Guy Choiniere is an organic dairy farmer in Highgate. He has divided up his land into paddocks, so he can rotate the herd onto fresh grass every day. This accomplishes two goals; fresh feed for the cows, and a rest for the used paddock. Because the health of the soil, he says, is the key to the quality of his milk.
"The cows are experts at converting the nutrition from the grass into the milk in her udder. And that is the benefit the consumer will get is when the better job the farmer does with their feed and really the soil, the better product they will get out of the cow," Choiniere said.
Which is why four years ago, Choiniere tried something recommended by the UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture; an unusual way to boost the soil's health by helping de-compact it from the weight of the cows. The secret? Giant radishes.
"The thought process behind the radishes is to break surface compaction caused by the animals being on the pasture and over a year it causes quite a bit of compaction. And with the radishes, they burrow in 6 to 8 inches which is perfect to break up the surface compaction that cows cause," Choiniere explained.
This is much less expensive than other methods that include tilling up the land and replanting grass.
He spreads the radish seed among the animals, so they can press it into the ground as they graze. They will eventually nibble on the radish leaves, too.
Reporter Judy Simpson: So, we are talking about radishes, but it really could be anything that is new to talk about improving your pasture constantly improving what you are doing maybe making it easier, more cost-effective?
Guy Choiniere: Right, you are right. Radishes are just part of the program.
And Choiniere has added a new twist, putting rye grass seed in with the radish seed. When the radish burrows a hole, the rye grass can germinate providing even more feed for the cows.
The radishes planted in mid-July are still pretty small. Choiniere says this dry weather hasn't helped, but come September first, they should reach their full size.
Simpson: So Guy, how large will the radishes be?
Choiniere: The radish will get quite large if you give them enough time. If you give them up to 8 weeks I have seen them up to 12 inches long and three to four inches in diameter... and when you pull them out, if you can pull them out, you can put your fist in the hole... and what stays in the hole will rot and create a lot of organic matter and actually is great food for the soil.
Last year there was a bumper crop of giant radishes at Choiniere's. And while most of them were left to decompose in the soil, you can eat them as well.
"Very edible," Choiniere said. "No problem you put one on the table it will last you for a week."
According to the UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture, there are probably close to 50 Vermont farms now using the so called tillage radish, trying to take advantage of new ideas that cost less time and money.
Choiniere plants about 10 pounds of seed per acre which costs about $25-$30 an acre.
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