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USDA Funding Research to Aid Organic Dairy Farming

Cow's head (Agricultural Research Service, USDA)

(Agricultural Research Service, USDA)

A $2.9 million grant will fund a team led by researchers at University of New Hampshire in Durham studying ways to help organic dairy farmers produce and market their milk. The four-year grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will also support researchers at universities of Maine and Vermont, Cornell University, and on the USDA’s own staff.

One part of the project will investigate improving farm productivity by extending the grazing season. New federal standards require grazing on pasture at least 120 days a year, with 30 percent of cows’ intake coming from pasture. Extending the grazing season means keeping cows on pasture longer.

In the northeast U.S., however, the growing season is constrained by the long winters, as well as hot summers that can reduce the productivity of forage species. Researchers on this team will conduct plot trials of various combinations of forage species, including perennial ryegrass, white clover, sorghum-sudan grass, brassicas, and small grains.

A second part of the research involves adding value to milk through flaxseed supplementation. Cows on pasture produce milk rich with omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs), which are compounds sought after for their human health benefits. Organic dairy farmers need to ensure their cows can produce omega-3 fatty acids and CLAs throughout the year, not just when on pasture.

In this project, the researchers will test if supplementing cows’ winter forage with flaxseed will sustain omega-3 fatty acids and CLAs to meet year-round market demands for milk with these attributes. The team will also explore how flaxseed enhances milk production and improves cow health and reproductive performance.

University of New Hampshire brings to the project its own organic dairy — the Organic Dairy Research Farm. This farm will be the site of the research project’s animal feeding tests and plot trials of forage grasses.

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