Northern New York Agricultural Development Program Press Releases

PRESS RELEASE: September 1, 2006
Contact: Everett D. Thomas, W.H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute, 518-846-7121x115

Quality vs. Quantity: Can Dairy Farmers Have Both?

Quality versus quantity � can North Country farmers have both when it comes to harvesting forage for their dairy cows. To learn if alfalfa and grass crops can be harvested with high quality and the highest possible yields, the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program is funding research at the W.H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute in Chazy, NY. Project leader and Miner Institute Vice President of Agricultural Programs Everett D. Thomas says, �Clearly, mowing closer to the ground will yield more forage. Quality is the issue. Dairy cows need high quality forage to produce milk.�

Miner Institute is evaluating the quality and yield of alfalfa and an alfalfa-grass mix cut at the currently recommended height of two inches compared to a four-inch height that�s common on many farms. An alfalfa-reed canarygrass forage mix is being field- and hand-harvested at both heights.

Thomas says, �First cut results certainly appear to support the shorter cutting height. Yields were significantly higher at 2 tons versus 1.7 tons per acre of dry matter with only a modest effect on predicted milk production per ton of alfalfa. Milk per ton was three percent higher for the four-inch cutting height, but milk produced per acre of forage was twelve percent lower. While it�s too soon to make a conclusion, the small increase in quality from the 4� cutting height wouldn�t seem to be worth the much larger decrease in yield.

The Miner Institute research staff analyzed the alfalfa and grass separately for both cutting heights and found very little difference in fiber digestibility. He says, �Based on the first harvest of this trial and a 2005 trial, I see no reason to mow higher than normal other than to avoid stones and field scalping.�

A low cutting height can scalp the soil, particularly on the uneven fields common to farms in the Northeast, and can impact alfalfa�s regrowth if the mower damages the crown of the plant. Thomas says evaluation of second and third cut harvests will indicate whether the lower cutting height had any effect on alfalfa or grass regrowth. A complete report is expected later this year.

The Northern New York Agricultural Development Program funds research and education outreach for Essex, Clinton, Franklin, St. Lawrence, Lewis and Jefferson counties. For more information, go online to www.nnyagdev.org