ST. ALBANS, Vt. — Thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS), farmers will gain more access to nutrient management decision-making tools through the University of Vermont (UVM) Extension’s goCrop software package.
UVM Extension agronomic and soil specialist Heather Darby originally developed goCrop in 2012. It is designed to help dairy and other livestock farmers develop, implement and maintain farm-based nutrient management plans (NMPs) to optimize on-farm and purchased nutrient applications, proactively addressing the soil health of their farm fields.
Darby and her team sought funding from the USDA-NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant Program to further address farmers’ interest in tools to increase on-farm nutrient use efficiency and decrease nutrient imports, thus maximizing cost savings and environmental benefits. The grant will add a Whole Farm Nutrient Balance Calculator to goCrop for farmers to analyze and manage nutrients entering a farm through feed and fertilizers and nutrients leaving the farm through crops and milk.
The grant also will include the addition of the USDA-NRCS Economic Cover Crop Calculator to goCrop. This tool will help farmers understand short- and long-term economic and conservation benefits of cover cropping methods.
Once these calculators are added, 10 livestock farmers in the northern Lake Champlain Basin will pilot the new features to ensure their effectiveness. The tools will be available in goCrop by 2018.
To date, more than 300 Vermont farmers have used goCrop to record and track soil, crop and nutrient data from the field through an easy-to-use mobile app. All information is stored in a cloud database system and may be accessed online to develop NMPs.
Research shows that farmers who use NMPs have reduced total fertilizer use, especially phosphorus, which is a nutrient of top concern in protecting water quality. They also implemented a number of conservation practices, including cover crops and reduced tillage, to protect natural resources.
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