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Lou Brown, Auglaize County

Addressing water quality in a distressed watershed

With new regulations — and the goal of improving water quality in Ohio — in mind, here is how some of Ohio’s livestock producers in different watersheds are addressing the situation on their farms.

We are in a distressed Grand Lake St. Marys watershed so we have been in this mode for a long time. We’ve added manure storage, we made our lagoon larger, and we put in two covered manure barns — one at the heifer farm and one at the main dairy — to get us enough storage to get through the winter months.

Conservation wise, we just finished putting in 150 acres of cover crops. We have been doing 100% cover crops on all of our corn silage ground, which is normally about 150 acres, for seven years now. The main crops we are using are oats and radishes, but we have used wheat, rye and ryegrass. We have had some fields in clover. We think using filter strips along all the streams and field buffers along all of the ditches is all a plus. We have quail buffers along the woods too. We put in a wetland in an area where we thought it would do the most good. With soil sampling, we have had a program back since the 70s. Now instead of every three years, we do it every two years.

One of the big things we saw this past year with our soil testing was that we reduced the phosphorus on our alfalfa ground by 10 pounds per acre over two years. On the corn silage ground we lowered phosphorus applications by six pounds per acre in two years. We are learning more about how much our corn silage and alfalfa are removing from the land.

With manure management, we are moving a lot of the manure out of our watershed to other farms that have not had much manure on them before. We run soil tests to make sure that the farms we are taking it to need the manure. We are also trading manure with neighboring farms that have not applied manure in the last 10 or 15 years and want manure back on their land. We soil test there too and it has been working out well. Almost all of our solid manure is being transported to other farms. We have seven or eight other farms we are working with, which totals over 1,000 acres in our nutrient management plan where we are able to apply manure.

I don’t consider it a problem to not haul manure on frozen ground. We know that is a problem for the environment and it is just common sense to stay off that ground. If you have too much manure, you just have to put in more storage or find someone else with storage they are not using. We have several holding ponds sitting empty around us on farms with no livestock anymore. They are perfectly good to use and you just have to make an agreement with those farms.

Putting up manure storage is very costly. It is expensive to build a covered manure barn. Some farmers are a step ahead of the game because they are the first in line to sign up. They may have the best chance of getting some funding. When 25, or 50 or 100 farmers sign up next year there is not going to be enough funding to get it all done.

Mother Nature is different every year and this year was the most challenging I think I have ever seen. Hopefully next year is better. When it is a wet environment, we get twice the manure, twice the water and it takes twice the straw to bed the animals. This year was a nightmare for trying to keep things clean.

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