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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Madison, Wisconsin » U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center » Archives » Newsletters and Research Summaries » Updates/Newsletters » Autumn 2016 Newsletter

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Welcome to the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center (USDFRC) Update, a quarterly message to keep stakeholders informed about Center research, accomplishments, and activities. This Update features highlights from September through November 2016.

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In January, Microbiologists Paul Weimer and Garret Suen (University of Wisconsin-Madison) will begin a long-term trial to determine if early dosing of calves with rumen fluid from high- and low-milk production efficiency cows results in (1) differential growth, growth efficiency, rumen papillae development, and rumen microbe community composition prior to lactation; or (2) differential milk production efficiency and rumen microbial community composition during lactation. Recent research by these scientists showed that when the rumen contents of cows with low- or high-feed efficiency traits were exchanged, feed efficiency in those cows changed accordingly for a short time until the rumen microbial community composition reverted back to its original state. Because the microbial communities of grown cows cannot be changed permanently, this study will determine whether or not favorable communities can be established by manipulation soon after birth.

Dairy Scientist/Agronomist Wayne Coblentz completed another trial on baleage showing that an oxygen-limiting barrier in the plastic wrap had little effect on silage fermentation or post-ensiled nutritive value compared to a commercial plastic wrap managed in an identical manner. Previously the concept of inserting an oxygen-limiting barrier into commercial silage plastic wraps has been evaluated, yielding mixed and/or inconclusive results. The objective for this study was to maximize the challenge to a commercial polyethylene bale wrap, or the identical wrap containing an oxygen-limiting barrier, by using minimal plastic (4 layers) and then extending storage periods for as long as 357 days. An additional challenge to the integrity of the plastic was created by baling alfalfa-mixed grass forage at an ideal moisture for baled silage (47.5%), or at a much drier moisture concentration (36.1%). Overall, the quality of the silage was primarily influenced by initial bale moisture, with the silage baled at the ideal moisture being more extensively fermented. From a nutritive standpoint, the loss of nutrients due to the ensiling process was modest and similar across all bales within this study. It remains unclear when, or under what conditions, the concept (and additional cost) of an oxygen-limiting bale wrap can be justified, Coblentz concluded.

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World Dairy Expo

On October 4-8, 2016, the USDFRC carried out several outreach activities at World Dairy Expo in Madison, WI, an international trade show that attracted 75,000 people from 100 countries in 2016. Lori Bocher designed an educational display, “50 Years of Dairy Forage,” to coincide with the show’s 50th anniversary celebration; she organized an FFA Dairy Forage Quiz educational event that attracted 800 FFA students; and she organized 7 educational seminars for the Dairy Forage Seminar Stage of the World Forage Analysis Superbowl that reached 435 producers, industry reps and ag news media reps. The USDFRC also worked collaboratively with the NIRS Consortium to help the organization present educational materials about forage analysis. Also at World Dairy Expo, on October 4, Dairy Scientist Mary Beth Hall presented a seminar, “What manure evaluation can tell us about cows and rations,” to 65 producers, industry reps, and ag media reps at the Dairy Forage Seminar Stage.


Dairy Agroecosystem Work Group

On October 17-19, the USDFRC hosted a meeting of the ARS Dairy Agroecosystems Work Group (DAWG). The meeting included a tour of the USDFRC research farm facilities, DAWG task group reports, and updates on research being conducted at the 5 ARS locations participating in DAWG (Kimberly, ID, St. Paul, MN, Bushland, TX, Madison, WI, and University Park, PA). Soil Scientist Peter Vadas organized the event, and the following from USDFRC participated: Mark Boggess, Tucker Burch, Wayne Coblentz, John Grabber, Ken Kalscheur, J. Mark Powell, and Kristan Reed

Internships and Training

This past summer, three people enhanced their scientific knowledge thanks to USDFRC mentors. Microbiologist Paul Weimer trained a PhD student from the University of Nevada-Reno in methods of DNA isolation, 16S amplicon generation, DNA library preparation, and Illumina sequencing.

Plant Geneticist Michael Casler hosted a student intern from the Madison Area Technical College as part of the Research Experience for Undergraduates program funded by the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The student helped collect 30,000 switchgrass samples from the field, extract DNA from them, and analyze them for winter hardiness.

Casler also hosted a high school science teacher who was participating in the Research Experience for Teachers program funded by the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center and the Wisconsin Energy Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The teacher’s research project was to analyze genetic data from cross-bred switchgrass plants in an effort to determine which genes are associated with delayed flowering time.



On September 13, Agronomist Geoffrey Brink gave a grazing research update to 25 county Extension and NRCS personnel at the Team Forage and Grazing In-Service Training in Marshfield, WI.  

On October 28, Agronomist John Grabber presented “Alfalfa interseeded into corn as a dual-purpose cover and forage crop” to about 50 faculty, staff and students at Penn State University, State College, PA. He gave the same talk on October 31 at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.

On November 9, Soil Scientist Peter Vadas gave a presentation, “Quantifying the Impact of Seasonal and Short-term Manure Application Decisions on Phosphorus Loss in Surface Runoff,” to about 40 researchers, educators and students at the Soil Science Society of America annual meeting in Phoenix, AZ.

On November 10, Dairy Scientist Geoffrey Zanton gave 2 presentations at the Penn State Nutrition Workshop in Grantville, PA. “Balancing rations to optimize milk components” was presented at the general session to more than 400 consulting nutritionists and affiliated industry professionals; and “Amino acid nutrition beyond methionine and lysine for milk protein” was given at a workshop for 70 attendees.

On November 10-11, Soil Scientist J. Mark Powell attended the Global Research Alliance/Croplands Research Group meeting, including a joint session with the GRA/Integrated Research Group, in Phoenix, AZ. Participants focused on aligning their work with the new GRA Strategic Plan for 2016-2020 and also on GRA flagship projects. The GRA, with 46 member countries, is focused on research, development, and extension of technologies and practices that will help deliver ways to grow more food (and create more climate-resilient food systems) without growing greenhouse gas emissions.

There were 3 articles published in various agricultural trade journals September through November:

Link to copies of these articles.

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State of the Center All-Staff Meeting

Center Director Mark Boggess hosted an all-staff meeting and gave his “State of the Center” address on November 3. He gave an update on staffing changes at the USDFRC and at the ARS national office; spoke about the ARS Grand Challenge and how the Dairy Agroecosystem Work Group (started by the USDFRC) is being used as a positive model for how Grand Challenge initiatives can be organized; and reported that one 5-year (2016-2021) CRIS plan was written and approved in 2016 (Improving nutrient use efficiency and mitigating nutrient and pathogen losses from dairy production systems) and two more will be written in 2017.

New Hires

In November, Alison Duff joined the USDFRC in a newly created position as a Resource Ecologist at the Prairie du Sac farm. Her main focus will be to restore cropland and margins that have suffered encroachment by unwanted plants and to conduct more landscape-scale research regarding whole farm ecological systems and environmental impacts. Duff is a native of Bottineau County, ND, just 20 miles south of the Canadian border where her family farms on 400 owned and 1600 rented acres. In 2002 she earned a BS in Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior from the University of Minnesota. An MS in Land Resources and a PhD in Environment and Resources were earned from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2006 and 2014. She previously worked for the International Crane Foundation and the Healthy Grown Potato Program. Duff has also served as a member of the USDFRC Research and Industry Stakeholder group.

Also in November, Derek Bickhart joined the USDFRC as a Research Geneticist (animals). A native of New Jersey, he received a BS in 2004 from Fairfield University (CT), and an MS and PhD in Genetics and Genomics from the University of Connecticut in 2008 and 2010. Bickhart is no stranger to ARS. After receiving his PhD he worked as a postdoctoral fellow in the USDA ARS Bovine Functional Genomics Laboratory in Beltsville, MD, and later he was hired as a Research Geneticist at the USDA ARS Animal Genomics and Improvement Laboratory in Beltsville. His research at the USDFRC will focus on assembling and characterizing the genomes of the commensal microbial communities of the cattle rumen, and on identifying host-specific factors that contribute to microbial profile changes.

Dorene Hensler, a Secretary at the USDFRC since 2006, left Madison for a job as a Program Specialist, providing support for grants and agreements, with the U.S. Forest Service at the Stanislaus National Forest Headquarters in Sonora, CA.