Input Costs and Quality Feed: What’s Driving Dairy in 2022?

In the North East, silage farmers are trending towards efficiency with new practices.

When most people think of New England agriculture they envision cranberry bogs, apple orchards and, without a doubt, dairy farms. Dairy farming has been a staple in this region for generations with household names like Hood Milk and Cabot Cheese making their way onto millions of family dinner tables. Today, New England dairy farmers are dealing with almost two years of challenges brought on by the pandemic. With commodity prices high and demand ramping up as the economy continues to open, 2022 is not without its challenges.

What’s top of mind for most dairy farmers growing and sourcing feed are the cost of inputs, feed quality and continued supply chain issues. AgDaily echoed similar sentiments citing the top three major challenges for farmers would be input shortages, higher prices and supply chain issues.

These challenges are something Janette Veazey-Post knows all too well. Janette is the farm manager at Lamb Farms located in Oakfield, New York. While managing the multi-generational dairy operation, which farms around 13,000 acres of primarily corn and alfalfa to produce feed for their cows, Janette also advocates for sustainability and innovation in New England agriculture. When discussing the biggest challenges for dairy farmers heading into 2022, Janette said labor, inputs and quality of feed (silage) were her biggest areas of concern. It’s scary how much it costs to grow the feed,” she said. One strategy that Janette will be using going into next season is increasing her manure application on the farm. You have to make the most out of what you got. You really have to be forward thinking.” 

The addition of manure is one part of a multi-pronged approach to getting the most of her fields. Lamb Farms converted from conventional to strip-till over 7 years ago. Fortunately for Janette, phosphorus tie-up is not a major issue in most of her fields. Some fields have phosphorus tie-up,” she says, but typically we don’t have to worry about that.” However, many farmers still need to consider how to offset phosphorus tie up when applying inputs next season. Most are looking to incorporate additional options like manure or cut back on inputs where they can. Soil testing is key to understanding where they can back off and where they’ll need to supplement. However there is concern about providing the right amount of fertility to get the best yield and quality. 

40-to-60 percent of total operational input is the cost of feeding the animals, and that includes home grown forages such as corn silage and alfalfa.” 

Manure is one option many farmers use to help offset input prices. But this won’t necessarily reduce the need to obtain additional inputs to get the bushels needed for the next season. According to research by Andrew McGuire for most of the country, manure cannot supply more than 50% of the nitrogen and phosphorus needed by crops.”

Janette shares, We have to get better at what we’re doing. The more you can be efficient, the more gain you get.” This striving for efficiency is what led her to SOURCE®, Sound Agriculture’s soil microbial activator. SOURCE wakes up the microbiome, allowing microbes to fix more atmospheric nitrogen and unlock phosphorus that exists in the field. Lamb Farms trialed SOURCE in 2021 on 183 acres and plans on adding it next season as well. 

Jeanette added that it’s not necessarily all about yield though. Silage quality is also a huge driver in her decision making: We pick high digestibility silage varieties.”

It’s scary how much it costs to grow the feed. You have to make the most out of what you got. You really have to be forward thinking.

Chris Duffy of Duffy Ag runs a farm operation in Carlisle, Massachusetts, and is known for having some of the most authentic farming videos on YouTube. Chris’ high visibility on social media gives him a platform to share what a typical day as a New England farmer looks like. 

When asked about the biggest challenges for 2022 Chris said, In New England, it’s about land availability and inputs. In 2021 things overall were good, but we’re always battling for more yield off less acres. The future of New England farming is how you make more feed at better quality off less land.”

Chris echoed that the biggest concern of feed is digestibility. It’s all about the actual digestibility of that plant,” he said. Although many of the farmers in his area have tried BMR corn hybrids, which are typically marketed as the most digestible corn silage, Chris is skeptical. Some farmers who planted those hybrids were yielding 80% less than other silage varieties, although he admits improvements have been made. Higher digestibility can increase consumption, which must be offset with higher yields. When planting silage, farmers are focused on grain content and digestibility. There are other ways to impact digestibility outside of hybrid selection,” Chris said. Farmers can impact digestibility and quality by harvesting at the right time, monitoring moisture, and how they process the feed.”

Looking to the future of New England dairy, Chris says farmers will need to keep an eye on the inevitable regulations that will come. He predicts more restrictions on what goes into the digesters (a process that promotes the decomposition of manure), and that will have downstream effects on how farmers fertilize the field. 

However, some of the opportunities in 2022 and beyond are the utilization and efficiencies with regards to nitrogen, like using products such as SOURCE to get the most out of the soil. Recently Sound has been testing SOURCE for use with silage, with promising results. One study showed increases to overall yields by as much as 4.84 tons/​ac, while nutritional studies demonstrated a 3.4% increase in starch, 3.21% increase in neutral detergent fiber digestibility. These results are still preliminary, but they may indicate a path forward for silage farmers to get more bang for their buck.

In New England we have a lot of smaller farmers,” Chris said. Change is going to happen. And I know enough to get me in trouble, by learning from others and seeing their results.” 

What’s the big take away for the New Year? Chris says, Getting the most out of your soil is the future.” Chris is trialing SOURCE on his farm in 2022. 

To learn more about Lamb Farms visit their Facebook page at Lamb Farm.

To learn more about Chris Duffy follow him on Instagram or YouTube.

Recommended Reading