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

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Welcome to the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center Update, a quarterly message to keep stakeholders informed about Center research, accomplishments and activities. This Update features highlights from October, November and December 2015.

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New meadow fescue and red clover developed and released.

Dairy producers would benefit from grass and legume varieties having greater quality, yield, and persistence. USDFRC scientists have developed and released Hidden Valley meadow fescue and FF-9615 red clover to meet this need. Hidden Valley meadow fescue, developed by Michael Casler, has significantly greater fiber digestibility than other typically-used perennial grasses. It also possesses superior cold tolerance. Although intended for grazing-based systems, a producer could also harvest hay having exceptional quality. There have delays in bringing Hidden Valley to commercial production; it could be on the market by 2017 or 2018. FF-9615 red clover, developed by Heathcliffe Riday, has improved persistence and yield. It was commercially available beginning in 2015 through Allied Seed, LLC.


Using the Annual Phosphorus Loss Estimator (APLE) to estimate the environmental impact of agricultural phosphorus management on the farm.


Loss of phosphorus from farms can cause water quality problems that impact rivers, lakes, and reservoirs for recreation, industry, and drinking water. This non-point phosphorus pollution is a significant issue throughout the U.S., including the Chesapeake Bay, Florida Everglades, New York City drinking water reservoirs, and Lake Erie. Farmers, consultants, and policy makers need ways to determine how much P is lost from farms and which practices can reduce the loss. Computer models can help do that, but current models are either too complex for non-experts or are only simple risk assessment tools that cannot quantify P loss.

Consequently, at the USDFRC Peter Vadas developed the Annual Phosphorus Loss Estimator (APLE) as a tool that captures the quantitative value of complex models, remains user-friendly to reduce the expertise and training needed, represents current science, and is versatile enough to use on diverse farms, including cropland, pastures, and cattle lots.

The APLE tool has been downloaded by more than 600 farmers, consultants, Extension personnel, policy makers, and researchers in 48 states and 42 countries. APLE has been integrated into watershed models that are used worldwide to evaluate the impact of agriculture on water quality. APLE is being evaluated to help improve the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and has been recommended as a tool for Wisconsin water quality trading programs. Equations from APLE have been incorporated into policy-mandated Phosphorus Indexes (risk assessment tools) in Wisconsin and Arkansas, and APLE has formed the basis for new Indexes in Kentucky, Oregon, Washington, and Maryland. In all cases, APLE is filling the need for a robust, accurate, and user-friendly phosphorus loss assessment tool.

Condensed tannins in dairy forages can improve nitrogen use.

Nitrogen use efficiency for the dairy industry is a growing concern and priority. Reactive nitrogen often contributes to both air and water quality issues, and the excessive feeding of nitrogen as protein to dairy animals is expensive and inefficient. Consequently, pressure is growing to optimize dairy protein nutrition on the farm and limit the loss of nitrogen off the farm.

At the USDFRC, condensed tannins are being studied as one way to meet these objectives on dairies. Condensed tannins are able to bind to proteins which in turn decreases protein degradation during the ensiling process, decreases rapid protein degradation in the rumen, and decreases production of ammonia.

USDFRC scientists Wayne Zeller and John Grabber, along with collaborators at the University of Reading (see next paragraph), developed purification and characterization techniques to conclusively show that precipitation of a series of soluble proteins by larger-sized condensed tannins is more efficient than precipitation by smaller tannins. This may be important for determining what forages in the diets of dairy cows have the most positive impact on nitrogen use efficiency for dairy producers.

In November, the tannin work group hosted a two-week visit from longtime collaborator Professor Irene Mueller-Harvey from the University of Reading, UK. USDFRC researchers Wayne Zeller and John Grabber have been collaborating with her on developing and improving analytical techniques for condensed tannin analysis and on optimizing condensed tannin purification from a variety of plant sources. Future collaborations with Irene and her collaborators in Europe, focusing on analysis and application of tannins in agriculture, are also in current discussion with additional DFRC scientists.


The tannin work group and PPO/o-diphenol work group rekindled the collaboration with Forage Genetics, International beginning with the ‘Alfalfa Summit’ meeting at FGI on Aug. 31. Details on the progress and the paths forward for incorporation of the PPO/o-diphenol system into alfalfa and the upregulated production of condensed tannins in alfalfa were discussed. USDFRC scientists presenting at the meeting included Mike Sullivan, John Grabber and Wayne Zeller.

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The USDFRC participated in four technology transfer and outreach efforts at World Dairy Expo in Madison, WI on Sept. 29 to Oct. 3. First, the USDFRC is an organizing partner for the World Forage Analysis Superbowl, an event that encourages farmers to grow high-quality forage for dairy cattle. As such, the Center organized an educational seminar series that attracted more than 420 stakeholders and included Wayne Coblentz, Mary Beth Hall, Ken Kalscheur, and Paul Weimer as speakers. Second, the Center created an educational display, “Research discovers ways to enhance nitrogen, phosphorus, and carbon use on farms.”


Third, the USDFRC organized the “FFA Dairy Forage Quiz” which brought more than 800 students to the USDFRC educational display. This event was organized by Lori Bocher. Also volunteering were Mary Becker, Ursula Hymes-Fecht, Robin Ogden, and Jan Pitas. And fourth, Diane Amundson created a display, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” that highlighted the role dairy cows play in turning waste into milk, fertilizer and energy; this display was part of tours given to approximately 1,500 4th grade Madison area school children.



The USDFRC was well represented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Agronomy/Crop Science Society of America/Soil Science Society of America, held Nov. 15 to 18 in Minneapolis, MN. Three scientists participated in a symposium, “The value of condensed tannins in forages,” at which the following spoke: chemist Wayne Zeller, “Activity, purification, and analysis of condensed tannins;” soil scientist J. Mark Powell, “Effects of forage polyphenols on chemistry of ruminant excreta and fate of nitrogen in the environment;” and agronomist John Grabber, “Can forage tannins reliably improve protein and nitrogen utilization on confinement dairy farms?”


Also at this meeting agronomist Geoffrey Brink presented “Grass-legume mixture response to nitrogen source and application date.” And soil scientist Bill Jokela presented “Effects of low-disturbance manure application methods on N2O and NH3 emissions in a silage corn-rye cover crop system.”


In early November, rumen microbiologist Paul Weimer traveled to Brazil to speak at two meetings and to work with students and faculty at the Federal University of Mato Grosso. He presented “Relationship between feed efficiency of dairy cows and their ruminal environment: New advances in the knowledge of microbiology” at the 5th National Symposium on Dairy Cattle and the 2nd International Symposium on Dairy Cattle. And he spoke about “Ruminal microbiology applied to nutrition and health of dairy cows” at the 1st Brazilian Rumen Microbiology Symposium.


There were nine articles published in various agricultural trade journals during October, November and December. Link to copies of these articles, including:

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On Nov. 17, plant geneticist Michael Casler received the Crop Science Research Award from the Crop Science Society of America at the annual meeting of the CSSA, American Society of Agronomy, and Soil Science Society of America in Minneapolis, MN.


Wayne Coblentz, agronomist and dairy scientist at the Marshfield location, was notified that his article “Growth performance and sorting characteristics of corn silage-alfalfa haylage diets with or without forage dilution offered to replacement Holstein dairy heifers” in the November issue of the Journal of Dairy Science, was selected as an “Editor’s Choice” article. As such, it was featured on the journal’s home page and was freely accessible to all. Link to article.


In October, Anthony Johnson joined the USDFRC staff as a Biological Science Lab Technician in Michael Casler’s lab. A native of Sheboygan Falls, WI, Tony received a B.S. in Biological Sciences from UW-Milwaukee in 2011, and an M.S. in Natural Resources from Cornell University in 2015. Previously he worked as an ecological restoration technician at Applied Ecological Services, and he had an internship with the Bureau of Land Management.

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Rick Walgenbach, management agronomist and farm manager at the Prairie du Sac farm, has retired after 34 years of service with the USDFRC – 8 as a research agronomist and 26 as the farm manager. More about Rick’s years at the USDFRC.


Tucker Burch was hired as a Research Agricultural Engineer at the Marshfield location. Previously he had been working in the Marshfield lab as a Research Hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, heading a project to investigate the human health risk of spray-irrigating dairy manure in Wisconsin. As an ARS employee he will continue to research manure management, including microbiological issues related to manure and reducing costs/optimizing the value of manure. Tucker received his BS in Civil Engineering from Marquette University in 2009, and a PhD (also Civil Engineering) from the University of Minnesota in 2013. He is a native of Marshfield; in fact, he grew up on a farm adjacent to the Marshfield lab!

Geoffrey Brink, a Research Agronomist at the Center since 2002, was named Research Leader of the Dairy Forage Research Unit. He replaced the retired Richard Muck as the RL for that unit. As RL, he will supervise six scientists in addition to conducting his own research which focuses on improving the productivity, utilization, and quality of temperate grass pastures with emphasis on grazing-based dairy systems.