Fields of Research
Creating farms of the future
Field Day at the UMass Amherst research farm in South Deerfield is an annual tradition for many Massachusetts farmers. What they saw this year, however, was far from customary: weedy-looking roadside grass that can heat homes, fields of gorgeous sunflowers that might power car engines, cows grazing under photovoltaic panels… Well, the cows were still a few fields away, but they will be moved soon, to see if they find the grass underneath the panels as tasty as the fare in the back pasture. But what if they don’t? This is, after all, a research farm, where scientists, extension specialists, undergrads, and graduate students make sure to check their assumptions.
There was much more to see and learn for the 150 farmers and guests who turned out in August to check out the latest in research conducted at the UMass Amherst farm at the base of Mount Sugarloaf. Hosted by the campus’s Center for Agriculture, Field Day tours included “Cropping Systems and Livestock,” “Zone Tillage and Soil Amendments for Vegetables and Grain,” and a survey of interesting vegetable crops.
On the energy tour, farmers heard from College of Natural Sciences Associate Dean Stephen Herbert about efforts to develop methods for dual use of pastureland for electricity generation. Extension crops specialist Masoud Hashemi and vegetable specialist Andy Cavanagh explained about growing sunflowers and canola for biodiesel fuel and burning corn to heat greenhouses. And what about those roadside weeds? Participants saw how farmers can transform hay-like switchgrass into pellets for heating homes… and farms.