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Nutrient management & Water quality



Properly applying manure on frozen ground

By Amanda Meddles, Ohio State University Extension program coordinator in environmental management

Livestock producers across Ohio and the Midwest have been unable to apply manure this fall and early winter due to saturated field conditions. Most livestock farmers are really pressed for manure storage room. Waiting for frozen ground to apply manure is likely to be their only available option.

Impacts to water quality

Decisions about spreading manure on frozen and snow-covered ground are critical to minimize water quality impacts. Now is not the time to shirk on proper application methods. Constant changes in weather are typical of winters in Ohio, which increases the potential for manure to move with surface run-off. Run-off can lead to polluting water resources including streams, waterways and wells. Not only does this impact water quality, but the nutrients are lost and not available for the next year’s crop.

Best Management Practice guidelines

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Practice Standard 633, Waste Utilization outlines the Best Management Practices to reduce the potential of manure moving off-site.

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Soil sampling key in controlling phosphorus loss

By Matt Reese

Improving water quality starts with getting an accurate soil sample. This is a crucial step in avoiding costly over application of phosphorus and environmental challenges in the coming years. This was an important part of the discussion surrounding the improvement of water quality in Lake Erie at the Soil and Water Conservation Society this week at the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

“If phosphorus is surface applied, chances are that phosphorus levels are much higher than indicated in an 8-inch soil sample,” said Kevin Elder, with the Ohio Department of Agriculture. “The surface may test very differently than the typical 8-inch sample. When you’re soil sampling, you should do a surface test too.”

Having the proper information is vital for the implementation of the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Program that will be increasingly important for farmers in the future. Elder outlined the 4R concept that promotes using the right fertilizer source, at the right rate, at the right time, with the right placement.

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No-till is a solution and a problem for phosphorus loss

By Matt Reese

It seems that, with regard to the phosphorus problems in Lake Erie and other bodies of water, no-till is part of the solution and part of the problem.

Lake Erie was once known around the world for its pollution and water quality problems, but in the 1970s, farmers and industry teamed up to clean up the Lake. This was done by dramatically reducing the total amount phosphorus, much of it attached to soil particles. For farmers, conservation tillage and no-till were an important part of the solution. No-till reduces soil erosion, which reduces the amount of phosphorus attached to soil particles that are leaving the field.

The improvements in Lake Erie were amazing, but, unfortunately the problem is back, and this time it is the more vexing form of dissolved phosphorus. To complicate matters, no-till actually may facilitate the loss of dissolved phosphorus.

“There is no easy answer for this,” said Andrew Sharpley, a leading expert on phosphorus from the University of Arkansas.

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Research takes broad look at Lake Erie Watershed

A new research project at Ohio State University integrates biological, physical and social sciences to develop a complete picture of what drives decision-making processes and environmental conditions in the Maumee River watershed. The four-year, $1.5 million project, funded by the National Science Foundation, will combine decision-making models with hydrological modeling and future climate change scenarios to examine how people’s actions in the watershed affect water quality in Lake Erie.

Researchers from six different departments at two universities – Ohio State and Case Western Reserve University – are working together to examine how watershed management practices like the application of agricultural fertilizers impact water quality in Lake Erie, how public perception of the health of the lake may influence those practices, and how these relationships are likely to change under climate change scenarios.

“Not many people have looked at different populations within a watershed and what drives some of their decisions about land use,” says Jay Martin, scientist with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and associate professor of Ecological Engineering in Ohio State’s Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering.

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USDA revises national nutrient management standard

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has revised its national conservation practice standard on nutrient management to help producers better manage the application of nutrients on agricultural land. Proper application of nitrogen and phosphorus offers tremendous benefits to producers and the public, including cost savings to the producer and the protection or improvement of ground and surface water, air quality, soil quality and agricultural sustainability.

“Protecting America’s supply of clean and abundant water is an important objective for USDA,” Vilsack said. “This precious resource is the foundation for healthy ecosystems and sustainable agricultural production. USDA provides voluntary technical and financial assistance to help producers manage their nutrients to ensure a clean and abundant water supply while maintaining viable farm and ranch operations.”

The nutrient management conservation practice is an important tool in the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservation toolbox. The agency’s staff uses this conservation practice to help farmers and ranchers apply their nutrients more efficiently.

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4R nutrient stewardship efforts address Lake Erie algae

Farmers and other key stakeholders successfully reduced total phosphorus going into Lake Erie over the past 50 years, but must revaluate nutrient management practices to more effectively manage dissolved phosphorus in those same bodies of water, according to one Ohio State University Extension expert.

“It’s a different problem from what we had in the 1960s and 70s in terms of total phosphorous going into the lakes,” said Greg LaBarge, Ohio State Extension educator and one of the leaders of Extension’s Agronomic Crops Team. “From an agricultural standpoint, we changed tillage practices, which reduced the total loading going into the lake from agriculture. We cleaned up the phosphorous and had a very healthy lake.”

Thirty years ago, farmers in the watershed of Lake Erie’s western basin were challenged to meet aggressive standards for reducing the total amount of phosphorus impacting the lake. The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) credits those farmers for succeeding in cutting phosphorus use in half, while also reducing sediment loading into the lake by 50%.

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New Report Shows Conservation Practices Work

A new USDA study shows that farmers using combinations of erosion-control and nutrient-management practices on cultivated cropland are reducing losses of sediment, nitrogen and phosphorous from farm fields and decreasing the movement of these materials to the Great Lakes and their associated waterways.

“The Great Lakes Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) study confirms that good conservation planning and implementation have reduced loadings of sediment and nutrients to waterways throughout the region,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said today. “The Administration appreciates the actions of every farmer who is stepping up to implement conservation practices, protect vital farmlands and strengthen local economies. At the same time, we also see opportunities for even further progress.”

The CEAP study, prepared by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), estimates that the use of conservation tillage and other conservation practices has resulted in a 50 percent decline in sediment entering rivers and streams, along with 36 and 37 percent declines, respectively, in phosphorus and nitrogen loading.

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Farmers get a closer look at Lake Erie algae issues

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Aug. 22, the Ottawa Soil and Water Conservation District held the “Lake Erie Ag Tour 2011.” With all the headlines about algal blooms on Ohio lakes the past two years, and farmers getting much of the blame, the goal of the tour was to get farmers on Lake Erie and let them see things firsthand.

About 40 farmers, local homeowners and government officials participated. They traveled on Ohio State University research vessels to sample the lakes water, then to Gilbralter Island, home of OSU’s Stone Laboratory and Ohio Sea Grant Program, to analyze their samples.

“I want to know what we have to do for our farms to push less phosphorus into the lake,” said Dave Fastinger, an Ottawa County hog producer who participated in the tour. “I like fishing in Lake Erie as much as anyone, so I came to hear the latest ideas of what we can do.”

Fastinger has had a manure management plan for his farm since 1977 so there is no runoff into waterways.

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Clean water is a priority for Poultry Environmental Steward

By Matt Reese

To do his part to prevent any sediment or nutrients from leaving the farm, Paul Dahlinghaus of Auglaize County has really stepped up the participation in EQIP on his dairy, turkey and hog farm. With his brother, he farms 600 acres and has continued his family’s tradition of dairy farming with milking 65 to 70 cows. Dahlinghaus also has added a contract hog finishing barn and a contract turkey finishing barn with Cooper Farms. Dahlinghaus is this year’s Poultry Environmental Stewardship winner, presented by the Ohio Poultry Association and Ohio Livestock Coalition.

“We put in some new waterways and one thing led to another,” he said. “We knew we had to keep improving.”

One of the first things they addressed on the farm was the milk house wastewater three years ago.

“We put in a two-step system of two septic tanks. A tile runs into a septic tank to filter solids, then it goes into a second empty tank,” Dahlinghaus said.

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Watch that water flow and keep nutrients in the fields

By Justin Petrosino, Darke Ag and Natural Resources Extension educator

The other day I noticed here in the office a little drip of water coming from the ceiling. The cause was ice thawing on the flat roof. Water melting from underneath that frozen layer of snow and ice was percolating its way into my office.

The water from above that snow and ice layer is running off to the gutter and out into the parking lot.

Out in our fields much of the ground underneath that layer of snow and ice is thawed. It is taking up a portion of that snowmelt just like our porous roof here in the office. However some snowmelt on top of that frozen snow pack is running off. With the heavy infiltration of water some of those fields have become saturated and we are seeing runoff. We are no more than a few days into the thaw and reports of manure moving off the field and into the creek are already coming in.

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Don't put daddy's toothbrush in the toilet!

By Matt Reese

My wife and I try not to have a long list of silly rules for our children to follow, but sometimes, their actions warrant rules.

Here are a few of the strange rules in Reese family law.

  1. Do not stand on the table. There are clear safety issues when an 18-month old is standing on pretty much anything. Plus, no one wants the feet of anyone (even a cute kid) in, on, or around the food.
  2. Do not unroll toilet paper for any reason. There are, of course, very important reasons why toilet paper needs to be unrolled. But, due to our children’s seemingly insatiable desire to unroll the entire roll onto the floor and around our home on a regular basis, we had to enforce very strict guidelines. For now, mom and dad do the necessary unrolling to prevent an in-house TP party.
  3. Do not pet the dog.
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Don’t put daddy’s toothbrush in the toilet!

By Matt Reese

My wife and I try not to have a long list of silly rules for our children to follow, but sometimes, their actions warrant rules.

Here are a few of the strange rules in Reese family law.

  1. Do not stand on the table. There are clear safety issues when an 18-month old is standing on pretty much anything. Plus, no one wants the feet of anyone (even a cute kid) in, on, or around the food.
  2. Do not unroll toilet paper for any reason. There are, of course, very important reasons why toilet paper needs to be unrolled. But, due to our children’s seemingly insatiable desire to unroll the entire roll onto the floor and around our home on a regular basis, we had to enforce very strict guidelines. For now, mom and dad do the necessary unrolling to prevent an in-house TP party.
  3. Do not pet the dog.
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Phosphorus in Lake Erie will likely mean changes for ag

By Matt Reese

Ohio is unbelievably fortunate to have Lake Erie, the richest, most productive and most biologically diverse of the Great Lakes.

“Lake Erie is one of the most important lakes in the world,” said Jeff Reutter, director of Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Laboratory on Lake Erie. “Lake Erie produces more fish for human consumption than the other four Great Lakes combined.”

Lake Superior has around 50% of the water and 2% of the fish of all the Great Lakes, while Lake Erie has 2% of the water and 50% of the fish. Reutter also pointed out that Lake Erie supplies drinking water for 11 million people, has more than 20 power plants, and a $1 billion sport fishery. In addition, Lake Erie is the shallowest and warmest of the Great Lakes, and the watershed is dominated by cities and agriculture, so it gets more sediment, more fertilizer and sewage and more pesticides.

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“No on Snow” a good rule to live by

By Karen Chapman, Great Lakes Regional Director at Environmental Defense Fund

Farmers have to watch every penny in order to remain profitable – now more than ever. Even with rosy crop prices, producers cannot afford to waste fertilizer or fuel. The January 3rd on-line bulletin “Crop Input and Land Outlook 2011” from OSU Extension, points out that, “Fertilizer continues to be the most volatile of the crop input costs and cost management of this important input may be the difference in being a low cost or high cost producer in 2011.”

With nitrogen and phosphorus prices both up at least 50% from a year ago, it’s hard to imagine why any farmer would apply fertilizer only to see it flow off the field. However, many farmers — some probably unknowingly — do just that.

It’s time to stop this practice, to protect both the pocketbook and soil and water health.

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