Exploring economically and environmentally viable northeastern US dairy farm strategies for coping with rising corn grain prices

L. T. Ghebremichael, T. L. Veith, P. E. Cerosaletti, D. E. Dewing, C. A. Rotz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


In 2008, corn grain prices rose $115/t of DM above the 2005 average. Such an increase creates tight marginal profits for small (<100) and medium-sized (100 to 199) dairy farms in the northeastern United States importing corn grain as animal feed supplement. Particularly in New York State, dairy farmers are attempting to avoid or minimize profit losses by growing more corn silage and reducing corn grain purchases. This study applies the Integrated Farm Systems Model to 1 small and 1 medium-sized New York State dairy farm to predict 1) sediment and P loss impacts from expanding corn fields, 2) benefits of no-till or cover cropping on corn fields, and 3) alternatives to the economic challenge of the current farming system as the price ratio of milk to corn grain continues to decline. Based on the simulation results, expanding corn silage production by 3% of the cultivated farm area increased sediment and sediment-bound P losses by 41 and 18%, respectively. Implementing no-till controlled about 84% of the erosion and about 75% of the sediment-bound P that would have occurred from the conventionally tilled, expanded corn production scenario. Implementing a conventionally tilled cover crop with the conventionally tilled, expanded corn production scenario controlled both erosion and sediment-bound P, but to a lesser extent than no-till corn with no cover crop. However, annual farm net return using cover crops was slightly less than when using no-till. Increasing on-farm grass productivity while feeding cows a high-quality, high- forage diet and precise dietary P levels offered dual benefits: 1) improved farm profitability from reduced purchases of dietary protein and P supplements, and 2) decreased runoff P losses from reduced P-levels in applied manure. Moreover, alternatives such as growing additional small grains on marginal lands and increasing milk production levels demonstrated great potential in increasing farm profitability. Overall, it is crucial that conservation measures such as no-till and cover cropping be implemented on new or existing corn lands as these areas often pose the highest threat for P losses through runoff. Although alternatives that would likely provide the largest net profit were evaluated one at a time to better quantify their individual impacts, combinations of these strategies, such as no-till corn plus a minimum-till cover crop, are recommended whenever feasible.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4086-4099
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of dairy science
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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