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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 January, February, and March, 2016.

Extensive field sampling for airborne microorganisms in irrigated manure is used to estimate human health risk.

USDFRC researchers Mark Borchardt, Tucker Burch, and Susan Spencer recently completed a first-of-its-kind field study in which they collected and identified airborne microorganisms during 23 irrigation events in three years. The two major objectives of the study were 1) to identify weather variables most important for airborne pathogen transport during manure irrigation, and 2) to estimate the risk of illness for people by using microbial risk assessment computer models.

The study was part of a larger effort between the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection; the University of Wisconsin-Extension; and the UW-Madison. The Manure Irrigation Workgroup was composed of scientists, public health specialists, state agency experts, farmers, and others intended to bring a diverse set of perspectives to the issue. The workgroup met between July 2013 and September 2015 to explore benefits, concerns, and remaining questions associated with manure irrigation.


Link to a fact sheet about the USDFRC study.

Link to the Manure Irrigation Workgroup web site.


The USDFRC co-hosted the annual conference of the NIRS Forage and Feed Testing Consortium on February 23-25. The conference included a tour of the USDFRC; research updates from Geoff Brink, Heathcliffe Riday, Wayne Coblentz, and Mary Beth Hall; a presentation from Mary Beth Hall, "Measuring nonstructural carbohydrates and reference methods for NIRS;" and a presentation from Wayne Coblentz, "Protein and nitrogen fractions for forage analysis." 

On February 1-3, Mark Powell and Peter Vadas, along with ARS scientists from three other locations, met in University Park, PA, for a meeting of the Dairy Agroecosystem Work Group. At this meeting they focused on modeling the fate of reactive nitrogen in integrated dairy systems. The other three ARS locations participating are Kimberly, ID; University Park, PA; and St. Paul, MN. Shortly after this meeting, the Bushland, TX location joined the work group.

Also in February, Mark Powell traveled to Melbourne, Australia, to present "Gas emissions from dairy barnyards" at the 6th Greenhouse Gas and Animal Agriculture Conference. At the end of the conference, he reported on U.S. research related to mitigating greenhouse gases from livestock at the annual meeting of the Global Research Alliance (GRA) on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases. Dr. Powell was the U.S. Representative for the GRA-The Livestock Research Group.

On April 6-8, Mark Boggess visited the ARS Conservation and Production Research Laboratory in Bushland, TX, where he met with the staff to review programs and potential areas of collaboration. This lab has been recruited as the newest member of the USDA-ARS Dairy Agroecosystem Work Group. Dr. Boggess also traveled to Clovis, NM to meet with Robert Hagevoort, Extension Dairy Scientist for New Mexico State University; they reviewed programs, including the U.S. Dairy Education and Training Consortium, and met with a prospective NM dairyman representative for the USDFRC Research and Industry Stakeholder Committee.


Winter is a time for farm meetings, and it showed in the number of presentations given by USDFRC scientists in January, February, and March.

Geoff Brink: American Forage and Grasslands Council meeting, "Performance and economics of rearing dairy heifers on pasture versus confinement"; Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service Conference, "Organic dairy nutrition with grazing"; and Heart of Wisconsin Grazing Conference, "Management practices to improve pasture productivity and quality."

Wayne Coblentz: Wisconsin Custom Operators, the Professional Nutrient Applicators Association of Wisconsin, and the Midwest Forage Association, "Double cropping options to stretch forage yields"; Minnesota Winter Forage Meetings, "Double cropping options to stretch your forage yield" and "Dairy slurry application on alfalfa"; and the Virginia Tech Area Dairy Conferences, "Key components to making baleage."

Mary Beth Hall: Virginia Tech Nutrition Cow College, "Right-quality versus high-quality forages" and "Protein and carbohydrate interactions in rumen fermentations"; and the Dairy Focus 2016 meeting, "Making or breaking rations with forage digestibility" and "On-farm evaluation of manure."

Heathcliffe Riday: Northeast Pasture Consortium, "New traits and improvements in old traits in forage legumes."

Paul Weimer recorded a webinar, "Megasphaera elsdenii and milk fat depression: A 'good bug' gone bad?" as a webinar for (stakeholder group interested in lipid metabolism in livestock animals). And he gave two presentations at UW-Madison: "Ruminal content exchange effects on bacterial community composition and subsequent ruminal introductions of Megasphaera elsdenii" and "The ruminant-microbe symbiosis."

Mark Powell also appeared on campus: "Feed-cows-manure-environmental linkages in dairy production systems" at Michigan State University; and at UW-Madison, "Dairy manure impacts on Wisconsin's soils, air, and water: Reflection on 20 years of research"; "Nutrient cycles in mixed crop-livestock production systems"; and "Agricultural greenhouse gas mitigation: Global initiatives and measurement from dairy production systems."

There were nine articles published in various agricultural trade journals during January, February, and March, including:

Link to copies of these articles.

Heathcliffe Riday was selected to receive a Citation of Excellence related to his service as an Associate Editor for Crop Science. And Peter Vadas was selected to receive a Citation of Excellence related to his service as an Associate Editor for the Soil Science Society of America Journal.


In February, Michael Stanek began his duties as the new management agronomist/farm manager at the Prairie du Sac farm. Mike is a native of Wisconsin with a BS in Resource Management and an MS in Agriculture. He previously worked as a Sauk County soil and resource conservationist; a Dodge County soils and crops Extension agent; and an independent agronomy consultant. Mike is looking forward to using his skills in precision agricultural systems and technologies at the USDFRC farm.


Also in February, Gary Flock began his duties as a mechanic at the Prairie du Sac farm. A native of Cashton, WI, he has mechanical experience with agricultural equipment, heavy equipment, and over-the-road fleet vehicles. For the past 14 years he worked for the Army at Fort McCoy, WI, as a heavy equipment mechanic and forklift operator.


In March, Charlene Pierson joined the support staff in Madison. Charlene is a native of Texas and graduated with an MBA from Keller Graduate School of Management. Her government career has included 6 years active duty as a diesel mechanic, 3 years in the Colorado National Guard as a human resources specialist, and 2.5 years as a human resources assistant for the Army.

Also in March,Bryan Kloosterboer left the USDFRC after 4 years as a part-time student employee and 9 months as an IT Specialist. Bryan took a job with Forte Research Systems.


On January 21, 14 employees of the USDFRC volunteered a total of 35 hours of work in honor of the Martin Luther King Day of Service. The employees worked at the Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin, a distribution center that works with grocery stores and food processors to collect their unused food and distribute it to local food pantries. According to the food bank, the value of their volunteer time equates to meals for 2,275 people. Participating were Mary Becker, Jon Bleier, Lori Bocher, Geoff Brink, Julie Grogan, Terry Gureno, Rebecca Heidelberger, Tony Johnson, Lisa Koch, Kris Niemann, Chris Odt, Laurie Reinhardt, Michael Sullivan and Lila Walters.