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Impact of Alfalfa Snout Beetle on Dairy Finances in Times of Low Milk Prices

Elson Shields, Dept of Entomology – Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

It has been estimated that Alfalfa Snout Beetle costs NNY farmers $445 per cow (or per acre) per year or $44,500 per 100 cows (range $30,000-$60,000), once it has become established on the farm.  The cost estimates are broken down in the following paragraphs.  The Biocontrol Nematode solution to control alfalfa snout beetle currently costs $28 per acre plus application cost.  Research shows a single application provides multiyear control of alfalfa snout beetle. After application, biocontrol nematodes will also reduce the populations of wireworms and corn rootworm when the field is rotated to corn.

Initially, when alfalfa snout beetle move onto a farm, its presence is unnoticed for several years.  The farmer begins to notice a more rapid loss of alfalfa stands, and shortening of alfalfa stand life, requiring more frequent replanting of alfalfa fields or farming them as grass fields.  As ASB moves into additional fields, the farmer gradually begins to purchase more off-farm protein to offset the losses of high quality forages from alfalfa snout beetle.  It is often a decade after the initial infestation of alfalfa snout beetle that the farmer realizes the farm is no longer as profitable as it once was and the causes of this lost profitability is often misidentified.

The true cost of alfalfa snout beetle moving onto the farm can be separated into three distinct areas.  1)  The cost of alfalfa stand loss (stand establishment and loss of yield, 2)  The cost of the off-farm protein to replace the lost forage quality and 3)  Resulting impact on the farm CAFO plan from the increased phosphorus brought on the farm with the increased purchases of protein like soybean meal.  The following cost estimates do not include the impact on the farm CAFO plan.

1)  Cost of Stand Loss from Alfalfa Snout Beetle damage:

With the assistance of Ev Thomas, Oak Point Agronomics, Ltd, Mike Hunter, NNY CCE and Tom Kilcer, Advanced Ag Systems LLC, it was estimated that alfalfa stand loss from alfalfa snout beetle cost the farmer between $200-$400 an acre per year in a three cut 4 yr rotation system and $200-$500 per acre per year in a 4 cut – 3 yr rotation system.  The cost figure is a combination of establishment costs, loss of yield and fixed land costs.  The variation in cost is dependent on the speed of stand elimination by alfalfa snout beetle.  If stand is eliminated in a single year, the higher cost is appropriate and if the stand is eliminated over 2-3 years, the lower cost is appropriate.  A middle of the road figure would be $325 per acre per year.  Using the rule of thumb that one acre of forage feeds a cow for a year, stand losses from alfalfa snout beetle equals $325 per cow per year.

2) Increased Feeding Costs due to loss of high quality forage from Alfalfa Snout Beetle:

With the assistance of Ev Thomas, Oak Point Agronomics and Michael Miller, W.H. Miner Institute, using a diet of 30% forage & 70% corn, the cost of soybean meal to replace the lost alfalfa was estimated to be:

Situation 1:  Clear Seeded Alfalfa is lost and replaced to High Quality Grass (15% CP)

Extra Soy Cost in Diet = $9.30 per cow per month ($111.60 per cow per year).

100 cows = $930 per month or $11,160 per year.

Situation 2:  50% alfalfa and the alfalfa is replaced with High Quality Grass (15% CP)

Extra Soy Cost in Diet = $4.70 per cow per month ($56.40 per cow per year).

100 cows = $470 per month or $5,640 per year.

Situation 3:  Clear Seeded Alfalfa is lost and replaced to Ave Quality Grass (11% CP)

Extra Soy Cost in Diet = $16.80 per cow per month ($201 per cow per year).

100 cows = $2,010 per month or $20,100 per year.

Situation 4:  50% alfalfa and the alfalfa is replaced with Ave Quality Grass (11% CP)

Extra Soy Cost in Diet = $8.40 per cow per month ($100.80 per cow per year).

100 cows = $840 per month or $10,080 per year.

A middle of the road figure would be $10 per cow per month ($120 per cow per year) and 100 cows = $1,000 per cow per month ($12,000 per year) (range $5,640 – $20,100 per 100 cows per year).

This brings the cost of alfalfa snout beetle on the farm to $445 per cow per year (every year) and that cost is broken down in the following manner (Not accounting for the impact on the CAFO plan for the dairy).

Stand and Yield Loss:             $325 per acre (per cow) per year (range $200 – $500)

Extra Soy costs:                      $120 per cow per year (range $56.40 – $201)

Total:                                       $445 per cow per year (every year).

(100 cows  = $44,500, range $30,000 – $60,000)

Control of Alfalfa Snout Beetle with Biocontrol Nematodes:

Research has shown a single application of biocontrol nematodes in a field at a current cost of $28 per acre plus application costs will control alfalfa snout beetle for multiple years.  When the field is rotated into corn, research has also shown impact on wireworms and corn rootworm.  After 4 years of corn, research has shown that the biocontrol nematodes remain in the field at sufficient populations to provide continual control of alfalfa snout beetle.  Even with terrible milk prices a farmer cannot afford not to apply biocontrol nematodes.  (savings = $445 – $28 = $417 per acre (cow) or $41,700 per 100 cows).

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