I’m fascinated by research, but frequently frustrated by how long it takes to reach end-users. Farming moves at a speed infinitely faster than research, but for good reason. Research helps us sort through casual observations and one-time coincidences for deeper truths and connections. Because we give more weight to research than observation, it requires more accuracy, rigor, and time.
But it all starts with good observations and questions. Which is why I’m so excited to attend the OEFFA Conference this month! It’s a great opportunity for disciplines to cross paths – farmers, growers, suppliers, researchers, program administrators—and share information.
At the OEFFA conference or otherwise, please feel free to be in touch. I’d love to talk about some of the research topics you’re interested in. We’re working with OEFFA and Central State on ways to promote organic research collaboration between farmers and scientists in Ohio. One opportunity listed below is the Warner Grant program (a long-time project of OSU's Agroecosystem Management Program), which is taking proposals until March 1. Also below are a few recent research updates, along with other resources and events coming up in the next month.
-Cassy Brown, OFFER program manager
Organic Dairy Herd Health Management in Ohio.
According to the most recent USDA survey, Ohio ranks 4th in the number of certified organic dairies and 14th in production. Organic dairy producers have distinct perspectives, approaches, challenges, and experiences when managing herd health, but few studies have documented these. Ohio State researchers used semi-structured interviews to examine herd health management for the organic dairy industry in and around Ohio. Interviews examined decision factors relating to disease prevention and treating infectious diseases, along with organic dairy - veterinarian relationships. Read more: https://go.osu.edu/orgdairy19.
Organic Corn Trial Results Available
The Ohio Organic Corn Performance Test evaluates certified organic corn hybrids for grain yield and other important agronomic characteristics. The tests were conducted on certified organic fields at Apple Creek (West Badger Farm) and Wooster (Fry Farm) in Wayne County and were intensively managed for nutrients and weed control using organic practices. See results at https://ohiocroptest.cfaes.osu.edu/organiccorntrials/.
Vegetable Pathology Lab 2021 Trials
The OSU Vegetable Pathology Lab carried out an active field research program in 2021, with full field trials spread across three Ohio research sites in Wooster, Celeryville, and Fremont and three bioassays for downy and powdery mildew management. As part of their 2021 trials, the lab tested biological control products, and disease-resistant varieties to manage diseases of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, pumpkins, cabbage and collards. You can read the research trial results at Plant Pathology Series 2022_Veg Pathology Research Rpts 2021_final. (These trials were not conducted on organic certified plots. Always refer to your certification agency’s approved list of products.)
43rd Annual OEFFA conference Feb 12, 17-19
The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association Conference is February 17 to 19 in Dayton, Ohio, and February 12 online. More than 1,200 folks from throughout the state attend this conference. Funds are available through SARE to cover Ohio State educators’ registrations. Contact Mike Hogan or Suzanne Mills Wasniak if interested in attending or displaying materials. Registration closes February 10. Learn more at https://conference.oeffa.org/
Ray Archuleta "Soil Health and Regenerative Ag - Feb 24 in West Liberty, Ohio
Missouri farmer, retired soil health researcher Ray Archuleta will discuss soil health and regenerative agriculture at the West Liberary Salm High School. This event includes a dinner at 5:30, with presentation at 6:30. The event costs $20 and includes CCA credits. Deadline to register is February 21, but space is limited. Read more at http://go.osu.edu/archuleta
Field Futures—Ohio – Workshop Event on Feb 22
Curious how climate change connects to your farm? Consider attending the inaugural Field Futures-Ohio workshop planned for Tuesday, February 22nd from 10-6PM at the Lodge at Scioto Grove. This unique event will use participatory design exercises to explore alternative climate futures for Ohio. There is no cost to attend, but space is limited and registration is required. Food and supplies provided. Register at go.osu.edu/fieldfutures by Tuesday, February 15 or contact Forbes Lipschitz for details (603 738 2144 or email).
Soil Health webinar series – March 3
The OSUE 2022 soil health series concludes with “Hot Topics-What's the Future of Soil Health?” on March 3, 8-9 a.m. A variety of soil health researchers will briefly discuss their current and ongoing work. Come with your questions and ideas! Register at go.osu.edu/soilhealth2022. Recordings of previous webinars are available at https://agcrops.osu.edu/events/webinar-recordings/dirt-soil-health-investing-below-surface-0
Test Drive New Organic Seed Varieties
Are you a farmer or gardener in the Upper Midwest? Are you interested in contributing to the development of new tomato and pepper varieties for organic farmers in our region? Consider joining the Seed to Kitchen Collaborative and SeedLinked plant breeding network. Read more at https://seedtokitchen.horticulture.wisc.edu/
Warner grant proposals for Sustainable Agriculture Research – due March 1
The OSU Sustainable Agriculture Team and Agroecosystems Management Program (AMP) is accepting proposals for on-farm research projects on sustainable agriculture topics. Research is intended to identify and publicize sustainable agricultural practices and systems that are profitable, socially responsible, energy efficient, and improve water quality and other environmental concerns relevant to Ohio farmers. Farmers are invited to partner with OSU scientists and extension educators to carry out these on-farm projects. Read the Request for Proposals at go.osu.edu/2022-warner-grants or contact Doug Jackson-Smith if you have questions. Proposals are due March 1, 2022.
Organic Grain Training
The Organic Agronomy Training Service (OATS), the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s OGRAIN, and the American Society of Agronomy (ASA) have launched a video series, call series, and listserv for organic advisors and ag professionals to connect and learn from each other. Read more at https://www.organicagronomy.org/organic-advisor-call-series.
The OFFER program cooperates with Ohio State Agricultural Operations to maintain organic production space for field research. Most of the land is located at the West Badger Farm in Wooster and is managed organically when not active in research projects. Facilities include dedicated organic equipment, grain storage, and staff to assist with farm and certification management. Researchers or cooperators interested in reserving organic research land or cooperating for trials or demonstrations should contact Brian Gwin, OFFER coordinator. Multiple small and large grants are available for this work. Find more resources around this topic at https://offer.osu.edu/resources/resources-researchers.
This summer, West Badger is home to organic variety trials for corn and oats, year 2 of a perennial wheatgrass trial, and cultivation equipment trials in partnership with Tilmor. Plans for additional variety trials are underway.
|Cultivation Equipment Trials|
OFFER is pleased to partner with Tilmor for equipment trials on our West Badger research station. Based in Orrville, Ohio, Tilmor specializes in affordable tools and equipment for smaller farms. Read more about Tilmor at tilmor.com/en-us
|Organic Variety Trials|
Oats were planted in early spring along with organic corn variety trials.
|Variety trial results are archived at u.osu.edu/perf/. Results from 2021 oats should be added soon.|
|Perennial Wheatgrass Trials|
Kernza seed and forage was harvested in late July at the Wooster (above) and Fremont (below) sites. Kernza is a potential dual purpose crop for grain and forage. This work is part of a multistate project to track productivity, quality, and soil health under various fertilization and harvest timing treatments
|Weed pressure remains high at the Wooster site, but the Fremont trial was virtually weed free this second year. Leader researcher Steve Culman will continue to monitor this potential crop's competition with weeds to see if this crop might be useful duing organic transition or as an effective weed management tool with soil health benefits.|
Ohio State soil researchers Steve Culman and Christine Sprunger have analyzed soil health and management data from around 900 Ohio farm soil samples. The samples were collected during various on-farm research projects in the last few years, including about 200 from organic operations.
The Culman and Sprunger labs have looked for relationships between soil health metrics and the corresponding soil type, sampling depth, and management practices. Below are a few quick highlights and opportunities to learn more.
Management Impacts on Soil Health
The study suggests that the most effective way to increase microbial activity and other soil health indicators was to include perennials in the crop rotation, especially for multiple years.
Organic growers will be happy to hear that, so far, cover crops appear to be a better soil health building strategy than no-till. That’s not to say that tillage is good for soil health. More complex crop rotations and increased tillage showed a negative effect on organic matter and microbial activity.
Culman cautions that this is “noisy” data based on observation, not a side-by-side controlled study, nor is it a comprehensive sampling of soils. More work is definitely needed. Some of this future work will look at aggregate stability (a measure of soil physical health), compare the soil health impact from different types of tillage, and compare organic vs. conventional practices (for example, the effect of organic vs. synthetic fertilizers). The researchers are also interested in ways to decrease tillage passes in an organic system.
Emerging Tests for Soil Health
As farmers and consumers focus increasingly on soil health, there is a growing need for better soil health measurements. Data from these on-farm soil surveys is helping to further this goal as well.
Standard soil tests include a total organic content measure, but most organic matter in the soil is not available to plants. Recent research also suggests that total organic matter changes very slowly over time and is probably not the best tool if you want to track how new management practices are impacting soil health.
Ohio State’s soil labs have been evaluating soil health tests for accuracy, for their value in management decision-making, and for cost and turn-around time. The goal is to recommend useful tests to commercial labs so that these can be offered directly to farmers, along with information about state averages, ranges, and how the test values vary with soil type.
It's important that organically managed soils continue to be part of this sampling project. Ohio State will collect soil samples again in 2021 as part of eFields – an agronomic crops program to conduct and share on-farm research. Contact your local extension educator or email email@example.com for more details on getting your soil sampled for this statewide study. Individual soil test results will be shared with participating growers.
- Management Practices That Impact Soil Health and Organic Matter
March 17 Sprunger presentation (45 minutes) - part of Ohio State's 2021 Winter Organic Webinar Series
- Using Research and Data to Improve Soil Health
February 25 presentation, Steve Culman & Elizabeth Hawkins - part of Ohio State's 2021 Soil Health Webinar Series
- eFields report 2020 - see page 224 for Soil Health Survey report.
- eFields program
Learn more about the perennial grain kernza and see the trial plot in this brief video: https://youtu.be/epJaE5ihiVE (3:17)
Only a few days are left to reserve your spot at Ohio’s largest sustainable food and farming conference. Registration ends on Monday, February 8 for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s 42nd annual conference, which will be held online February 10-15.
Among the speakers from Ohio State this year, extension soil specialist Steve Culman will be sharing information on his USDA perennial grain trials. This is Culman’s second research project on the perennial wheatgrass known as kernza. He is testing an organic variety of kernza for suitability in Ohio as a dual-purpose crop (forage and grain production). This summer his lab will begin on-farm trials and is looking for additional participants.
Kernza is used mainly for forage and grazing in the western U.S. While the grain has end uses and nutritional values similar to wheat, Culman admits the grain production is not very good and that markets and facilities for kernza are only just developing. While it has potential for dual purpose production, more research and development will be needed.
So why would a farmer consider kernza? Because it has a third purpose of great importance: Soil health.
“Organic systems go through this dichotomous cycle of growing cash crops, and then growing a crop for conservation or soil development," Culman notes. "With kernza you could do both.”
Recent Ohio State research reviewed hundreds of regional soil tests results, comparing management practices with various soil health measurements linked to yield, biological activity, and fertilizer efficiency. The most effective management practice for improving soil health was the use of perennials. Perennial crops reduce traffic and tillage, but they also leave roots in the ground year-round to contribute to biological activity, provide below-ground biomass, and crowd out weed growth. Kernza really shines in root development, with roots that reach 10 feet down or deeper and spread horizontally to outcompete weeds.
“Kernza stays pretty green through harvest,” says Culman. “It’s not like wheat. You harvest the grain in late July/early August. So you could harvest the grain, then chop or hay the remaining biomass. Then you can let it regrow. This is not enough time to develop seed heads, but the regrowth should get knee high or so in the fall. Then it can be grazed."
Based on his previous trials, Culman feels kernza has great potential for organic transition, weed control, riparian zones, forage, fall grazing, and even grain production, all while improving soil quality.
The OEFFA conference kernza presentation will be Friday, February 12 at 10 a.m., but conference attendees will also be able to watch recorded presentations through March. Dr. Culman will also be available in the OFFER virtual conference booth on Friday, February 12 from 2-3 p.m. for anyone who would like to know more about the on-farm kernza trials or to chat about soil health and fertility.
See the full line up of OFFER booth events at offer.osu.edu/booth. We will also host Glen Arnold, extension field specialist in manure management; Erin Silva from University of Wisconsin and OGRAIN; and Rich Minyo, organic corn variety trial researcher.
For more information on the OEFFA conference, visit https://conference.oeffa.org/.
To learn more about the soil health and management study findings, join us for "Management Practices That Impact Soil Health and Organic Matter with Christine Sprunger, March 17 at 11 a.m., part of the OFFER 2021 Organic Winter Webinar series.
Trends and Highlights of Ohio Farmers: Organic Sector Implications
December 2, 2020, 11-11:45 a.m.
The recent USDA Certified Organic Survey provided an overview of continued growth in organic agricultural production in Ohio and nationwide. Organic farmers were also an area of focus for the 2020 Ohio Farm Poll Study conducted this past year at Ohio State.
On December 2, 2020, farm poll study leaders Douglas Jackson-Smith, Shoshanah Inwood, and Andrea Rissing will focus in on survey results for organic growers.
Find out what this survey, and other available data, tell us about Ohio’s organic farming community. We’ll cover commodities, marketing strategies, and attitudes of this industry sector and see how they compare, in general, with Ohio’s conventional farm community on a variety of trends and characteristics.
This presentation is the first in a series of organic-themed webinars being hosted this winter by OFFER (Ohio State’s Organic Food & Farming Education and Research program). The series will provide opportunities for Ohio’s organic community and those who work with them, to learn about Ohio State resources and to provide feedback, experience, and ideas for new research and program directions. Farmers considering organic certification or seeking ways to lower their farm inputs will also benefit from the presentations.
The webinar series is scheduled for Wednesdays at 11 a.m. Sessions will be short, focused, practical, and will invite participant feedback.
Additional winter programming from Ohio State extension can be viewed at https://agnr.osu.edu/programming/farm-direct-markets. Series on farm management, agricultural safety, soil health, and more are listed and/or under development.
Did you miss this presentation or want to watch it again? You can view it here: https://youtu.be/aeakxcQHfxQ
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On October 22, the United State Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service released survey results from the 2019 Certified Organic Survey. Nationwide, sales of organic commodities rose 31% since the last organic survey in 2016. The number of farms producting certified organic commodies increased by 17% nationally, while land used for organic production increased by 9%.
A few Ohio highlights
Number of Farms. Ohio's organic sector remains strong, ranking 5th among U.S. states in the number of certified organic operations. The number of certified organic farms in Ohio grew by 37% since the last organic census in 2016. The number of certified organic acres in Ohio increased 51% in that time. However, the average acres of organic cropland per farm increased by only 10% in the state.
Agronomic Leadership. Grain corn continues to be one of the top U.S. organic crop commodities and Ohio continues to be a major producer of organic corn, ranking 5th among states in the number of producers, and 9th in the number of acres. Ohio also ranks in the top ten states for organic soybeans and oats, in terms of number of farms and acres in production.
Organic Sales. The number of farms selling organic products in Ohio increased by 38%, but actual sales only increased 16%. Sales growth occurred mainly in crops (56% growth for Ohio, vs. a national increase of 38%). Sales of livestock products (eggs, milk, etc.) grew by 13% (similar to national growth of 12%). However, livestock and poultry sales in Ohio actually decreased by 39% (while growing by 19% nationally and 34% in the neighboring state of Pennsylvania). OFFER is beginning to investigate organic meat packaging and processing in the state to see if this could be an area for future growth. As previously noted by OEFFA’s report on the 2017 agricultural census, “the number of custom meat processors in the state has declined for decades and is currently critically limited.”
The 2019 Certified Organic Survey is a Census of Agriculture Special Study. This marks the sixth comprehensive organic survey NASS has conducted, beginning in 2008, but the methodology has varied in past studies. This recent study provides comparable data between the 2016 Organic Survey.
- 2-page Report Highlights - 2019 Certified Organic Survey
- Executive Briefing slides - 2019 Certified Organic Survey
- Full 2019 Report, Past Reports, and more about the USDA NASS Organic Program
- Ohio Agriculture: The Changing Contours of Farming, Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, June 2019
Results are available online for the 2019 Michigan Organic Soybean Variety Trials. The trials included 43 varieties – 20 of which are commercially available. Results include details on source, variety, maturity group, hilum color, percent oil, percent protein, maturity days after planting, plant height, yield and multi-year data.
Previous years’ organic trials for soybeans, edible beans, and other agronomic crops can be found at the Organic Farmers of Michigan website.
Ohio State Corn and Oats Variety Trials Planned for 2020
Ohio State is planning organic crop variety trials this year for both corn and oats. Organic farm manager Gerald Reid reports 15 varieties of oats have emerged and that corn trials should be planted soon.
Previous Ohio State organic corn variety trials can be found online as well:
Biostimulants are not exclusive to organic systems, but they are a common input for organic growers. Ohio State vegetable production specialist Matt Kleinhenz has spent many years studying microbial-based biostimulants (MBBS). Few agricultural input markets have seen the kind of explosive growth that has occurred with MBBS.
“These products are widely available, relatively inexpensive, are said to offer interesting and appealing benefits, and rarely put users at significant risk, unlike some other products,” says Kleinhenz.
Nicole Wright, program coordinator for the Vegetable Production Lab’s MBBS project, also attributes market growth to increased interest in microbiology.
“I think growers are applying them and thinking about soil and soil microbiology,” she says, “They are thinking ‘everything I hear says that having healthy soil means having lots of living things in them and if I can contribute to that, it’s a good thing.’”
With a constant stream of products entering and exiting the market, Kleinhenz and his team are less interested in testing specific products and more interested in answering the bigger questions surrounding this subset of agricultural inputs. Their research has focused on identifying which factors are important to product efficacy, such as the effect of timing and application rate.
Kleinhenz and Wright have this advice for growers interested in or already using MBBSs on their crops:
- Do background research. Just because a product is OMRI-listed does not mean it’s been found effective. Set aside time to read up on the product. Take a critical look at label instructions. What details are provided about the timing, application rate and application methods? What can the manufacturer tell you about mixing it with other products or using it in specific conditions or crops?
- Be wary of claims that seem exaggerated. Most of these products create modest, gradual, and/or inconsistent yield improvements. Growers should have realistic expectations for MBBS products.
- Product consistency can be an issue with MBBSs. If a product only works some of the time, the cause may be related to the user, the manufacturing process and product itself, or production conditions. For example, environmental factors like soil fertility, pH, or cropping history might influence the product’s effectiveness.
- Use storage and handling procedures that acknowledge these are living products. Avoid temperature extremes and chlorinated water, for example.
- Track what happens. Referrals from other users of the product are valuable. But remember that their success won’t necessarily be repeated in your farm’s unique conditions. When trying a new product or practice, maintain a similar untreated part of your field to compare. Do your own experiments with rate and timing. Keep records on what you applied, where, and take notes on any differences you see in growth, yield, quality, etc.
- Use good cultural processes to increase microbials in your soil too. Wright likens MBBS products to taking a vitamin vs. eating healthy foods. Cultural practices that favor soil biodiversity, organic matter, and good drainage are also needed to provide food and conditions that allow microbial life to thrive.
Change is coming
So far, these products are largely unregulated. For the first time, the current farm bill includes language defining a biostimulant--an important first step in creating better uniformity in the industry, says Kleinhenz. Some manufacturers are concerned about the overall image of MBBS products and are pushing for a more narrow definition along with efficacy testing.
Kleinhenz feels regulation will usher in increased product consistency and better information for consumers, but regulation may also limit the number of products available. Testing product efficacy requires time, expertise, and/or expenses that smaller manufacturers may find challenging.
He also questions if it is truly appropriate to apply the same efficacy standards used for many mainstream agricultural inputs. Based on averages and standard, proven statistical analysis, a comparison of treated and non-treated plots failed to show that inoculation (product use) significantly influenced yield. However, the Vegetable Production Systems Lab team observed many times when a MBBS did increase yield (and a few times when it lowered it).
“If you went out to your truck and it only started half of the mornings, you’d be pretty annoyed and conclude it’s unreliable, that it’s not working,” Kleinhenz says. “However, if you apply a product to your crops or soils and see measurable improvement say, 30% of the time, you might still find the application worthwhile if the costs and other risks were low. Our goal as a team is to provide growers and others with information they can use to distinguish worthwhile from unwise investments and practices.”
There are many additional practical questions to answer that could involve microbiology and decision-making. For now, Kleinhenz and his lab are enjoying the conversation and questions stimulated by this growing and changing industry.
This research is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Organic Transitions Program under award Number 2016-51106-25714 and also under award number 2016-38640-25381 through the North Central Region SARE program under subaward number LNC16-380.
Licenses for hemp cultivation and processing are available in Ohio beginning this week. However, Brad Bergefurd, horticulture specialist at Ohio State’s South Centers, warns potential growers to consider carefully before clearing ground for our state’s budding hemp industry.
“Long term, I think Ohio hemp for seed, fiber and possible nutraceutical products has great economic potential for Ohio agriculture,” says Bergefurd, “but I am afraid early adopters of this crop right now could be setting themselves up for failure if they have not firmly developed their own hemp marketing and production plants well in advance.”
Hemp production has high potential as an organic product, especially for CBD production, which is the type of production Ohio State’s trials focused on. Since CBD is used in health products, manufacturers prefer or require organic practices. But the risk level is high, says Bergefurd. From the university hemp trials in 2019, he found production was very labor-intensive and required specialized equipment for planting, harvesting, and drying. Planting costs alone were around $10,000 - $15,000 per acre. These are risky investments for a crop that might ultimately be confiscated if it fails to meet minimum THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) levels.
Even though the university purchased low-THC varieties, all the southern Ohio trials failed to pass the legal minimum for THC, says Bergefurd, which is not an uncommon problem. The issue of illegal THC levels, along with falling prices from a national oversupply of CBD hemp, have caused serious losses for farmers in Kentucky and other southern states in the past year, leading to economic strain and farm foreclosures. He doesn’t want to see that happen in Ohio.
In addition to the low THC requirement (0.3% for hemp--compared to average marijuana THC content of 3.5%), hemp crops must be harvested within 15 days of Ohio Department of Agriculture’s THC testing. In the Ohio trials, levels of both THC and CBD rose with decreasing moisture levels, leaving much of a farmer’s fate up to the weather. That’s nothing new; but combined with the other risks and start-up costs, it might give a grower pause.
“We just have a lot of research work to do before we are fully prepared,” says Bergefurd. “Not only for growing the crop, but we have limited to no hemp buyers, or processing and marketing infrastructure developed in Ohio as of today.”
After all, it’s been nearly 80 years since hemp was last grown legally in Ohio. Bergefurd says research is needed to develop management practices for pest control and other production concerns, along with breeding programs to develop varieties better suited to the low THC requirements. He is hopeful that legalizing hemp will be an important first step in creating the research and investment needed to make hemp a viable new market for Ohio.
Ellen Essman, from Ohio State's Law Office urges growers to read through the Ohio Department of Agriculture's Hemp Program page carefully to become familiar with the many rules and fees involved.
"If you wish to grow or process hemp," she writes in the OSU Farm Office Blog, "there are detailed rules you must follow, such as getting your sites approved, setback requirements, land use restrictions, and providing ODA with information like GPS coordinates of the land and the number of acres and plants you cultivate, just to name a few."
- "Don’t Hurry Into Hemp” article from OSU South Centers.
Sales of foliar fertilizers have skyrocketed in the last several years, particularly among organic dairy farmers. Foliar products are readily available, easy to store, and many products are approved for organic use and formulated to provide humates, microbiological products, micronutrients, and other popular treatments. Advocates of these products say they offer an environmentally friendly, efficient, and cost-effective way to apply fertilizers. Yet much of the recent research done on foliar feeding has been unable to reliably document benefits to production.
Louceline Fleuridor has spent the last two years studying foliar feeding as part of her Ohio State master’s degree program. She partnered with organic dairy farmers to measure the response of forage and soils to post-cutting foliar fertilization on 19 on-farm sites. As with previous studies in Ohio, Fleuridor found no consistent evidence of benefits from using foliar feeding products.
"In foliar feeding, you apply fertilizer through the leaves, which is contrary to the traditional knowledge that plants will absorb nutrients through their roots,” says Fleuridor, explaining that leaves' primary function is thought to be photosynthesis. "It raises some questions."
On Thursday, December 19, Fleuridor met with participating farmers and Ohio State specialists for a discussion of the research trials and results.
Partnering farmers began the meeting by sharing their experiences with foliar products. Wayne county dairy farmer Jeff Miller began experimenting with foliar feeding on one of his pastures five years ago. He decided to spray half of his pasture to see what would happen and because he couldn’t afford to spray the whole field. But when he noticed how much quicker his herd began to graze in the foliar fed area, he decided he couldn’t afford not to spray the whole field. Other farmers relayed similar experience, noting increases in crop yield, forage health, palatability, and harvested hay quality that coincided with the use of foliar feeding.
Yield gets a lot of attention in studies, but quality and palatability are also important, especially on dairy farms where forage is not the end product. Past studies have noted other advantages to foliar feeds, including decreased nutrient runoff, better absorption efficiency of micro- and macronutrients, reduced instance of disease, and, in a 2000 study on wheat, increased grain protein content.
"Forage quality is where we really expected to see changes, but we didn't," said Ohio State soil fertility specialist Steve Culman, who provided technical assistance on the project.
Fleuridor's study examined a variety of forage quality measurements, including in-field measurements for sugar content (Brix), as well as lab analysis for crude protein, stem:leaf ratio, fiber content, relative forage quality, net energy of lactation, and estimated milk/ton.
In addition to sharing individual and overall test results with the participating farmers, Fleuridor also spent time explaining how researchers use randomized plots and statistics to separate actual treatment differences from differences that happen randomly or from variations in the field. Fleuridor noted that there were some differences between the treatment and control in the studies, but the results were inconsistent and didn’t reveal a cohesive pattern of increased yield, plant health, or milk production for the sites in this study.
Culman cautions farmers to inform themselves before using foliar feeds. “If you’re looking at adding these products, look at the formulation and know what you’re getting. Foliar products tend to supply only a small amount of nutrients.”
Most of the farmers in the study plan to continue using foliar feeding, feeling that these products have caused improvements on their fields. They did note mixed results with some products and a need for additional labor. Several of the participants also stressed that other soil problems need to be fixed before turning attention to foliar feeds.
As for Fleuridor, she feels there are many factors that could have contributed to the mixed results in this study, including weather and soil conditions when the products were applied. She recommended that future studies use a consistent forage composition, and suggested a focus on clover may be advisable, based on farmer feedback.
This study was sponsored by The Ohio State University Paul C. and Edna H. Warner Grants for Sustainable Agriculture, Organic Valley FAFO (Farmers Advocating for Organic), and SoilBiotics. Organic Valley FAFO is currently accepting grant proposals for on-farm research projects. The deadline is February 15, 2020. Read more: https://www.organicvalley.coop/why-organic-valley/power-of-we/farmers-advocating-organics/
|Ohio State researcher Louceline Fleuridor applied foliar feed treatments at spring green up and 10 days after each cutting. Applications were made in the mornings when temperatures were below 75 degrees F.|