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 PD-Arrow-Small e-Leader 
 April 2015
 In this issue:
  • Progress of the Farm Businesses: Preliminary Results from the 2014 Dairy Farm Business Summary
  • Farmer emergency response to severe weather study
  • Even in the rain
  • 2015 Dairy Environmental Systems and Climate Adaptation conference and tours

Spring Runoff

By Karl Czymmek

A couple of days ago, a farmer, some local CCE and SWCD folks and I visited a farm neighbor who noticed their well water became discolored and smelled like manure shortly after the weather warmed up last week. The warmer temperatures caused the last snow to melt and water along with recently applied manure moved off a nearby crop field. Though we do not have hard proof, this could explain what the neighbors noticed in their well. The neighbors were struggling to keep their young children safe and to figure out how to shower, wash clothes and brush teeth as they are now uncertain about the safety of their water now and going forward. The visit and discussion was obviously an uncomfortable situation for both the farmer and the neighbor. Manure had been spread at that location before, and no one noticed changes like this. Fortunately, the parties are working together to resolve the issue and to try to make sure this does not happen again. Unfortunately, I noticed some things that I have seen before on similar visits.

Fresh manure and spring runoff are high risk for causing problems. Almost every spring, I hear about and sometimes become involved in reviewing situations like the one described above. One issue is the odor of fresh manure seems to travel into groundwater with water flow, especially if the soil is shallow over fractured bedrock. Fresh, odorous manure makes contamination all the more noticeable if it gets into a well. Often in these situations, the well water smells like manure and takes on a discolored look (yellow or brownish).
Another concern, especially this time of year is for recently applied manure to run off fields and cause discoloration or foaming in surface waters. In both situations, the common them is freshly applied manure just before significant runoff occurs. Sometimes it is snowpack melt off, sometimes heavy rain, sometimes both. While these conditions can happen any month of the year, they seem most likely to occur in February, March or April.

Clearly, no one goes out to apply manure with the intention of creating a runoff problem. I commonly hear farms say they did not want to apply in these conditions, but the storage was getting full and they had to spread. Regardless of the amount of storage available, farms need to find ways to keep storage levels down coming into spring thaw/rainy periods, or find a neighbor who is willing to share storage until conditions improve. This may even mean more applications occur earlier in the winter to save space for deep cold or wet periods later on. Plan further ahead: if there are some open periods in late summer before corn silage, this is a much safer spreading window from a runoff standpoint if you can do it without upsetting the neighbors. There will be more information on what field conditions producers can look for over the coming months.

As I write, another shower is passing through the eastern finger lakes region. Many streams are nearing bank full height and crop fields are saturated with water. Conditions at your farm may be drying out by the time you read this, but fields can get wet again this spring, and if they do, it is a great time for crop and manure managers to get out and look at fields. The best time to see how water runs off the surface of fields is when water is actually running off. Often the only way we get this observation is when we get caught trying to finish a field activity like planting. I suggest that you intentionally visit fields when soils are saturated and water is flowing to see firsthand how the water is moving and where. Where does ponding occur? Where does enough water collect to start cutting into the soil surface and forming ruts, or worse? What parts of a field floods first? Are there rock outcrops or rocky zones indicating shallow soils present in the field or nearby? Does water flow into low spots and then seep into the ground? These are places to avoid manure application the next time around when conditions are high risk. Ideally, stay off crop fields altogether just before and during spring thaw conditions.

The long, slow snow melt period that much of the state experienced in March this year was probably lower risk than we had in 2014 conditions, but tankers have been out this past week, even in the wet conditions and with rain in the forecast. The dairy industry will benefit by continuing to work hard to improve results in relation to manure applications. Getting more information about how water acts on your fields is one more important step in that direction and can help improve manure management decisions next year. Get out to your fields, even in the rain.

A better understanding of high risk situations, managing storage to get manure out when the risks are lower and reduce the situations where we are forced to spread in marginal conditions will help this industry to move forward. One way to get better on your farm is to start building your knowledge of how water behaves. This a new way to view your fields. Get out there and look: especially in the rain.

Progress of the Farm Businesses: Preliminary Results from the 2014 Dairy Farm Business Summary

By Jason Karszes

Over the last three months, many farms across the state have completed the Dairy Farm Business Summary Analysis for 2014. While additional farms continue to complete the summary for 2014, the progress of the same 106 farms from 2013 to 2014 can be analyzed.

During 2014, these farms continued to grow, increasing herd size by 37 cows to 765 milking and dry. Milk per cow was unchanged, averaging 25,655 pounds per cow. The number of worker equivalents utilized on the farm increased by 1.15. With the increase in the number of worker equivalents, the labor efficiency across these farms fell by 2%, with the average milk sold per worker equaling 1,116,673.

The record high milk prices in 2014 resulted in an average net milk price of $24.62 per cwt., an increase of $3.71 per cwt. Beef prices have also been quite strong and cattle revenue increased $0.33 per cwt.

With the increased revenue, there was also increased pressure on costs to operate the farm. Total farm operating costs increased $0.91 per cwt., with increase in hired labor costs ($0.19), purchased grain ($0.23), and land and building maintenance ($0.10) generating most of the increase. Total farm operating costs averaged $20.53 per cwt for 2014.

Profits per cow increased 82% from 2013, with the average increasing to $1,678 per cow without appreciation. Rate of return on all capital with appreciation increased to 16.8%. Debt per cow decreased slightly falling from $3,577 to $3,541. Farm net worth increased by 20.4% during the year. With the increased earnings, these farms increased their working capital position to 30% of total farm operating costs, positioning themselves to better absorb any decrease in earnings that may arise in 2015.

The Dairy Farm Business Summary & Analysis Program continues to accept new farms participating for 2014. If you are interested in participating in the DFBS, please contact your local extension agent or visit the following website:

2015 Dairy Environmental Systems and Climate Adaptation conference and tours
  • July 29 – 31, 2015
  • The Statler Hotel, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

For more information, visit or email

This 2-day regional conference and 1-day tour will feature a unique opportunity to learn from more than 40+ speakers about emerging dairy housing and manure management systems in conjunction with regional climate trends and adaptation strategies for the Northeast and Upper Midwest US, and to visit the beautiful Finger Lakes region of New York.

The conference will feature multiple tour options showcasing on-farm integrated waste handling/treatment systems and on-farm climate adaptation strategies. The synergistic nature of these two topic areas is sure to expose creative solutions to the most pressing of today's dairy environmental challenges.



Farmer emergency response to severe weather study

In response to recent severe weather events throughout New York State, a group of Cornell faculty are working on a project investigating the resilience of NY farmers to impactful weather. This project aims to strengthen agricultural resilience through improving emergency response and preparation to severe weather events. A central part of this project includes understanding how farmers across the state have dealt with these events in the past as well as learning their thoughts on improvements that can be made in the future.

If you have experienced the effects of these weather events and are willing to participate in a brief focus group, contact Trevor Partridge at or by phone at (315)558-2815. Focus groups are being held throughout the state, and will not exceed 2 hours.


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