice a decade ago. The article headlined: “Finally… a non-controversial use for raw milk… as fertilizer for crops!” appeared (in April 2010) in the Unterrified Democrat, a weekly newspaper published in Linn, MO. That article dealt with field research conducted by Nebraska Cooperative Extension agronomy agent Terry Gompert. In 2005, Gompert, with the help of University of Nebraska soils specialist Charles Shapiro, conducted tests to determine the effectiveness of land-spread raw milk as a crop input.

According to these workers, “You could see by both the color and the volume of the grass that there was a big increase in production.” In that test the raw milk was sprayed at four different rates: 3, 5, 10 and 20 gallons per acre – on four separate tracts of land. At the 3-gallon rate 17 gallons of water were mixed with the milk, while the 20-gallon rate was straight milk. Surprisingly, the university-conducted test showed no difference between the 3-, 5-, 10- and 20-gallon rates. The test began with spraying milk mid-May 2005. Forty-five days later, the 16 plots were clipped and an extra 1,200 pounds of grass dry matter (DM) per acre were harvested on the treated versus non-treated land (5815# DM from treated ground, compared to 4615# DM from milk-less meadows). Quite a return on milk investment!

As impressive as the yield data just cited was, the greatly increased soil porosity was doubled by the milk application. Gompert and cooperating dairyman Bob Bernt were convinced that microbial action is the cornerstone of the milk fertilizer success. Quoting Bernt, “When milk is applied to land that has been abused, it feeds what is left of the microbes, plus it introduces microbes to the soil.” Agent Terry Gompert believed in applying raw milk as a crop input so much that he made that recommendation to other Nebraska dairymen. Readers must understand such advice was not officially approved by that state’s land grant college. I talked to Bob about his practice of applying raw milk to crop land.

For years, Bernts had been organically farming at Clear Creek Organic Farms in Spalding, NE (www.clearcreekorganicfarm.com). But they only got certified organic in 2006, when they began shipping milk to the nation’s largest non-co-op organic milk buyer, based in Colorado. But in 2009 that buyer dropped Clear Creek and 10 other nearby organic family farms. Adding insult to injury, the largest dairy cooperative in the U.S. refused to pick up the milk of any of those 11 farms. In 2012, of those 11 farms, only Clear Creek remained in dairying in any form. Shortly after being dropped by their milk’s buyer, Bernts began processing their unwanted milk into several varieties of raw milk cheese, and selling raw milk by the gallon, and making cream into butter. There still was plenty of raw whole milk — as well as skim milk — left over. So Bob started applying perfectly good “waste” milk to his cropland in 2009.

Working with Gompert, Bob became very aware of the potential fertilizer benefit inherent in modest quantities of raw milk — particularly during periods of spring surplus. Some of this less valuable raw milk can sensibly be used as a soil amendment (fertilizer). Bernt settled on the three gallon per acre application rate for raw milk — skim or whole. As shown earlier, his crop responses have been quite impressive. One facet of raw milk’s soil agronomic benefits is its probiotic nature: raw milk — whole or skim — appears to greatly favor soil microbial activity. Raw milk’s beneficial probiotic properties are at least as important as the classic soil nutrients common in milk. Those nutrients are calcium (Ca), nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), and magnesium (Mg).

Fast forward to April of 2020. The Bernt family in Nebraska are still managing their diverse farm, selling raw milk dairy products, and land-spreading raw milk as a cropping input. They have learned that pasteurized milk, with no active probiotics, does not support crop yield increases nearly as well as raw milk. Apart from milk’s friendly, lactic acid-forming bacteria helping beneficial soil microbes perform better, Bob firmly believes that lactose (milk sugar) gives energy to those microbes. He also believes that this source of milk energy ultimately shows up as higher sugar levels in his crops. (Proof of these higher sugar amounts is quantified with the term “brix”; brix readings come from an instrument called a refractometer.)

Bernt believes that due to these tiny milk doses, soil pH actually increases much more than what’s accounted for by the positively charged cations present in the milk, namely, Ca, K, and Mg. An application rate of three gallons of milk per acre means that less than one-ten-thousandth of an ounce of milk solids is deposited on each square foot of soil! (When lab-analyzed, raw milk typically only shows N at 0.5-0.6%, Ca at 0.12%, P at 0.10%, and K at 0.56%.) So the microbial activity is almost certainly the miracle-working factor in the raw milk land-spreading practice. These days, news about beneficial microbes is certainly a pleasant change of pace.

Diversity – What’s best for soil and revenue at Barnyard Organics

2020-05-08T11:10:42-05:00May 1, 2020|Mid Atlantic, New England Farm Weekly, Western Edition|

by Catie Joyce-Bulay

For fourth-generation farmers Mark and Sally Bernard, soil health is the primary concern in decision-making on their 550-acre organic farm in Freetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada. It is front-and-center in their values statement: “Barnyard Organics is a diversified, family-friendly, soil-focused farm with a priority on organic integrity from seed to feed and keeping products fair and accessible.” (more…)

How antibiotics are changing and what that means for cattle feeders

2020-05-14T14:09:32-05:00April 23, 2020|Eastern Edition, Mid Atlantic, Western Edition|

by Stephen Wagner

“Being that there’s always going to be bacteria on the food we get, the question arises as to what happens to some of those bacteria when they carry resistance genes,” said Dr. Lowell Midla, veterinary technical services manager at Merck Animal Health. His topic at the 2020 Cattle Feeders Day in Lancaster, PA, was the future of antibiotics. (All antibiotics must be obtained from a veterinarian or from a prescription written by a vet. Furthermore, much of what you read here will be Midla’s opinion.) (more…)

A phone call with PA Ag Secretary Russell Redding

2020-04-23T17:00:23-05:00April 23, 2020|Eastern Edition, Mid Atlantic, Western Edition|

by Stephen Wagner

Because COVID-19 might be altering our lives forever, Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding participated in phone calls open to around 400 people the first time around, and more than 200 the second time. These took place under the auspices of Penn-Ag Industries, with Assistant Vice President Jessica Darr hosting the program. Executive Vice President Chris Herr said at the outset of the program that he and Sec. Redding have been in contact almost daily since the COVID onset. (more…)

Leading the way with Wagyu

2020-04-23T15:03:03-05:00April 23, 2020|Mid Atlantic|

by Karl H. Kazaks

ALTAVISTA, VA – Dale Moore is an accomplished leader in many fields of life. He has raised cattle for over two decades. He is a member of the Campbell County, VA, Board of Supervisors. He started an electrical contracting business which grew to employ some 600 people. And now he is helping to lead the development of the American Wagyu beef industry. (more…)

You’re amazing

2020-04-23T16:46:27-05:00April 15, 2020|Eastern Edition, Mid Atlantic, New England Farm Weekly, Western Edition|

by Troy Bishopp

Before the “shelter-in-place” pandemic concept came to fruition, I was on my way to Indiana to speak to farmers on grass farming and grazing management. The notoriety of being “The Grass Whisperer” and also coming from well over 100 miles made me a draw for the annual Southern Indiana Grazing Conference. Humbly, my words were not the most powerful story. (more…)

Must we dump milk?

2020-04-15T18:02:21-05:00April 15, 2020|Mid Atlantic, New England Farm Weekly|

by Courtney Llewellyn

Sadly, what we’re seeing happening today is a case of history repeating itself. In the 1930s, with citizens across the nation starving in bread lines, farmers were forced to burn excess wheat for fuel – and dump milk they couldn’t sell. The issue is in the supply chain, not in a lack of supply or a lack of consumers. (more…)