Manure Manager

Experts advise farms to spread manure thinner

July 28, 2009  by Arkansas Democrat Gazette

July 28, 2009 – The amount of manure farmers can spread to fertilize crops would be further regulated under a proposal backed by the director of the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission.

July 28, 2009 – The amount of manure farmers can spread to fertilize crops would be further regulated under a proposal backed by the director of the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission.

Randy Young said more than 50 people developed the revised phosphorus index, a risk-assessment tool that's used to determine how much manure can be spread on fields without harming nearby streams.

The new index potentially would reduce the amount of manure allowed to be spread over pastures in nutrient surplus areas in northern and western Arkansas. However, farmers would be allowed to spread manure from chickens, turkeys, cows and hogs to help crops grow at present volumes if they use "best management practices" on adjacent lands. Sewer plant sludge, which some cities spread on farmland, also would be regulated by the index.


"I wouldn't be surprised if there's some negative criticism of it because it is more restrictive," Young said. "Farmers will have to spend some money to do the [best management practice]."

The Arkansas phosphorus index was developed by University of Arkansas graduate student Paul DeLaune and by Philip Moore with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agri- cultural Research Service office in Fayetteville. It was first used in 2001.

The index takes into account such things as the slope of land, a field's proximity to creeks and the time of year manure is spread. It allows planners to predict the phosphorus content of runoff, Moore said.

State law requires the index be used to develop management plans for farms in the nutrient surplus areas, said Patrick Fish, nutrient management program manager for the Natural Resources Commission. The surplus areas are in northern and western Arkansas, where the soil of a high percentage of cropland contains high levels of phosphorus.

Young presented the findings of a three-year research project to the commission Wednesday, gaining its permission to begin the rule-making process using the revised index.

Commission staff members intend to gather public comment during meetings across the state this fall. Young said input also will come from legislative committees, and he expects to ask the commission to vote on the changes by the end of the year.

"It was a refinement of the existing index," said Evan Teague, an Arkansas Farm Bureau environmental specialist who was part of the team that revised the index. "We support regulations based on sound science, and I witnessed all parties trying to implement as much science as possible in this. We're OK with the changes."

The new version adds six new best management practices meant to allow more manure to be spread if farmers take steps to lessen the chance of it affecting streams. The current index includes three such practices.

State-certified nutrient management plan writers would inspect farms to determine if conditions of the revised index have been met before more manure could be spread, Young said. The new index takes into account such things as planting trees and other vegetation near fields and building ponds to collect runoff.

Tyson Foods Inc. spokesman Gary Mickelson said the Springdale company supports the changes. One of its employees was part of the team that revised the index.

"Just like the previous standard, the new version is based on the latest science and is designed to protect the environment," Mickelson wrote in an e-mail.

Andrew Sharpley said farmers would have to decide whether to take the steps to implement the best management practices in order to be allowed to spread the maximum allowable amount of manure.

"The big impact is going to be less of the nutrients ends up in the streams," said Sharpley, a professor of soils and water quality in the department of crop, soil and environmental sciences in UA's Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences.

"Farmers are going to put out less, or they've got to have something in place to stop it from getting into the streams. "With some sound stewardship, you can put out basically what you could before."


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