New York Soil Health Trailer: Learn about Compaction and Soil Health in Northeast Pastures

New York Soil Health Trailer at a Train the Trainer seminar
Two days with rain did not deter the group of grazing educators from across the Northeast attending a “Train the Trainer” seminar with the New York Soil Health Tailer in the early grazing season. Photo: Fay Benson

The New York Soil Health Trailer brought spring 2019 “Train the Trainer” programs, taught by New York Soil Health Trailer Coordinator and Cornell Extension Specialist Fay Benson, Soil Structure Consultant Larry Hepner, and Cornell Soil Health Laboratory Director Bob Schindelbeck to Brunswick and Troupsburg, N.Y . Seventeen grazing educators attended the two trainings, offered as the first part of a Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (NE SARE) project to educate and provide research on soil compaction in Northeast pasture soils.

The New York Soil Health Trailer will be traveling across the Northeast, participating in pasture walks and other events this summer and fall. Currently scheduled events include July 25-27: Grasstravaganza, Cobleskill, NY; August 6-8: Empire Farm Days, Seneca Falls, NY; August dates TBA: Great New York State Fair, Syracuse, NY;and September 3-6: Maine Soil Field Days, site TBA.

Compaction is an important issue in agriculture affecting soil health and productivity. Compacted soils, which result from heavy tractor and animal use over time, have less water and air flow and are therefore less productive. Identifying compaction is the first step toward remediation. Benson is working with farmers and ag educators to develop tools that he hopes will lead to improved pasture management and therefore more sustainable farms.

Benson’s idea for this NE SARE project is to use a soil penetrometer to measure soil penetration resistance in the fence line of a pasture where no livestock compaction has occurred and within the grazing area where compaction is likely. The objective is to develop tools to help farmers better identify areas of compaction to guide remediation response.

The morning sessions of the recent training programs included morning presentations and discussions followed by afternoon field sessions at two farms, using the penetrometers to measure compaction and examining mini profiles to identify and describe soil structures.

The Trainers
Benson has a number of responsibilities with the Small Dairy Support Cornell University SCNY Regional Team, and as Education Coordinator for the NY Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship, and Project Manager of the NY Organic Dairy Initiative. He also travels to many farm events with the New York Soil Health Trailer for demonstrations showing how healthy soils improve infiltration and prevent runoff.

As Director of the Cornell Soil Health Laboratory and a member of the Soil and Crop Sciences Section at Cornell University, Schindelbeck presents the Lab’s analysis of the physical, chemical, and biological properties of soil, how they are measured in the lab, and the interpretations on how to improve soil health.

Hepner, a consulting agronomist and retired Delaware Valley University professor of Agronomy and Environmental Science, spoke at the training sessions to explain how to describe soil structure based on USDA NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) terminology. Structure is how the sand, silt, and clay fit together to form aggregates. Structure is described using terms for type (granular, subangular blocky, platy), grade (weak, moderate, strong, i.e. how visible the individual structural units are), and class (fine, medium, coarse, i.e. size of the granule, block, or plate). Typically, surface soil layers (horizons) have granular structure which is very good for infiltration, water movement, and oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange. Granular structure usually produces maximum growth of plants. When compaction occurs, either by livestock or equipment use, the granules are crushed and converted to plates. Platy structures impede water movement, stay wet longer, and have poor oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange; all in all a much poorer environment for plants, resulting in less growth.

Compaction in pastures and farm fields is difficult to avoid. The good news is that a healthy soil (physical, chemical, and biological properties in balance) allows a soil to be much more resilient when it comes to compaction. Through field research, correlating penetrometer reading and moisture levels, Benson is working to develop ways that farmers and ag educators can better identify soil compaction at any time of year and take appropriate action to address the compaction for improved soil health and farm performance.

Benson suggests graziers test their pasture soil compaction level by using a step-in post, ny pushing the post into the soil up to 6 inches repeatedly ,first in the pasture, then under the fence line. If the grazier notices a significant difference, this indicates they are dealing with pasture soil compaction. It is best if the soil moisture level is at relatively normal condition for testing, not the overly saturated soil as many are dealing with this spring.

NYS IPM Weekly Field Crops Report-May 27, 2019

Sclerotinia Crown and Stem Rot on Alfalfa (AKA: White Mold)

By Jaime Cummings of NYS Integrated Pest Management, and Janice Degni of Cornell Cooperative Extension

We had an interesting report from Janice Degni (CCE, SCNY dairy and field crops team leader) this week.  While out scouting and measuring alfalfa stands in Onondaga County, Janice noticed some wilting plants.  Upon closer inspection, she found sclerotia, the tell-tale sign of white mold on the alfalfa stems (Fig. 1).  Though this disease can be found in alfalfa and clover stands, you are likely more familiar with white mold on soybeans.  Two different species of this pathogen can be found on alfalfa.  Sclerotinia trifolium is the one most commonly identified on alfalfa, but the same species found on soybean, Sclerotinia sclerotiorum, can also infect alfalfa.

Figure 1.  Bleached stems with sclerotia on alfalfa.
Figure 1. Bleached stems with sclerotia on alfalfa. (Photo by Janice Degni, CCE)

Remember that these pathogens overwinter and survive many years in the soil as sclerotia.  Sclerotia are the black structures you’ve likely seen on infected soybean stems.  These two different fungal pathogen species are difficult to differentiate, but the trend is that S. sclerotiorum tends to infect in the spring and summer, while S. trifolium typically infects in the fall.  Regardless of the species, the symptoms, epidemiology and management are similar.

Figure 2.  Sclerotinia stem and crown rot infection symptoms on alfalfa.
Figure 2. Sclerotinia stem and crown rot infection symptoms on alfalfa. (Photos by Carol Frate, University of California)

The symptoms of Sclerotinia crown and stem rot in alfalfa include rotting crowns, cottony growth on stems and crowns, and wilting and rotting stems.  Infected crowns tend to die-off, and may be confused with winterkill, if not for the tell-tale sign of sclerotia in the dead tissues.  Infection in first-year stands is most problematic.  Just like in soybeans, this disease can spread quickly through a field, either by spores or via fungal mycelium spreading among plants during a cool, wet spring.  This can potentially thin a stand out rather quickly, and can leave plenty of those sclerotia behind as inoculum for future years.

This prolonged cool, wet spring we’ve been experiencing has provided ideal conditions for this disease that we infrequently encounter in our alfalfa fields.  An integrated management approach is the best solution.  Since this disease is most prominent in first year, fall-seeded fields, you may consider future spring plantings in fields where you find it.  Or, get your fall seedings in as early as possible so that seedlings have a chance to establish before the sclerotia germinate and produce spores in the fall.  Tillage buries the sclerotia, which can reduce the number of spores released and may decrease infection in the field.  But, as in soybeans, this disease is difficult to manage.  Dense stands and weedy fields create perfect conditions for this pathogen to thrive.  However, a few alfalfa varieties exist with moderate resistance, and may be considered in fields with a history of this disease.  Research in other states has shown that some fungicides are efficacious against this disease when applied in the fall (Table 1).  We have limited options for fungicides labeled for white mold on alfalfa in NY, including Pristine and Endura.  However, fungicide applications for this disease may not be cost-effective (always follow label instructions, restrictions, and pay attention to post-harvest intervals).  Herbicides, such as Paraquat, have also been used to reduce weeds and open up the canopy to increase air-flow lessen disease development.

Fungicide efficacy trial results against white mold and stem rot in alfalfa.

Once the weather warms up and fields dry out, this disease will likely halt, and some infected stands may recover and produce sufficient yields in subsequent years.  But, keep in mind that those sclerotia will remain in the soil for many years waiting for perfect conditions to start the disease cycle again.

Interested in keeping up to date with pest and disease issues identified statewide by CCE and IPM staff?  Subscribe to the NYS IPM Weekly Pest Report.

Wet Spring Can Impact Forage Quality for Entire Year

Fay Benson – SCNY Cornell Regional Dairy Team

Once again we find ourselves watching the calendar days flipping by and continued wet weather keeping farmers from working in the field. If the wet weather continues to keep farmers from planting their corn and soybeans, it prevents them from a timely harvest of first cutting hay crops. This not only reduces the quality but sets the stage for the rest of the hay harvest though out the summer. For those farmers that purchased crop insurance on their corn or soybeans they can sleep a little easier at night. This is because they have options to leave fallow those fields that are too wet to plant or are drowned after they are planted by using the “Prevented Planting” or “Replant” options of their crop insurance policy.

A number of farmers I have interviewed claim their sole reason for buying crop insurance is for the prevented planting option which is available on corn and soybean policies. Prevented planting decisions should be made as you approach the final planting date for the crop. In New York, June 10th is the Final Planting Date for soybeans, and for silage and grain corn.

Replant payments

To receive Replant payments, you must have a loss of the lesser of 20 acres or 20% of the insured planted acres to qualify for a replant payment. Be sure to contact your crop insurance agent once you decide replant is needed. Do not destroy any evidence of the initial planting before reporting the loss to your sales agent.

Prevented Planting

Can be claimed as any insurable cause of loss that keeps you out of the fields prior to 6/10/2019, providing the cause is general in the area, and other requirements are met. If a farmer applies for prevented planting they will receive 55% of the crops guarantee for corn and 60% of the crop’s guarantee for soybeans. When signing up for crop insurance farmers have the option to increase their prevented planning coverage by 5% of their guarantee by paying a premium.

One added decision farmers will need to make this year is the possibilities of “Market Facilitation Program” payments being made by the government. If Prevented Planting is used those acres will have no bushels to apply for such payments.

If your planting is delayed or prevented due to an insurable cause, be sure to notify your crop insurance agent in writing within 72 hours of the final planting date for the affected crop.  Additionally, if you participate in Farm Service Agency (FSA) programs, it is important to report your prevented planting acreage within 15 calendar days after the final planting date for the crop in order to receive prevented planting acreage credit.

Weather Outlook – May 23, 2019

NOAA Northeast Regional Climate Center, Cornell University

Last week temperatures ranged within 2 degrees of normal for most areas; 2-4 degrees above normal in the Hudson Valley. Precipitation has ranged from a trace to over 2”. Base 50 growing degree-days ranged from 10 to 90.

GDD 48 - March 1 - May 22 GDD 48 - May 1 - May 22 GDD 50 - March 1 - May 22 GDD 50 - May 1 - May 22

Slight risk for severe storms today with the main threats being damaging winds and large hail. Seasonable to above-normal temperatures this week, but with unsettled weather for most days. Memorial Day should be dry.

Today thunderstorms are likely with the potential for severe storms with damaging winds and large hail, especially during the afternoon and evening. Temperatures will be in the mid 60s to 70s with muggy conditions. Overnight lows will be in the 50s, some 40s, with a chance of showers overnight into Friday.

Friday will become mostly sunny with cooler temperatures in the 60s to low 70s. Spotty showers are possible and windy conditions are expected. Overnight temperatures will be in the 40s to low 50s.

Saturday temperatures will be in the mid 60s to 70s with higher humidity and the potential for showers and thunderstorms. Overnight temperatures will be in the 50s to near 60, a few showers are possible.

Sunday highs will be in the mid 60s to near 80 with scattered showers possible. Overnight temperatures will be in the upper 40s to upper 50s.

Monday temperatures will be in the mid 60s to upper 70s with mostly dry conditions. Overnight temperatures will be in the upper 40s to 50s with showers possible overnight.

Tuesday highs will be in the 60s to lower 70s with showers possible. Overnight temperatures will be in the 50s.

Wednesday highs will be in the mid 60s to upper 70s with showers possible. Overnight temperatures will be in the 50s.

The seven-day precipitation amounts will range from ½” to over 2 ½” .

The 8-14 day outlook (May 30 – June 5) favors below-normal temperatures for a majority of the state. Above-normal precipitation is favored for the state.

Maps of 8-14 day outlooks:

National Weather Service watch/warnings map:

US Drought Monitor

Drought Impact Reporter:

CLIMOD2 (NRCC data interface):

Ideas for Dairies Dealing with Weather Challenges

From David R Balbian, M.S., P.A.S. – Area Dairy Management Specialist – Cornell Cooperative Extension – Central New York Dairy, Livestock and Field Crops

This extremely wet Spring has caused delays in the harvest of haycrop in our region. Most people have not harvested any haycrop, yet the crop has continued to mature with most grass fields in our 1st cut monitoring program exceeding 55% NDF, some even exceeding 60% NDF! There is little milk to be made with this forage. Additional grain will only help a little. This feed will put a lid on your herd’s ability to be productive. So, what to do? Here are some ideas to consider. They do not fit for everyone, as every dairy has their own unique set of circumstances to deal with. I simply put them out there for you to take into consideration to help maintain some economic viability with your operation.

  1. Skip over your grass fields (and maybe mixed stands). Harvest your alfalfa and perhaps your mixed stands. Separate this poorer haycrop when storing and utilize it for dry cows and perhaps older growing heifers. Be sure to rebalance diets.
  2. Utilize the 1st Cut Monitoring Update information that Kevin Ganoe sent to you yesterday. Find the fields that most closely match your geographic location to see where you stand. This info will help you to make these decisions.
  3. If you have a market for later cut dry hay and you can make dry hay & you can sell it, that is an option to consider to get some value out of this feed.
  4. Some of this late cut grass could perhaps be utilized as bedding.
  5. If you have a good inventory of Corn Silage and you must feed some of this poorer haycrop to the lactating cows, consider moving to a heavier C.S. diet. This will reduce the negative effects of this poorer haycrop on milk production.
  6. If you traditionally grow some corn for grain, consider diverting more of it to silage to allow you to reduce the amount of poor haycrop you may have to feed. Then feed more corn silage.
  7. If you have to feed some of this poor haycrop you may want to consider adding some digestible fiber sources to the diet such as soy hulls, brewers grain, citrus pulp, etc. This will add some cost. To get the milk response benefit you’ll need to replace some forage (the poorer haycrop forage) with these ingredients.
  8. Be sure to feed your grassy fields (when harvested) with Nitrogen to increase yields on subsequent cuttings and to increase its protein content. If this rainy weather continues, grasses will respond well to the additional Nitrogen. Connect with Kevin Ganoe for some specific advise on this. Store this separate from poorer quality feed and allocate it to you lactating cows.
  9. Work with your nutritionist to develop a plan that is specific for your operation  based on your situation and circumstances.
  10. Definitely harvest the high quality haycrop that you may have still out in the field FIRST, then plant your corn.

I am sure there are some other ideas that people may have to minimize the negative effects this late harvested haycrop can have on your milking herd. I simply put these out there for you to consider. I know they do not work for everyone, but perhaps a few or even one idea could be greatly beneficial. Remember, productivity is a primary factor linked to economic viability on the vast majority of dairy farms.

Weather Outlook – May 16, 2019

NOAA Northeast Regional Climate Center, Cornell University

Last week temperatures ranged from 2 to 8 degrees below normal. Precipitation has ranged from 1” to over 4”. Base 50 growing degree-days were less than 30.

GDD Base 48 Mar 1 - May 15 GDD Base 48 May 1 - May 15 GDD Base 50 Mar1 - May 15GDD Base 50 May 1 - May 15

Rain possible Thursday night into Friday, and some unsettled weather next week, but overall a much drier week with temperatures near-normal.

Friday will be in the 60s with showers, ending in the afternoon. Overnight temperatures will be in the 40s.

Saturday temperatures will be in the 60s and low 70s with dry conditions. Overnight temperatures will be in the 40s, a few showers are possible.

Sunday highs will be in the 60s to 70s with mostly dry conditions. Overnight temperatures will be in the 40s with showers overnight into Monday.

Monday temperatures will be in the 60s to 70s. Overnight temperatures will be in the 40s with showers possible overnight into Tuesday.

Tuesday highs will be in the 60s to low 70s with scattered showers possible. Overnight temperatures will be in the 40s.

Wednesday highs will be in the 60s to low 70s with scattered showers possible. Overnight temperatures will be in the 50s.

The seven-day precipitation amounts will range from ¼” to near 1 ½”.

The 8-14 day outlook (May 23-29) favors above-normal temperatures for all of NY, slightly favors above-normal precipitation for western NY and slightly favors below-normal precipitation for southeast NY.

Maps of 8-14 day outlooks:

National Weather Service watch/warnings map:

US Drought Monitor

Drought Impact Reporter:

CLIMOD2 (NRCC data interface):

Waterhemp Herbicide Resistance Tests: Preliminary results

Bryan Brown, New York State Integrated Pest Management
Collaborators: Antonio DiTommaso, Kathleen Howard, Mike Hunter, Jeff Miller, Scott Morris, Jodi Putman, Peter Sikkema, Mike Stanyard

Waterhemp seedlings in greenhouse
Bryan Brown is coordinating a project testing waterhemp for resistance to herbicides.

Last summer, several populations of waterhemp (Amaranthus tuberculatus) survived herbicide applications in western NY corn and soybeans.

Growers asked if these weeds are actually resistant to certain herbicides. If so, which ones? And are all populations of western NY waterhemp resistant to the same herbicides, or do they differ?

To answer these questions, we collected seed from these surviving weeds at three locations in NY, grew them in a Cornell University greenhouse alongside a population of waterhemp that we know is susceptible to herbicides, and then used a spray chamber to apply a range of herbicides and rates.

The herbicides we used were glyphosate (i.e. Roundup, WSSA Group 9), atrazine (i.e. Aatrex, WSSA Group 5), lactofen (i.e. Cobra, WSSA Group 14), and imazethapyr (i.e. Pursuit, WSSA Group 2). The WSSA groups represented here are the ones waterhemp has developed the most resistance to in other states. For each herbicide, we used five different rates. Each rate was applied to five waterhemp plants from each population. Following the methods of other studies, plants were sprayed when they were around 5” tall. BASF Agricultural Solutions and Valent USA LLC supplied some of the materials for this study.

We’ll be doing a final analysis three weeks after spraying. But here’s how the NY populations look after only one week. At the full labelled rates, glyphosate resulted in 50% control and lactofen resulted in 99% control. Atrazine and imazethapyr resulted in poor control, but waterhemp plants were larger than the maximum size stated on the label.

But it’s the comparison of our three NY populations to the susceptible population that determines resistance. Final control ratings will be done in two weeks, but initial results indicate that two NY populations are potentially resistant to glyphosate, three are potentially resistant to atrazine, none are likely resistant to lactofen, and two are potentially resistant to imazethapyr. So herbicides in WSSA Groups 2, 9, and 5 shouldn’t be solely relied upon to control this weed.

Since there were some differences between NY populations, we’ve shared each farm’s results with the participating growers so they can make the necessary changes to their management plans.

So if you haven’t seen it already, keep an eye out for waterhemp this year. It looks similar to other NY pigweeds, except that it’s completely hairless and it has separate male (pollen-producing) and female (seed-producing) flowering heads. (A video comparison may be found from American Agriculturalist.) Since it can travel in seed, feed, and equipment ­– make sure they’re clean. And think about trying out some new weed control options.

NNY Research Helps Farmers Select Corn for Local Conditions

People checking corn crop
Checking a past corn crop at Reedhaven Farm in Northern New York. Photo: NNYADP

The latest data from field research trials evaluating the opportunity to grow high-quality, high-yield corn under localized growing conditions are posted on the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program website at

About 65 percent of the approximately 144,000 acres of corn grown each year across the six northernmost counties of New York State is harvested as silage with 35 percent harvested as grain, largely to feed the dairy industry. Ethanol production also contributes to the demand for the regionally-grown corn.

“The importance of corn silage as a high yielding, high quality feed for dairy cattle continues to increase as farmers look to optimize feed value from their available acreage,” said project co-leader Thomas R. Overton, a professor of Animal Science  and director of the Cornell University CALS PRO-DAIRY Program, Ithaca, N.Y.

The 2018 trials’ data analysis includes standard measures of performance, including yield, moisture level, and standability as well as innovative techniques for forage quality evaluation for digestibility and milk production. The forage quality data for the 2018 report were collected and analyzed by the field and laboratory research team that included Cornell University faculty, field technicians, and Extension staff working in cooperation with three farm sites in Northern New York.

“As the seed industry introduces new corn hybrids to the market, field evaluation under regional growing conditions is critical to assist growers in selecting the hybrids best-suited to their farm,” noted project co-leader Joseph Lawrence, Cornell CALS PRO-DAIRY Extension Associate, Lowville, N.Y.

The researchers emphasize the need for growers to make hybrid selections based on how the hybrids have performed over multiple years, multiple locations and soils, and under varying weather conditions, and based on the mix of corn traits that best fit their individual farm business needs.

“Corn grain is a valuable commodity in its own right and a major contributor to any hybrid’s silage quality and yield. Grain evaluation trials are typically the first step in determining a hybrid’s value to a regional market,” said project co-leader Margaret E. Smith, professor of plant breeding and genetics at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.

Corn hybrid testing results for 2018 and recent past years are posted on the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program website at Funding for the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program is supported by the New York State Legislature and administered by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.  Participating seed companies submitted hybrids for evaluation, helping to defray a portion of the cost of the hybrid evaluations.