Improving pest management to expand adoption of intercropping alfalfa and corn for Wisconsin dairies

PI: Mark Renz

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Renz is a professor of agronomy and extension specialist at UW–Madison. The goal of his research is to improve the management of invasive plants in natural areas and weeds in perennial agronomic systems.

Postdoc: Md Rayhan Shaheb (pictured above) recently completed a postdoctoral research scholar position at The Ohio State University, where he designed and conducted research on soil management and crop production systems. His research interests include crop productions and cropping systems analysis, soil, water and nutrient management, agriculture, integrated farming system research, food and nutritional security and crop modeling.

Establishing alfalfa by interseeding into a high-yielding corn silage companion crop can increase yields and profitability of forage production on dairy farms. Additionally, this practice reduces the risk of nutrient and soil loss due to living cover being present in fields, both during and after corn production. Adoption was previously hampered by unreliable survival of alfalfa underneath corn. Recent research has identified that annual grasses, alfalfa foliar diseases and potato leafhoppers are the primary reasons for poor alfalfa establishment. While research in Wisconsin has identified pesticide treatments for ensuring good establishment, added cost and negative impacts from extensive agrichemical use deters adoption. Knowledge of thresholds where pesticides benefit establishment are not known. We propose to determine what levels of annual grass weeds, potato leafhoppers, and alfalfa foliar injury reduce establishment of interseeded alfalfa. Experiments will be conducted at Arlington, Prairie du Sac and Lancaster research stations where a wide range of pest levels will be imposed. Relationships between alfalfa survival and pest levels will be determined and validates across six on farm demonstrations. Results will be disseminated to stakeholders to improve pest management and adoption of this practice. At the conclusion of the study, we will survey stakeholders and producers to determine the impact of this project and identify additional obstacles that prevent adoption of this system on Wisconsin dairy farms. This project will aid the adoption of more sustainable forage production practices that will limit environmental impacts while enhancing farm productivity and profitability.

Publication in Agronomy for Sustainable Development – August 2021

Damon Smith