Assistant professor of environmental studies Cassie Gurbisz was among 14 co-authors of a new research article published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The article reports the positive impact of long-term nutrient reductions on an important and valuable ecosystem in the Chesapeake Bay. Scientists indicate the resurgence of underwater grasses supports nutrient reductions from EPA's Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). This, along with conservation incentives, has resulted in a healthier Chesapeake Bay.

Jonathan Lefcheck, PhD, formerly of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and now at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Science, along with Gurbisz and 12 co-authors, shows that a 23 percent reduction of average nitrogen levels in the Bay and an eight percent reduction of average phosphorus levels have resulted in a four-fold increase in abundance of Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV) in the Chesapeake Bay. This ecosystem recovery is an unprecedented event; based on the breadth of data available and a sophisticated data analysis, this is the biggest resurgence of underwater grasses ever recorded in the world.

The researchers employed advanced analytical tools to definitively show how the reduction of excess pollutants like nitrogen and phosphorus are the cause of this ecosystem recovery. To link land use and Chesapeake Bay status, researchers analyzed data in two different ways: one focusing on the cascade of nutrients from the land to the waterways, and one showing what happens to SAV once the nutrients are in the water.

Gurbisz said she participated in a series of workshops with scientists who study various aspects of SAV ecology. She said she helped develop the conceptual basis of the project and was excited that the work generated relevant results related to restoring the Chesapeake Bay.

The published findings are a collaborative effort between the following agencies: Virginia Institute of Marine Science, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Environmental Protection Agency Chesapeake Bay Program, U.S. Geological Survey, National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, St. Mary's College of Maryland, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

Published in News
For a team of University of Nebraska-Lincoln chemical and biomolecular engineering students, biogas refining isn’t just a senior design capstone project, it’s a potential means of supplying Nebraska’s rural communities with a renewable source of energy that comes from resources that are both local and plentiful.
Published in Anaerobic Digestion
The same products that get rid of internal parasites in livestock may adversely impact the dung beetles that help break down dung, according to South Dakota State University assistant professor Lora Perkins of the Department of Natural Resource Management. That could be bad news for the dung beetles and livestock production.

Through a four-year U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, Perkins and three colleagues will examine how producers' use of products to control parasites, known as parasiticides, has changed and how that has impacted the dung beetle population, soil quality and forage production. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture funding is part of the Bioenergy, Natural Resources and Environment Program, which focuses on the environmental sustainability of rangeland livestock production.

"Dung beetles are little drivers of ecosystem function," Perkins said. "They turn a big pile of dung into nutrients in the soil that can be taken up again by plants." Previous SDSU research looked at the biodiversity of dung beetles and other insects that populate dung pats. "We're adding onto that research and moving it all the way through to forage production," she explained.

Perkins, assistant professor. A. Joshua Leffler and professor Paul J. Johnson, an entomologist, will examine areas at the Ft. Pierre National Grasslands which are used by different livestock producers. Some producers use parasiticides to control parasites; others don't. "By conducting our research at Ft. Pierre, we are able to study areas that are adjacent to one another so the environmental variation among study areas is minimal," Perkins explained.

The researchers will measure the dung beetle population and examine how rapidly the dung is incorporated into the soil. They will measure nitrogen in the soil and plant production by weighing the biomass.

"Nitrogen availability is a key factor limiting forage production, and dung beetles are key organism in making nitrogen available to plants," Leffler explained. One doctoral student will also work on this portion of the project, with fieldwork beginning this summer.

However, what makes this project unique is collaboration with assistant sociology professor Jessica Ulrich-Schad. She will survey approximately 2,500 livestock producers to see whether they use parasiticides to control parasites in their livestock or not, whether that has changed over time and why. She will also ask how the parasiticides they are using have changed and what led to those changes. "Jessica is a critical member of our team. She helps us bridge the gap between the technical analyses and landowners and managers" said Perkins.

"We want to understand the drivers behind the use of these products," said Ulrich-Schad, who began exploring producer decision-making as a postdoctoral researcher at Purdue University. "We must get a better grasp of how farmers are making these decisions to know how we can encourage them to voluntarily use practices that are good for soil and water quality."

Through the survey, she will examine producers' awareness of how these parasiticides can impact dung beetle population, soil quality and forage production, as well as the roles that social networks play in the practices they use and the awareness they have. One doctoral student will work with Ulrich-Schad. Preliminary interviews with seven producers she characterized as innovators revealed that some are noticing a decrease in the dung beetle populations.

"When dung piles accumulate, fields become 'fouled'—livestock won't eat by the pile," Perkins explained. "We need the beetles to help break down the dung and keep the nutrients flowing and the plants growing." Research at other universities also shows that the presence of dung beetles can reduce the survival of parasite larvae in the dung pats.
Published in Other
Farm manure could be a viable source of renewable energy to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.

Researchers at the University of Waterloo are developing technology to produce renewable natural gas from manure so it can be added to the existing energy supply system for heating homes and powering industries. That would eliminate particularly harmful gases released by naturally decomposing manure when it is spread on farm fields as fertilizer and partially replace fossil natural gas, a significant contributor to global warming.

"There are multiple ways we can benefit from this single approach," said David Simakov, a professor of chemical engineering at Waterloo. "The potential is huge."

Simakov said the technology could be viable with several kinds of manure, particularly cow and pig manure, as well as at landfill sites.

In addition to being used by industries and in homes, renewable natural gas could replace diesel fuel for trucks in the transportation sector, a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.

To test the concept, researchers built a computer model of an actual 2,000-head dairy farm in Ontario that collects manure and converts it into biogas in anaerobic digesters. Some of that biogas is already used to produce electricity by burning it in generators, reducing the environmental impact of manure while also yielding about 30 to 40 percent of its energy potential.

Researchers want to take those benefits a significant step further by upgrading, or converting, biogas from manure into renewable natural gas. That would involve mixing it with hydrogen, then running it through a catalytic converter. A chemical reaction in the converter would produce methane from carbon dioxide in the biogas.

Known as methanation, the process would require electricity to produce hydrogen, but that power could be generated on-site by renewable wind or solar systems, or taken from the electrical grid at times of low demand. The net result would be renewable natural gas that yields almost all of manure's energy potential and also efficiently stores electricity, but has only a fraction of the greenhouse gas impact of manure used as fertilizer.

"This is how we can make the transition from fossil-based energy to renewable energy using existing infrastructure, which is a tremendous advantage," said Simakov, who collaborates with fellow chemical engineering professor Michael Fowler.

The modelling study showed that a $5-million investment in a methanation system at the Ontario farm would, with government price subsidies for renewable natural gas, have about a five-year payback period.

A paper on modelling of a renewable natural gas generation facility at the Ontario farm, which also involved a post-doctoral researcher and several Waterloo students, was recently published in the International Journal of Energy Research.
Published in Anaerobic Digestion
Long term trials conducted in Saskatchewan have shown the application of livestock manure fertilizer typically improves the health of the soil.

The University of Saskatchewan has been conducting long term livestock manure application trials, in some cases on plots that have been studied for over 20 years, looking at the implications of using livestock manure at various rates with different application methods throughout Saskatchewan's major soil climatic zones.

Dr. Jeff Schoenau, a professor with the University of Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture research chair in soil nutrient management, says the organic matter in manure, especially in solid manures, can directly benefit things like soil structure, water retention and so on.

"I think in terms of effect on the soil, especially with the solid manures where we're adding a fair bit of organic matter to the soil, we certainly see some beneficial effects show up there in terms of increased organic matter content, increased carbon storage. We see some positive benefits as well in water relations, things like infiltration," said Dr. Schoenau.

"We also need to be aware that manures also contain salts and so, particularly some manure that may be fairly high in for example sodium, we do need to keep an eye on the salt and sodium content of the soil where there's been repeated application of manure to soils where the drainage is poor. Generally what we've found is that the salts that are added as manure in soils that are well drained really don't create any kinds of issues. But we want to keep an eye on that in soils that aren't very well drained because those manures are adding some salts, for example sodium salts."

Dr. Schoenau says, when manure is applied at a rate that is in balance with what the crop needs and takes out over time, we have no issues in terms of spill over into the environment. He says that balance is very important, putting in what you're taking out over time.
Published in Other
Nitrate levels above the drinking water standard of 10 ppm are frequently found in subsurface drainage tile water or groundwater below farm fields of the upper Midwest. Nitrogen comes from applied manure and fertilizer, along with natural mineralization of organic matter.

What was done
Winter cereal rye planted as a cover crop has been shown effective in capturing nitrate before it leaches from the root zone. We conducted on-farm trials in central and southern Minnesota to determine if a rye cover crop would capture significant root-zone nitrate in the fall and spring but release it in time to maintain yield in the subsequent corn crop.

In the fall of 2015 and 2016, we partnered with 19 farmers (ten in 2015 and nine in 2016) to drill strips of cereal rye immediately after harvest of corn silage or soybean. After the rye was established and soil temperatures began to fall, we injected liquid dairy or swine manure into the cover crop and check strips. Three replications (with and without cover crop) were planted as wide or wider than the farmer's combine or silage chopper. The following spring, we sampled the cover crop for biomass and nitrogen content. We also soil sampled the cover crop and check strips to a 24-inch depth for nitrate. The rye was terminated, usually before reaching eight inches in height. In most cases, the rye was terminated with herbicide and tilled in. Corn was planted in the cover crop and check strips, usually with a small amount of starter nitrogen. We measured yield and nitrogen content of the corn at harvest.

Fall manure injection into cereal rye cover crop.

Fall manure injection into cereal rye cover crop.
Cereal rye at same location two weeks after manure injection

Cereal rye at same location two weeks after manure injection
Spring rye growth at the same site.

Spring rye growth at the same site.

Our results indicated
Spring Soil 24 inch Nitrate. Cover crop had 124 pounds of nitrate nitrogen per acre. No cover crop had 202 pounds of nitrate nitrogen per acre. The difference was 78 pounds of nitrate nitrogen per acre.

In both years, adequate growing season existed to establish the rye cover crop after either corn silage or soybean harvest, but above-ground fall growth was limited.

The rye was very resilient to manure injection, however, stand reduction was considerable at two sites where shank injectors or disk coverers were too aggressive.

Spring rye growth was good at most sites, with soil nitrate reduced under the cover crop compared to the check strips at all sites.

Rye growth and nitrogen uptake were greater in southern than central Minnesota.
Across sites, there was no significant difference in silage or grain yield between the cover crop and check strips.

Grain yield adjusted to 15 percent moisture. Cover crop yielded 199.5 bushels per acre whereas no cover crop yielded 201.2 bushels per acre.

Corn silage yield adjusted to 65 percent moisture. Cover crop yielded 20.7 tons per acre whereas no cover crop yielded 20.8 tons per acre.

Take home message
We concluded that, in central and southern Minnesota, it is feasible to establish cereal rye cover crop after corn silage or soybean harvest, inject liquid manure, capture root-zone nitrate with the rye, and deliver sufficient nitrogen to the subsequent corn crop.

Additional experiments are needed to determine any nitrogen recovery effect of no-till vs tillage termination, as well as supplemental nitrogen needs if the rye were terminated at a later maturity.

Authors: Les Everett, University of Minnesota Water Resources Center and Randy Pepin, University of Minnesota Extension

Reviewer: Melissa Wilson, University of Minnesota and Mary Berg, North Dakota State University
Published in Manure Application
February 7, 2018, Winnipeg, Man – A scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada says tailoring ration formulations to the needs of each pig will lower feeding costs and reduce the environmental impact of manure.

As part of research being conducted on behalf of Swine Innovation Porc, Canadian scientists are developing a precision feeding system that will tailor the ration to match the nutritional needs of each individual pig.

Dr. Candido Pomar, a research scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, says by supplying one diet that meet the needs of the least productive pigs, the producer ends up overfeeding the more productive pigs.

“We have to look at nutrient requirements from two different points of view,” says Dr. Pomar. “One is when we are looking to a given animal or when we are feeding a group of animals the definition of nutrient requirements is very different. Feeding one pig at a given time is not the same thing as feeding a large group of pigs during a long period of time. We have to understand that estimating nutrient requirements, we are addressing the issue of one animal, why are we using that to feed groups of animals?”

“When you over supply the nutrients, you are using important resources that finally ends in manure so this is very expensive,” he adds. “Today the farmers are challenged to reduce feeding costs.”

“Feed costs represent 60 to 70 percent of the cost of producing a hog. So optimizing the level of nutrients, knowing how much the pigs need we can reduce costs. Reducing costs, we are [also] reducing the environmental impact because all the nutrients they giving in excess finish always in the same way, in manure.”

Dr. Pomar says early indications are that by personalizing formulations for each pig, we can produce the same amount of meat with 25 percent less protein, dramatically reducing feed costs.
Published in Swine
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 26, 2018, Storrs, CT – Understanding the source of contaminants in waterways is crucial for public health and safety, and a University of Connecticut professor is developing an easy way to do just that.

All contamination will eventually find its way downstream. In Connecticut that means it may travel through neighborhoods where residents swim, to larger recreational areas such as beaches, and eventually to the Long Island Sound and shellfish beds. And, without knowing the exact source of the problem, the contamination can’t be addressed.

John Clausen of University of Connecticut’s Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, is now testing a protocol he developed to find the source. Clausen started this project almost by chance when he realized that a method had not yet been developed.

“I discovered that no one has perfected the technique for being able to look at a water sample, find E. coli and tell you where it came from, so that’s my quest,” he says.

The first step toward this goal was to identify the streams to monitor, which was a rigorous process, says Clausen.

While there are plenty of waterways in the state that are contaminated – 200 in 2016, according to Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection – the streams needed to pass by farmland.

Farm animals and animals, in general, are often the source of the contamination. So Clausen started in the Thames river Basin, initially picking more than 30 sites and then narrowing that number down to 10 streams.

Once the sites were chosen, Clausen installed a type of water sampler at each location to collect samples whenever there is a significant rainfall event.

“When you get one-to-two inch storms, you really get high E. coli values,” says Clausen.

To help with the collection efforts, the researchers coordinated volunteers to collect and deliver the water samples from all of the sites after heavy rain events. Clausen says they’ve become very good at watching the weather to determine when to collect samples.

Then the samples with high contamination are sent to a lab to quantify the level of coliform bacteria from animal sources.

Now Clausen is designing tests for E. coli specifically. He and his team of student researchers are developing tests for chicken, horse, cow and human sources. The process involves collecting fecal samples, isolating the bacteria and their DNA, pinpointing species specific markers to target and then working out the fine details to optimize the tests.

“We are now in the statistics part of development. This winter we’ll be sequencing to see how well our tests match up with the bacteria in the water samples,” says Clausen.

The overall goal is to identify producers and sources of contamination so remediation efforts can be put in place. Clausen points out that industry already has best practices to reduce E. coli in waterways from agricultural sources, manure management being one of those. When manure is not handled properly, for example, bacteria-rich runoff can easily make its way into our waterways.

“Just storing manure in holding tanks is very effective. There is a die-off period for pathogens, after which the manure can be spread more safely,” Clausen says.

Unfortunately for farmers, holding tanks are pricey and other best practices are not always easy to carry out.

But fortunately in the case of E. coli, unlike that for other types of runoff such as fertilizers, the E. coli that make their way into the watershed don’t seem to persist for quite so long.

Once bacterial source tracking is available and sources of contamination are identified, remediation efforts could potentially have a big impact on returning streams to safe levels fairly quickly.

“I’ve already had officials ask if we can start testing,” says Clausen. “We’re not there yet, but I think we’re close.”
Published in Other
January 11, 2018, Madison, WI – 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.

In the Midwest, the problem is largely due to phosphorus, a key element in fertilizers that is carried off the land and into the water, where it grows algae as easily as it grows corn and soybeans.

Previous research had found that waterways receive most of their annual phosphorus load in only a dozen or two events each year, reports Steve Carpenter, director emeritus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Center for Limnology and lead author of a new paper published online in the journal Limnology and Oceanography.

The paper ties those phosphorus pulses to extreme rain events. In fact, Carpenter says, the bigger the rainstorm, the more phosphorus is flushed downstream.

Carpenter and his colleagues used daily records of stream discharge to measure the amount of phosphorus running into Lake Mendota in Madison, Wisc., from two of its main tributaries.

The dataset spanned a period from the early 1990s to 2015. The scientists then looked at long-term weather data and found that big rainstorms were followed immediately by big pulses of phosphorus.

The researchers reviewed stream data from the same period, when seven of the 11 largest rain storms since 1901 occurred.

"This is an important example of how changes in one aspect of the environment, in this case precipitation, can lead to changes in other aspects, such as phosphorus load," said Tom Torgersen, director of the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Water, Sustainability and Climate program, which, along with NSF's Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) program, funded the research.

“This study's findings, which depend on long-term data, are important to maintaining water quality not only today, but into the future," added David Garrison, chair of NSF's LTER Working Group.

Carpenter agreed. "Without long-term data, this research would never have happened."

The next steps, he said, need to include new strategies for managing nutrient runoff.

Farmers and conservation groups now use several strategies to try to slow water down and capture some of the sediment and fertilizer it carries as it runs off a field.

"But we're not going to solve the problem with buffer strips or contour plowing or winter cover crops," said Carpenter. Although those practices all help, he said, "eventually a really big storm will overwhelm them."

The best available option for protecting water quality is to keep excess phosphorus off the landscape, Carpenter said.

"A rainstorm can't wash fertilizer or manure downstream if it isn't there."

Carpenter noted that while there are countless acres in the Midwest that are oversaturated with phosphorus, there are also places that aren't. And that, he said, "is an encouraging sign. Some farmers are having success in decreasing their soil phosphorus, and we could learn from them."

“This analysis clearly shows that extreme rainfall is responsible for a large amount of the phosphorus that flows into inland waters,” added John Schade, an NSF LTER program director. “Now, we need to develop nutrient management strategies to meet the challenge. Without long-term data like those presented here, the impact of these events would be difficult to assess."
Published in Other
January 10, 2017 – In a paper by Texas A&M scientists, biochar shows potential for increasing efficiency of the anaerobic digestion of animal manure.

In the study, digesters that are enhanced with the biochar saw a methane production increase of about 40 percent, with a reduction in production time of 50 to 70 percent. READ MORE

Published in Anaerobic Digestion
There has been some success with using biocovers to reduce the odors and environment-damaging gas emissions from liquid manure lagoons – and a promising new cover material that has the potential to do even more is biochar.
Published in Storage
January 2, 2018, Winnipeg, Man – Scientists with the University of Manitoba are providing valuable information intended to help manage the risks posed by the virus responsible for Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea.

Research being conducted by the University of Manitoba's National Centre for Livestock and the Environment is examining the survivability and infectivity of PEDv in manure and the potential of soils fertilized with infected manure to become a vector for the spread of the disease.

Christine Rawluk, the research coordinator with the National Centre for Livestock and the Environment, says the threat of the spread of this virus has increased substantially.

“When Dr. Ehsan Khafipour began the first project with MLMMI and PAMI in 2014, the incidence of the disease on Manitoba farms was minimal,” she says. “Flash forward a few years and we're seeing quite a different picture. This was the very first comprehensive study of PED survivability and infectivity in earthen manure storages. A subsequent project that recently concluded focused on PED survivability in soils following surface applications of PED positive manure.”

“The initial work showed that not only can PEDv survive our winters, the virus can potentially replicate throughout the winter in earthen manure storages,” Rawluk adds. “Their recently completed field investigations found detectable levels of the virus in soil samples collected three weeks after surface applications. But, in this study, they did not assess the virus infectivity. It was not part of what was undertaken but they see that as a critical first step to understanding the risk posed by soils receiving PED positive manure.”

Rawluk says we still need to understand the potential of the virus to survive in soil and remain infective following land application of infected manure and determine the potential of this soil to become a vector for spreading this disease.

She says planned future PEDv research will examine the survivability and infectivity when infected manure is applied to different soil types under different climate conditions.
Published in Swine
December 29, 2017, Winnipeg, Man – The executive director of the Manitoba Livestock Manure Management Initiative says issues related to manure odor and the value of manure have resurfaced as priorities when it comes to research related to the management of livestock manure.

In March, after almost two decades in operation, the Manitoba Livestock Manure Management Initiative will disband and its activities will be rolled into a more broadly mandated provincial research organization created under the new federal provincial Canadian Agricultural Partnership.

MLMMI Executive Director John Carney says, over the past 20 years, while the focus has remained the same, the priorities have evolved.

“The focus in the beginning and right through to today has been simply manure management in Manitoba,” Carney says. “Our focus has been consistent. From time-to-time, priorities change. For instance, in our early days, a lot of our research went into odor mitigation and management and then, for a period of time, we really focused on nutrient management and phosphorus imbalances, where there's greater nutrients produced by livestock than spread acres.”

“PED came into focus and we've done some work on survivability of the virus in PED,” he adds. “Now that conditions are right for the industry to look at some growth again, the focus is now shifting back to questions like odor management and also the value of nutrients in crop production and the economic value of manure.”

Carney notes, effective April 1, the work of the Manitoba Livestock Manure Management Initiative will be amalgamated into a new research program under a single research delivery model.

He says, under the new program, the work the MLMMI has been doing will continue but will be broadened to cover all forms of agriculture related research.
Published in Swine
December 15, 2017, Des Moines, IA – Iowa State University, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources today highlighted the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy Annual Progress Report that is now available at

The annual report provides progress updates on point source and nonpoint source efforts to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus loads leaving the state. The report follows the “logic model” framework that identifies measurable indicators of desirable change that can be quantified, and represents a progression toward the goals of achieving a 45 percent reduction in nitrogen and phosphorus loads leaving the state.

“There are a wide variety of factors that impact water quality and this report seeks to identify and quantify all of the work being done,” said Iowa Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig. “We continue to see progress among all aspects of measures that have been identified, we just need to continue to accelerate and scale-up our efforts.”

“We continue to focus highly on the main goal of water quality improvement and it is gratifying to see we are moving in that direction,” said Iowa DNR Director Chuck Gipp. “A great deal of collaboration and cooperation has taken place which has enhanced and continues to enhance the partnerships and teamwork being done to successfully meet our end goals.”

The “logic model” framework recognizes that in order to affect change in water quality, there is a need for increased inputs, measured as funding, staff, and resources. Inputs affect change in outreach efforts and human behavior. This shift toward more conservation-conscious attitudes in the agricultural and point source communities is a desired change in the human dimension of water quality efforts.

With changes in human attitudes and behavior, changes on the land may occur, measured as conservation practice adoption and wastewater treatment facility upgrades. Finally, these physical changes on the land may affect change in water quality, which ultimately can be measured through both empirical water quality monitoring and through modeled estimates of nutrient loads in Iowa surface water.

“While it will take time to reach the 45 percent reduction goal, the indicators we track are moving in the right direction,” said John Lawrence, interim vice president of extension and research at Iowa State University.

The report was compiled by the Iowa Nutrient Research Center at Iowa State University with support from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. A draft of the report was shared with the Iowa Water Resources Coordinating Council in late September and their feedback was incorporated into the recently finalized report.
Published in Other
December 14, 2017, University Park, PA – Changing weather patterns pose significant challenges for modern dairy farmers.

Deciding how best to react to those changes to ensure the vitality of dairy farms — while being good stewards of the environment — can present a bit of a conundrum for some farmers, especially if they are pressed for time and resources. What are the best management practices? Are there technologies that can help? Is there current research on the subject?

Now, those farmers can see sustainability principles in action with just a few mouse clicks, thanks to an interactive "virtual farm" website developed by researchers in Penn State University's College of Agricultural Sciences and Penn State Extension, in partnership with the project's lead, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Cornell University and the Dairy Innovation Center.

"The objective of this project is provide a 'one-stop shop' for all dairy sustainability information," said Eileen Fabian, professor of agricultural engineering and environmental biophysics in Penn State's Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering. "The beauty of it is that one can take a tour of a sustainable dairy farm without stepping foot on an actual farm. The resources are accessible, free and can be viewed anytime from anywhere."

Fabian explained that the catalyst for this major undertaking was a growing movement in the dairy industry to adopt practices that mitigate the negative effects of agricultural operations on the environment, while securing the future sustainability of farms.

In Pennsylvania alone, there are 6,650 dairy farms — the second largest number of dairy farms nationally — according to the Center for Dairy Excellence. In addition to producing 10.7 billion pounds of milk annually, the state's dairy industry provides 60,000 jobs and has an estimated annual economic impact of $7 billion.

"It's a tremendous industry, and its people really care about the environment and their farms," Fabian said. "Those farmers want to do their part to protect the integrity of soil, water, air and animal habitats and to keep agriculture a strong industry. And it's our mission at Penn State to help them do just that — we believe this website will really help to move the needle."

The website, designed and developed by the creative services team at WPSU Penn State, has two virtual farms: One is a model of a 1,500-cow facility, while the other is a smaller-scale operation of 150 animals. Users can click on the various aspects of the farm, such as pastures, housing, manure storage facilities, feed silos, milking facilities and more, and information related to that specific area will pop up, allowing for further exploration.

Topics include herd management, feed management, milk production, crops and soils, manure management and greenhouse gases. The site's database includes a broad range of articles, extension fact sheets, models, images and graphics. The layers of information range from exploration of the farm site with basic information to higher levels of technical and research information, data, and models.

For example, if one clicks on the manure storage facility, several links will appear, enabling viewers to scan information on manure management plans, potential hazards caused by improper treatment, preventing infiltration into surrounding water sources, and other subjects.

"The site is user-friendly, meaning it's fairly easy for users to interact at a level they feel comfortable with," Fabian said. "They can keep it simple or dig down deep and find peer-reviewed research papers."

Fabian said a project of this magnitude requires interdisciplinary collaboration, and she acknowledged the support of Penn State researchers Daniel Hofstetter, extension and research assistant in agricultural and biological engineering; Tom Richards, professor of agricultural and biological engineering; Heather Karsten, associate professor of crop production/ecology; Douglas Beegle, distinguished professor emeritus of agronomy; and Robert Nicholas, research associate, and Chris Forest, associate professor of climate dynamics, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

Now that the team successfully has launched its website, Fabian sees great potential in creating additional virtual farms, perhaps focusing on poultry production and animal welfare issues.

The five-year project received a $10 million grant from the Coordinated Ag Project Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

To tour the farm, visit Additional information about best practices and sustainability information can be found by visiting the Penn State Extension website.
Published in Dairy
November 30, 2017, University Park, PA – A new study of methane emissions from livestock in the United States – led by a researcher in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences – has challenged previous top-down estimates.

The research was conducted because serious discrepancies exist between top-down estimates that suggest the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is underestimating agricultural methane emissions by up to 90 percent, and bottom-up estimates accepted by the federal government showing lower emissions.

Top-down emissions estimates involve monitoring atmospheric methane concentrations by satellites or from air samples collected at high altitude by planes, and using models to estimate the sources of emissions. Bottom-up estimates take into account livestock populations and animal emission factors.

In their detailed analysis, researchers used a spatially explicit, bottom-up approach, based on animal inventories and feed-intake-based emission factors, to estimate enteric methane emissions for cattle and manure methane emissions for cattle, swine and poultry for the contiguous United States.

The researchers estimated methane emissions using a "gridded" approach, dividing the U.S. into 0.1 by 0.1-degree GIS units, which created cells from 31 square miles in the northern United States to 42 square miles in the southern part of the country.

"This level of detail enabled us to more accurately assess agricultural methane emissions based on activities involving livestock," explained lead researcher Alex Hristov, professor of dairy nutrition, who is a member of the current National Academy of Sciences Anthropogenic Methane Committee.

"We must have more specific information about methane emissions that combines local livestock populations and characteristics with distribution of landscape features – and a gridded inventory approach provides that," he said.

According to the EPA, the top three sources of anthropogenic methane in the United States are the combined energy sector – natural gas, petroleum systems and coal mining – which makes up 40 percent of the total; livestock, 36 percent of the total; and landfills, 18 percent of the total.

Methane emissions from livestock operations are the result of microbial fermentation and methanogenesis in the forestomach of ruminants and similar fermentation processes in manure from both ruminant and non-ruminant farm animals.

Methane is also produced from enteric fermentation in the digestive tract of non-ruminant herbivore species, such as horses, donkeys and mules, as a result of fermentation processes in their hindgut. However, "hindgut fermenters" do not produce nearly as much methane per unit of fermented feed as ruminants, so enteric or manure emissions from equine species were not included in this analysis. Neither were emissions from small ruminants such as sheep and goats, which are negligible in the U.S.

County-level, annual enteric methane emissions for all states were estimated for cattle only. A total of 3,063 counties in the contiguous U.S. were included in the cattle methane emission database.

Cattle inventories by county were obtained from the 2012 Census of Agriculture, which is the last census data currently available. Body weight data for cattle was derived from EPA records and dry matter feed intake was estimated based on National Research Council prediction equations for the various categories of cattle. Methane emission yield factors were calculated for each cattle category.

Overall, the research, which was published this month in Environmental Science and Technology, yielded total U.S. livestock methane emissions of 19.6 billion pounds per year. However, uncertainty surrounding that total is high, researchers acknowledged.

Compared with enteric methane, predicting methane emissions from manure is a more complex process and carries a larger uncertainty in the estimates, the researchers pointed out. Manure composition, type of storage facilities and manure retention time, and environment – particularly temperature – are among the factors that affect methane emissions from manure.

There is great uncertainty in both enteric and manure methane emissions from livestock, Hristov conceded. He said that research around the world has shown that variability in enteric methane emissions largely can be explained with variability in feed dry-matter intake. Nutrient composition of the feed is also important but has a lesser impact on enteric methane production.

"If methane emissions from livestock in this country really are twice as high as what is estimated now — and we don't believe they are — that would put a big target on agriculture to take measures to cut these emissions," said Hristov. "Having an accurate and spatially explicit assessment of methane emissions from livestock is critical for reconciliation of top-down and bottom-up approaches, and it's the starting point in any mitigation effort."

"Our analysis showed that the EPA’s estimates are close to reality, but there is a discrepancy in the spatial distribution of emissions. And, our research revealed a great discrepancy with global models such as the EDGAR (Emission Database for Global Atmospheric Research) inventory."

ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company partially funded this research.
Published in Air quality
November 29, 2017, Tampa, FL – MagneGas Corporation, a clean technology company in the renewable resources and environmental solutions industries, recently announced it has formally launched a U.S. Department of Agriculture sterilization pilot program at a dairy farm based in Bowling Green, FL.

The primary purpose of the pilot is to evaluate the efficacy of the MagneGas patented plasma arc sterilization process for cow manure. The pilot is jointly funded by the USDA through a $432,000 USDA grant and provides MagneGas Corporation a unique opportunity to further validate the sterilization process.

MagneGas previously conducted similar pilot programs for the hog industry in Indiana in 2016. The data gathered from that program was submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency and USDA for review. The current grant was a direct result of the prior pilot study. The company believes that with the additional data gathered as a result of the current pilot in Florida, it will be in a position to move ahead with the broader commercialization of its sterilization process within the agricultural industry.

"Our USDA pilot program is a major milestone in the progression of our sterilization business and the culmination of many years of hard work and engineering," said Ermanno Santilli, CEO of MagneGas Corporation. "Sterilization has been a core focus for the MagneGas technology since our formation. The USDA pilot further validates the progress we are making, and we believe it will serve as a key catalyst for market acceptance in the agricultural industry and a major financial opportunity for MagneGas. We are working diligently towards completing the setup of this USDA pilot for the dairy industry and, at the same time, are working towards establishing a commercialized pilot in North Carolina to service the hog industry. We also remain on track to launch our commercial program for the sterilization of leachates in landfills with our Italian partners in early 2018."

"We are very pleased to take these next steps with the USDA and our sterilization business," said Scott Mahoney, CFO of MagneGas. "As we head into 2018, we are focused on accelerating the launch of our sterilization technology as well as other emerging applications we are developing. The key financial metric we have imposed in the commercialization process has been to proactively seek out non-dilutive capital solutions that enable these programs to move forward efficiently. The USDA pilot is an excellent example of these efforts. We will have 50 percent of all pilot costs offset through the USDA grant awarded in June of 2017. We will continue to seek similar grants, joint venture programs and other structures that will enable MagneGas to advance our technologies in the near term."
Published in Companies
November 27, 2017 – The costs of managing horse manure were found in a Swedish study to be similar to feeding costs.

University of Gävle researchers Åsa Hadin, Karl Hillman and Ola Eriksson set out to examine the prospects for increased energy recovery from horse manure, carrying out a case study in a Swedish municipality. The trio examined management practices, environmental impact and costs. READ MORE
Published in Other
Innovative research is reshaping what is known about ammonia and related emissions from feedlots. And that new knowledge may help the industry to adjust its management, shape and react to public policy more effectively.
Published in Beef
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