Agriculture: Precision Feed Management Program Expands

Agriculture: Precision Feed Management Program Expands

Beef cattle production in the NYC Watershed is a major agricultural enterprise which makes up 57% of the farms enrolled in the Watershed Agricultural Program, is a third of the total animal units, and takes many forms. While cow-calf production is the most common, stocker, backgrounder, grass-fed, freezer, finisher and dairy breed beef operations are all represented. Not surprisingly, the freezer beef business is expanding rapidly as a result of food supply concerns driven by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Compared to typical beef herds in the rest of the US, the herds in the NYC Watershed are relatively small. The size of the NYC Watershed beef industry is steadily increasing as many farmers slowly shift from dairy production to beef production. As a result, there is a significant opportunity to manage the nutrient mass balances on these farms to protect water quality in the NYC water supply system.

Given this, the newly initiated Beef Precision Feed Management (PFM) Program was created as a companion to our existing Dairy PFM Program. The program currently includes 18 active farms in the NYC Watershed. Beef PFM as a best management practice nearly doubles the number of animals enrolled in PFM, and further enhances the program’s capacity to protect water quality. The PFM planning team’s primary focus is to increase the adoption of ‘precision oriented’ management practices on the participating farms, such as routine laboratory analyses of their feeds, and matching those feeds to the appropriate groups of cattle.

Minimizing the overfeeding of nitrogen and phosphorus is key to the PFM Program, as they are the primary nutrients of water quality concern. The routine benchmark analyses utilized by PFM planners is an effective tool for assessing the feeding precision of the beef herd, and ultimately reducing nutrient excretions. Accurate determination of the body weights of cattle is critical for achieving the precision necessary for meaningful dietary analysis. Thus, fine-tuning the process of gathering weight data is a primary goal of planning staff.

It was learned early on by the planners that mineral supplementation was inadequate amongst beef producers, providing an opportunity to enhance their economic viability by growing animals more efficiently without overspending on unneeded feed inputs. To meet this need, the PFM team set out to create a mineral mix specifically designed to match the feeds produced by our beef producers. With the help of an independent nutritionist and the support of local feed mills, a customized mineral mix was formulated and brought to market in June 2022. This product meets the nutritional needs of their cattle, but most importantly protects water quality in the NYC reservoir system by providing a mineral mix without excess nitrogen or phosphorus. Beef Precision Feed Management in the NYC Watershed is truly a science-based win-win endeavor. Read more of the 2022 Annual Report here.

Program Stats:

  • 244 Active Farms
  • 145,000 Acres
  • 35 Educational Events
  • 1,875 Projected Cover Crop Acres