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Eco-efficient Dairy Farm Management

Field management is an integral part of dairy farming. While crop and forage management are aimed at maximizing milk production, manure management is an unavoidable consequence. Studies have indicated that field-based activities may influence the environmental and economic sustainability of dairy farms, and may offset efforts made at the barn to reduce the environmental footprint.

Under the Dairy Agri-Science Cluster, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada scientists are conducting a comprehensive assessment of the environmental and economic implications associated with forage production, cropping sweet sorghum and sweet pearl millet as low-environmental cost silages, and manure management practices that maximize carbon sequestration and nutrient retention in the soil. This is being done through a combination of field trials in the Maritimes, Québec, the Prairies and Coastal British Columbia as well as through whole-farm computer modeling.

Preliminary results suggest that cropping alfalfa in pure stand improves forage digestibility (more milk per ton of forage), whereas cropping alfalfa in mixtures with grasses increases forage yields (more milk per cropped hectare). Sweet sorghum and sweet pearl millet show promise as high-yield crops on dairy farms in most areas where they have been tested. Results also indicate that applying dairy cattle manure preferentially to perennial crops on the dairy farm maximizes manure nitrogen use efficiency and carbon sequestration in the soil.

Along with the field results, the Integrated Farm System Model is being improved to simulate the economics and environmental footprint of Canadian dairy farms. This work will help Canadian dairy farmers use forages and manure resources in a more eco-friendly way.

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