Agronomy
With water quality in the Chesapeake Bay suffering from excess nutrients and fish populations in rivers such as the Susquehanna experiencing gender skewing and other reproductive abnormalities, understanding how to minimize runoff of both nutrients and endocrine-disrupting compounds from farm fields after manure applications is a critical objective for agriculture.
Published in Other
Farmers who haul manure and custom manure applicators in Michigan may soon be able to qualify for significant reductions in their pollution insurance premiums by participating in a voluntary manure hauler certification program built around a successful model developed in neighboring Wisconsin.
Published in Associations
Smithfield Foods and Anuvia Plant Nutrients recently announce a new partnership to create sustainable fertilizer from solids collected from the manure treatment systems at Smithfield’s hog farms.
Published in Swine
When spring arrives, both large and small livestock owners with pen-pack manure are looking to apply the manure as soon as field conditions allow. The nutrients and organic matter in pen-pack manure are an excellent addition to farm fields.

Pen-pack manure contains the macro nutrients nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash along with a host of micronutrients.

The nutrient content can vary depending on species, feed products fed, and the amounts of straw or sawdust used for bedding.

The farm's manure handling and storage practices also impact the nutrient content of manure. Manure stored under roof will usually maintain a higher nutrient value than manure exposed to rainfall. | READ MORE
Published in Manure Handling
Ames, IA ― As June approaches, some northern areas of Iowa have experienced delays in corn planting due to a cold spring that turned wet. Producers considering changes to crop rotation should pay attention to the impact it has on manure management plans.

The Iowa Administrative Code only allows a maximum of 100 pounds N per acre manure application on ground to be planted to soybean. However, it does allow fields that had liquid manure applied at rates intended for growing corn to be switched to soybean on or after June 1 with no penalty of over-application of manure nitrogen. Thus if a field planned for corn has not been planted and will be switched to soybean, this can be done. Producers should document the changes in crop rotation, application methods and other changes in their annual manure management plans.

Given it has been a wet spring in some areas, nutrient management and specifically, nitrogen loss may be top of mind. Livestock producers with Iowa Department of Natural Resources [DNR] manure management plans are reminded if they have already applied the maximum nitrogen rate to the field, they can’t apply additional sources of nitrogen unless the need is confirmed by the use of a Late Spring Nitrate Test. This test measures nitrate-N concentration at the 0 to 12-inch depth.

Results can be interpreted by the ISU Extension and Outreach publication “Use of the Late-Spring Soil Nitrate Test in Iowa Corn Production” (CROP 3140), which considers both the original fertilizer source and the amount of rain that occurred in May (excessive is more than five inches in May). When adding extra nitrogen, be sure to document soil sample results and reference the publication to interpret the test results in management plans.

While fall provided favorable application conditions, and periods in March were favorable, producers should plan ahead if not as much manure as normal is applied in the spring. Having a plan in place will help prevent potential issues from turning into problems. Keep an eye on storage, and have a plan for needed action.
Published in State
While April showers might bring May flowers, they also contribute to toxic algae blooms, dead zones and declining water quality in U.S. lakes, reservoirs and coastal waters, a new study shows.
Published in Other
February 20, 2018, Clarion, IA – Plans are being unveiled for a $25 million fertilizer plant to be built in north-central Iowa.

Bryce Davis, Wright County’s economic development director, says the plant will be located in a rural area about ten miles from Clarion and it’ll take in up to 150,000 tons of chicken waste per year from several area poultry plants. READ MORE
Published in Poultry
February 13, 2018, Minneapolis, MN – It may be hard to imagine spring coming anytime soon with the recent arctic temperatures, but in a few short months it’ll be time to apply nutrients for the upcoming crops. If you plan to apply manure, now is the time to start mapping out your plans for the year to save headaches down the road. Here are some tips to get you started on your plans and for applying manure this spring:
  • Inspect equipment. Make sure everything is functioning properly. To avoid leaks or spills, replace or repair anything that needs fixed.
  • Get your manure sampled and analyzed, or find your most recent manure analysis. This will give you an accurate idea of how many nutrients are available to you.
  • Plan applications for each field. Calculate your application rates using the nutrient needs of your upcoming crop (based on the University of Minnesota recommendations) and your manure nutrient analysis. Subtract out any nutrient credits from manure applied in the past 3 years or from legumes grown in the past year.
  • Determine any setbacks needed in fields. This includes streams, ditches, lakes, tile inlets and sinkholes. Also mark locations of sensitive features to avoid.
  • Put together an Emergency Action Plan. Make a list of emergency contacts in case of a leak or spill and think of ways that you could possibly contain a spill so that you can have the appropriate tools on hand.
Tips for manure application:
  • Monitor the weather. Avoid applying immediately before a predicted rainfall.
  • Avoid wet or frozen fields. Manure can very easily run off of a frozen field, especially in spring rains. On fields that are wet, adding manure (which has liquid in it) will only increase the likelihood of runoff or the start of tile flow. You are also more likely to cause soil compaction in wet conditions.
  • Apply manure according to calculated rates. Do not overapply! Nutrients are less likely to be lost to our waterways when applied at appropriate rates.
  • Monitor equipment for leaks. Have equipment handy for stopping leaks and for cleanup. Know the numbers you need to call if there is a spill.
  • Keep records. Always note the field location, manure source and amount applied. Keep records on file for at least three years.
For the latest nutrient management information, visit the UMN Extension Nutrient Management website.
Published in Other
February 1, 2018, Burlington, VT – What’s a responsible farmer to do? Manure injection is an important soil management practice that reduces the chance of manure runoff. But recent studies by Carol Adair and colleagues at the University of Vermont show manure injection can increase the release of harmful greenhouse gases.

Greenhouse gases contribute to the warming of our atmosphere. Carbon dioxide gets the most attention because so much is released as we burn fossil fuels. Nitrous oxide (yes, the “laughing gas” the dentist may give you) is also a powerful greenhouse gas. There isn’t nearly as much of it in our atmosphere as carbon dioxide: it makes up only about five percent of the greenhouse gases, compared to 82 percent for carbon dioxide. However, it is a much more potent greenhouse gas, with a global warming potential nearly 300 times greater than carbon dioxide.

About 40 percent of all nitrous oxide emissions come from human activities, and agriculture is by far the greatest source. About 90 percent of that contribution comes from soil and nutrient management practices like tilling and fertilizing. This means that changes in these practices have great potential to reduce nitrous oxide emissions from agriculture. But there is also the potential to make them worse.

That’s where manure injection comes into the story. Animal manure has been used as a fertilizer for thousands of years. It is an excellent source of nutrients for plants and helps build good soil. Manure slowly releases nitrogen, one of the primary elements that help plants grow. Because of this slow release, it does not have to be applied as often as commercial fertilizer.

Traditionally, manure has been spread, or broadcast, onto the fields. However, with changing weather patterns some areas have had heavier rains and more flooding. Many farmers are taking steps to avoid manure runoff that can affect the quality of lakes and streams nearby. One such step is manure injection, a relatively new way of applying manure. It helps keep the manure on the crops and on the fields. Manure injectors insert narrow troughs of liquid manure six to eight inches deep into the soil.

“Unfortunately, at that depth conditions are just right for producing nitrous oxide,” said Adair.

The soils are often wet and there is little oxygen. This leads microbes in the soil to change the way they convert organic matter into energy. This alternative process changes nitrogen into nitrous oxide as a byproduct.

Adair and her colleagues have been studying the potential of tillage and manure application methods to reduce nitrous oxide emissions. They are comparing conventional tilling versus no-till systems, and broadcast versus manure injection.

Through several farm and laboratory experiments, they have found the tillage method has little impact on nitrous oxide emissions. However, manure injection significantly increases nitrous oxide emissions compared to the broadcast method. This is especially true soon after injection. Warming soil in the spring and more winter thaw/freeze cycles in winters also seem to increase emissions. And when warmer winters are combined with manure injection, this multiplies the effect, leading to even more nitrous oxide emissions.

Adair says ongoing research may show the cause of winter and spring emissions and whether there are steps that can reduce them. Perhaps cover crops grown between main-crop seasons will be able to reduce wintertime nitrous oxide emissions. And perhaps the timing of manure injection is important.

“Injecting during dry periods seem to reduce emissions, and it may be that fall injection results in smaller emission pulses, but we don’t have enough evidence of the latter yet,” Adair explains. “Our work continues so we can find better answers for growers, and protect the environment.”

Adair presented this research at the October Annual Meeting of the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America in Tampa, FL.
Published in Manure Application
January 10, 2018, Woodstock, Ont – Manure applied to wheat crops or to forage crops can be an excellent option, but not in winter on frozen soils.

Manure application in winter should not ever be part of a manure management plan. Rather, it should be part of a contingency plan, because we all know that weather happens. Frequent rain and a late corn harvest are taxing manure storage capacities on many farms. Contingency plans are essential for manure that must be applied in less than ideal conditions. A forage or wheat field can be an ideal site for contingency plan manure application, because compaction should not be an issue, and the soil cover would help prevent nutrient runoff and erosion. Forage or wheat fields are ideal for those reasons. However, winterkill becomes a much greater risk, especially with application of liquid manure. Why? Beside the common risks – which include compaction from wheel traffic and crown damage – manure contains salts!

Salinization, the concentration of salt in the root zone, is not an issue in Ontario. Ample precipitation and drainage leaches the salts through the soil profile. However, when the soil is frozen, infiltration can’t occur. Salts in manure can then turn deadly. High sodium also has a negative effect on soil structure; making the soil more susceptible to crusting, and further decreasing the capacity for infiltration.

Livestock manure contains many salts, including ammonium, calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium. When accrued, they can be significant. Salt content varies from farm to farm based on livestock species, diet formulation and even the salt in the drinking water. Many manure analyses report “Total Salts” or electrical conductivity (EC) to reflect the accumulated salts. A typical hog manure (as applied basis) can have about 20 mS/cm (milliSemens/cm) or about 125 lbs of total salts per 1,000 gallons. Dairy manure average is 14 mS/cm or about 90 lbs/1000 gallons. Sodium and magnesium chloride have a working temperatures to about -15° C; potassium chloride to -4° C, while calcium chloride can work to about -23° C.

When manure is applied on frozen or snow-covered soils, the salts melt the snow and ice at the soil surface. The layer below may still be frozen, preventing infiltration. The melted, saturated layer is high in salts, toxic to roots, and more prone to erosion and runoff, and more susceptible to frost heaving. All these risks are increased where manure with high EC or total salt contents has been applied.

When contingency plan applications become necessary during the winter season, options include:
  • Late summer application to forage crops after the final cut or at the beginning of the critical harvest period,
  • Temporary storage at a neighbouring storage that has extra capacity,
  • Application to forage fields or cover crops that will be tilled or killed,
  • Application to the most level harvested fields, preferably with residue still present, furthest away from surface water, where application does not occur through water runs or “flow paths.”

Sampling manure at the time of application should be standard practice. A manure analysis that includes total salts will help to determine the level of risk if contingency application in winter is a last resort.

Published in Other
Iowa’s Smith family, owners of SFI Inc, have been on a decades-long quest to prove and demonstrate that it pays to practice good land stewardship that includes manure composting, capturing nutrients before they leave their feedlots, and recycling them as organic fertilizer on their row crops.
Published in Beef
January 5, 2018, East Lansing, MI – Manure spreading in the winter is a practice that many Michigan farmers have to make. Farms that have a comprehensive nutrient management plan (CNMP) or a nutrient management plan (NMP) have already considered and decided where their winter nutrients are going to be utilized. Those farms that do not have a written plan need to carefully consider where they are going to spread. Here are some points that farms need to consider before they spread manure this winter.
  • Have up-to-date sample information for both the manure being used and the soil.
  • Correlate the amount of manure that is being spread on the field with the field’s soil sample.
  • Choose fields that have low run-off potential.
  • Map the fields maintaining buffers around surface waters and other sensitive areas. Do not forget drainage tile lines.
  • Understand available tools that will help determine if it is appropriate to spread on a given day, check out this article [http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/when_is_the_best_time_to_spread_manure_to_optimize_crop_production_and_mini] by Shelby Burlew for more information on a tool that is available for Michigan farmers.
To learn more about spreading manure in the winter in Michigan, download Manure Management - Spreading on Frozen and Snow Covered Ground (WO1038).

This article was published by Michigan State University Extension. To have a digest of information delivered straight to your email inbox, visit http://www.msue.msu.edu/newsletters. To contact an expert in your area, visit http://expert.msue.msu.edu, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

Published in Other
December 18, 2017, New Orleans, LA – Tulane University awarded the $1 million grand prize for the Tulane Nitrogen Reduction Challenge to Adapt-N, a team from Cornell University that developed a cloud-based computer modeling system to predict optimum nitrogen application rates for crops using data on weather, field conditions and soil management practices.

The Tulane Nitrogen Reduction Challenge is an international competition to find a significant, scalable solution to reduce nitrogen runoff from farming, a primary culprit behind vast algae blooms that cause massive annual “dead zones” in waters throughout the world.

Adapt-N competed against three others challenge finalists, Cropsmith of Farmer City, Illinois; Pivot Bio of Berkeley, California and Stable'N of Carmi, Illinois. Teams tested their innovations during a growing season on a farm in northeast Louisiana along the Mississippi River.

A 16-member advisory board of academics, scientists, environmentalists, entrepreneurs, farmers and national experts selected the winner based on crop yield, nitrogen reduction and the cost and market viability of their innovation.

Adapt-N gives farmers precise nitrogen recommendations for every section of their fields. The tool relies on U.S. Department of Agriculture soil databases, field-specific soil and management information and high-resolution weather data.

“The user enters some basic information on management practices like the date of planting, the type of corn hybrid that they are using and some information on the soil like the organic matter content,” said Adapt-N team leader Harold van Es. “We combine that with other data, notably weather data, like precipitation, solar radiation and temperature, and then we dynamically simulate the nitrogen environment in the field — in the soil and in the crop.”

The system is designed to enable farmers to reduce the overall nitrogen rate while increasing profitability.

“We can roughly reduce the environmental impact by about a third — 35 to 40 percent — and that’s both the impacts from nitrate leaching, which is the primary concern with the Gulf hypoxia issue, as well as greenhouse gas losses, which is also a big concern,” van Es said.

Tulane launched the grand challenge in 2014 to identify and nurture the most innovative and adaptable technologies to fight hypoxia. Seventy-seven teams from 10 countries entered the contest. Phyllis Taylor, president of the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation and a member of the board of Tulane, funded the effort.

“Mrs. Taylor’s vision of the Tulane Nitrogen Reduction Challenge highlights the opportunities with technological innovations. But we should see this event in a much bigger context, in my view, as a start-off point for governments, the scientific community, the fertilizer industry and farmers to raise the bar on nutrient management,” van Es said. “That will end up helping solve the hypoxia problem. It is time. And I hope that they will fully embrace these types of innovations and help farmers overcome the adoption barriers.”

Tulane President Mike Fitts thanked Taylor for her leadership in spearheading the challenge and inspiring innovators to come together to focus on a major environmental issue like hypoxia.

“This competition, this process, has set in motion some of the great minds around the world thinking about an important problem,” Fitts said. “That is what Tulane University is about. And this is such an inspired way for us to participate in solving world problems."
Published in Other
For decades, phosphorous has accumulated in Wisconsin soils. Though farmers have taken steps to reduce the quantity of the agricultural nutrient applied to and running off their fields, a new study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison reveals that a “legacy” of abundant soil phosphorus in the Yahara watershed of Southern Wisconsin has a large, direct and long-lasting impact on water quality.
Published in Dairy
People in the poultry industry have been on the fast-track to learning how to better deal with manure in the face of changing application rules and environmental concerns.
Published in Poultry
October 26, 2017, Oakland, MD – The University of Maryland Extension Office of Garrett County will partner with the Maryland Department of Agriculture and the Garrett Soil Conservation District to host three days of a free workshop and on-farm demonstrations on manure injection and nutrient management practices Nov. 7 to 9. The agenda will have participants traveling to Frostburg, Grantsville, Oakland, and Accident farms.

Participants do not need to attend all three days, and are only required to register for the first day of demos, as a free lunch will be provided to those attending. Those in need of it will also receive continuing education units from the Maryland Nutrient Management Program.

“Rising fertilizer costs require farmers to maximize the use of ‘free’ nutrients available in manure,” said a spokesperson. “Incorporating manure into the soil is an effective management strategy for keeping these valuable nutrients in the field.”

This program offers practical strategies for injecting manure into the soil to allow incorporation while maintaining a no-tillage management system. Farmers will have an opportunity to talk to custom applicators, discuss costs, and learn about cost-share programs for manure injection and manure transport.

The workshop will begin November 7 at Ganoe Farms, Frostburg, with registration, coffee, and doughnuts offered at 8:30 a.m. Demonstrations will be held from 9 to 11 a.m. at Ganoe’s. The group will then travel to Delvin, Dale, and Wayne Mast’s farm in Grantsville, where a complimentary lunch will be provided at 11:30 a.m. Guest speakers Joe Bartenfelder, Maryland Agriculture Secretary, and Norm Astle, Maryland Cost-Share Programs, will be heard until approximately 2 p.m. The day will continue at Robert Bender’s Accident farm from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. with manure injection demonstrations. Those interested are asked to register no later than November 1 by calling the Garrett Soil Conservation District at 301-334-6951.

Additional farm demonstrations will take place on Nov. 8, beginning at Randall Steyer’s farm in Oakland, and followed by demos at Nevin’s Sines’ farm in Oakland and Kenton Bender’s farm in Accident. The last day, November 9, will also offer farm demonstrations only at David Yoder’s farm and two Grantsville dairy farms, which are yet to be determined.

Registration is not required for the November 8 and 9 farm demonstrations.
Published in Dairy
October 19, 2017, Columbus, OH – With warmer than normal weather forecast for the next couple of weeks, corn and soybean harvest in Ohio is expected to get back on track. Livestock producers and commercial manure applicators soon will be applying both liquid and solid manure as fields become available.

For poultry manure, handlers are reminded to stockpile poultry litter close to the fields actually receiving the manure. Stockpiles need to be 500 feet from a residence, 300 feet from a water source and 1,500 feet from a public water intake. Poultry litter cannot be stockpiled in a floodplain and cannot have offsite water running across the litter stockpile area. The site also cannot have a slope greater than six percent.

Litter stockpiles need to be monitored for insect activity and steps taken to keep insect populations in check if necessary. Farmers receiving poultry litter from a permitted facility need to have their fertilizer certification training completed. While field application rates of two to three tons per acre of poultry litter are common, farmers should still have soil tests and manure tests taken so manure nutrients being applied are fully utilized by the following crop rotations.

For liquid manure applicators, examine fields for tile blowouts, soil cracks, worm holes, and any other situations that might allow manure to reach surface waters. Old clay tile that are not charted, and may have an outlet buried in the bottom of a ditch, have caused a number of manure escapes in Ohio over the years. Recent manure escapes into ditches in northwest part of the state have caused fish kills and resulted in fines being levied. Farmers and applicators need to monitor field tiles for several days after application to be sure manure does not escape with the next rainfall event.

Liquid manure application rates are limited to the moisture holding capacity of the soil or no more than a half inch or ~13,500 gallons per acre for tiled fields. Limiting application rates below legal limits can help keep more nutrients on fields. Remember, a corn-soybean rotation will remove about 120 pounds of P2O5 over two good growing seasons. That will drop your soil test phosphorus level about 6 pounds per acre. Applying high amounts of manure can rapidly raise soil test levels and result in greater losses of phosphorus from farm fields.

Incorporated liquid manure or liquid manure incorporated within 24 hours does not have a setback requirement from ditches and streams this time of year. If just surface applied, with no plan of immediate incorruption, a vegetative setback of 35 feet is recommended or a 100 foot setback if there is little or no vegetation growing in the field. These recommendations for non-permitted farms and are the rules for permitted farms.

The Western Lake Erie Basin watershed rule for surface manure application is a weather forecast saying “not greater than a 50 percent chance of a half inch or more of rain in the next 24 hours. For very heavy soils (typically Hydrologic group D) 0.25 inch of rainfall can cause runoff when combined with a half inch of liquid applied on the surface. It’s advisable to print out the weather forecast when you start applying manure so you have the needed proof if an unexpected storm drenches the area.

The rain forecast does not apply to incorporated manure. However, the soil must be fractured and disturbed when manure is applied to qualify for incorporated. Just poking holes in the soil does not qualify as incorporation. Deep incorporation of manure nutrients could help break up the phosphorus stratification issues that may be contributing to the increasing levels of dissolved phosphorus leaving Ohio farm fields.

For permitted farms, when more than 50 pounds per acre of manure nitrogen is being applied, it’s required that a field have a growing crop or cover crop be planted. In manure amounts, this could be a little as 1,500 gallons per acre of swine finishing manure, one ton of poultry litter, 3,000 gallons of dairy manure, 1,000 gallons of liquid beef manure, or five tons per acre of solid pen pack manure.

All farmers should consider utilizing cover crops with manure applications to capture the available nitrogen and turn it into organic nitrogen in the form of additional roots and stems. Livestock producers in the Western Lake Erie Basin watersheds must have a growing cover crop in the field if they intend to apply manure to snow covered or frozen soil this winter. The cover crop should cover at least 90 percent of the soil surface.

Cover crops can help livestock farmers recapture manure nutrients and conserve soil by reducing erosion. The goal is to combine nutrient recovery and protecting the environment. With weather forecasters predicting above average temperatures the remainder of October, there is still time to establish good stands of cover crops.
Published in Other
October 17, 2017, Sun Prairie, WI – Dane County officials and local farmers recently announced a new initiative that will help farmers reduce manure runoff into the lakes, improve farm productivity and decrease climate change emissions.

As part of its 2018 budget, the Dane County Executive is allocating $200,000 to study the potential of creating a large-scale community facility where farmers could bring manure and have it composted. READ MORE
Published in Compost
October 12, 2017, Washington, DC – Voluntary conservation practices adopted by farmers in the Western Lake Erie basin are having positive impacts downstream, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The report – by USDA’s Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) – shows these practices reduce sediment losses from fields by an estimated 80 percent and reduce the amount of sediment being delivered to Lake Erie by an estimated 40 percent.

“One thing I know for certain – the benefits of conservation flow downstream,” said Leonard Jordan, acting chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). “When hundreds of farms take action in one area, one watershed, it can make a world of difference. And our conservation planning and financial support provides producers a step-by-step plan to achieve those results.”

NRCS helps farmers make conservation improvements on working lands. Reports like this one help the agency better understand the effectiveness of conservation practices and how to adapt conservation approaches, Jordan said. Though there is still work to be done, this report shows that private landowners are responding to regional needs and putting conservation plans into action to improve water quality across the basin.

This is the second of a two-part report on the Western Lake Erie basin, which has historically suffered from high levels of nutrients and sediment associated with human activities in the region. The first report focused on edge-of-field losses, whereas this report focuses on sediment and nutrients entering streams, rivers and Lake Erie.

Relative to the scenario where no agricultural conservation practices were in place, the voluntary conservation practices in use by farmers in the basin in 2012:
  • Reduce phosphorus and nitrogen lost from cultivated cropland fields by 61 and 26 percent, respectively;
  • Reduce phosphorus and nitrogen deposition into the streams and rivers of the lake’s basin by 72 and 37 percent, respectively; and
  • Reduce phosphorus and nitrogen entering the lake by 41 and 17 percent, respectively.
Water quality is directly impacted by nutrients and sediment. By reducing the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus entering basin waterways, farmers are doing their part to reduce the chances of harmful algal blooms that may lead to hypoxia, or oxygen depletion, throughout the lake. Algal blooms can make the lake unsuitable as a source of drinking water and recreation as well as habitat for fish and wildlife.

CEAP uses a sampling and modeling technique to yield these results, quantifying the impacts of conservation practices adopted across the region. These analyses provide scientifically-based direction for future conservation planning efforts targeting specific management goals.

Farmers use a variety of conservation practices to reduce losses of nutrients and sediment. The practices evaluated by CEAP include strategies like nutrient management, cover crops and structural erosion control. Cutting-edge technologies that use GPS and variable rate applications are also assessed.

While many Western Lake Erie basin producers have worked independently to curb agricultural runoff into the Great Lakes system over the past 50 years, recent Farm Bill programs have accelerated conservation efforts on private lands located in targeted watersheds throughout the region. Coordinated and targeted efforts through the Western Lake Erie Basin Initiative, Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, National Water Quality Initiative and Regional Conservation Partnership Program provide additional funding and leverage partnerships in priority watersheds, including those that flow into the Western Lake Erie basin.

“Conservation applied on any acre delivers an environmental benefit, but when conservation efforts target the most vulnerable watersheds and lands, the results are even greater,” added Jordan. “We know it won’t solve the problem alone, but it’s a critical piece of the broader solution.”

The effectiveness of targeted conservation planning is also assessed in the report. These results and other CEAP assessments in the region provide another source for informing science-based conservation efforts within the basin. Upcoming assessments will continue to build upon this base.

Read the full report, titled Conservation Practice Adoption on Cultivated Cropland Acres: Effects on Instream Nutrient and Sediment Dynamics and Delivery in Western Lake Erie Basin, 2003-06 and 2012.
Published in Other
October 11, 2017, Madison, WI – A software program intended to cut water pollution and soil erosion has matured into an essential production tool for farmers, says a Fond du Lac County dairy farmer.

“I began using it in 2005 because I had to, I won’t lie,” Josh Hiemstar says in his barn office, as he gears up for the fall harvest on a 525-acre farm.

The software, called SnapPlus, was created at the University of Wisconsin department of soil science and introduced in 2005 under a state-federal mandate to reduce soil erosion and prevent runoff of nitrogen and phosphorus. These essential nutrients can over-fertilize lakes and streams, and feed the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Now, I use it because it helps me make better business decisions, better environmental decisions,” says Hiemstra. “SnapPlus is a big deal for farmers.”

SnapPlus solves several problems at once, related to distributing manure and fertilizer efficiently while meeting guidelines for protecting groundwater and surface water,” says Laura Good, the soil scientist who has led development and testing. “The program helps to maintain crop fertility without wasting money or endangering natural resources.”

The program is used on 3.36 million acres, or about 37 percent of the state’s cropland, says Good.

The crux of SnapPlus calculates nutrient requirements for croplands and pastures. The phosphorus calculation starts with a soil test, adds phosphorus from planned fertilizer and manure applications, then subtracts phosphorus extracted by crops. The software also estimates field erosion and phosphorus runoff rates to streams and lakes.

The math may sound simple, says Good, but the real world is complex. Soils have varying structure, slope, and subsurface geology – all factors that affect whether nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen stay where needed or become water pollutants.

Conditions can change from year to year, even within a field. Cropping sequences – called rotations – can be variable and complex.

And weather is, well, weather.

Fertilizer ranks near the top in farm expenses, but if some is necessary, more is not necessarily better. And so beyond enabling farmers to heed runoff standards, SnapPlus offers a means to optimize fertility and yields, and control costs.

Any farm in Wisconsin that applies nutrients and has benefited from government cost-sharing or receives the agricultural property tax credit must write a nutrient-management plan according to state-specific guidelines, which is typically done with SnapPlus.

“These standards and restrictions would be rather difficult to follow on paper,” Good observes.

Although SnapPlus is produced by the UW–Madison department of soil science, experts from UW Cooperative Extension have contributed nutrient recommendations and algorithms.

SnapPlus automatically taps databases on soil types, municipal well locations, and streams, lakes and shallow bedrock, so it “knows” factors conducive to rapid movement to groundwater, Good says.

“It tells you, on each field, what kind of soil you have, what kind of issues you have.”

Nutrient planning is often done by hired certified crop advisors, although many counties offer training courses to farmers who want to write their own plans.

With its triple benefit of avoiding pollution, supporting yields and reducing costs, SnapPlus “is a good use of taxpayer dollars,” Hiemstra says.

“You can call the county and get support, if they can’t answer, there is a full staff in Madison. The people who are writing the program are the ones telling you how to use it, and answering your questions.”

Agriculture may not get many headlines, but technology and economics are changing fast.

“Where we are now with the economics of agriculture,” Hiemstra says, “it’s even more important for farm operators to know their costs, and manage on their own. If you as a producer don’t take ownership of the information, you may be spending more than you need to spend.”
Published in Other
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