WILMOT – Livestock waste can be a valuable resource for farmers, but it can also be a major problem if it isn’t handled properly, particularly as the state and federal Environmental Protection Agencies work to establish Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) standards for watersheds in the United States.
Ed Lentz, district agronomy Extension specialist told producers attending the Regional Agronomy Meeting in Wilmot that in light of the TMDL issue, it is becoming more and more important to have a manure and nutrient management plan in place for their livestock operations as part of their farm’s overall conservation plan.
Lentz explained that TMDLs are the total amount of pollutant a body of water can receive from both point and nonpoint pollution sources and still meet the water quality standards established by the state.
“‘The issue isn’t a new one,” he said. “It came into existence along with the Clean Water Act of 1972, but it is an issue that producers are going to have to deal with.”
Under Section 303 of the Clean Water Act, states are required to adopt water quality standards to protect, maintain and improve their surface waters.
In addition, the states are required to identify watersheds that don’t meet water quality standards needed to support aquatic life, recreational use, public water supplies or state resource water.
Finally, states are also required to establish a priority list to identify and improve watersheds that don’t meet the water quality standards.
“If the states don’t establish water quality standards, the federal EPA mill do it for them,” Lentz added.
In 1992, the federal guidelines for TMDLs were reviewed. As part of the review process, substances including sediment, nutrients, acids and heavy salts, heavy metals, pathogens and toxic organic and inorganic chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides were identified as sources of pollutants to Ohio’s watersheds.
“Five of those pollutants fall under agriculture and of those five, sediment and nutrients are the big two,” Lentz said. “As far as nutrients are concerned, we need to be concerned mostly with nitrogen and phosphorous.
“The Clean Water Act is driving TMDL’s, and TMDL’s are driving the nutrient management plans.”
Nutrient management plays a key component in broad range conservation plans. Whole farm conservation plans have a vital role in helping farmers manage all of the resources on their farm, addressing issues related to soil, water, air, plants, animals and even human concerns.
Lentz said producers need to be aware that how they handle manure nutrients is going to be a critical component in their plans because manure is harder to manage than other types of nutrients.
“You need to have a plan in place to identify problems and objectives for your farm,” he said. “By 2008, animal feeding operations in Ohio are going to have to have a nutrient management plan in place and be implementing it in their farming operation.”
He explained that the process comes in the phases. The first phase involves identifying problems, determining the objectives, inventorying resources and analyzing data.
The second phase involves planning and reviewing alternatives and decisions on which plans to implement. The final phase involves implementing and evaluating the plans.
Nutrient management plans need to document where, when and how nutrients are being applied to the land as well as developing a follow-up plan. Livestock producers need to look at the livestock numbers as well as the acreage available for manure application.
Soil tests and manure tests are the basis of manure nutrient management. They give producers an idea of where they are as far as the amount of nutrients produced and what their soil needs so they aren’t buying additional fertilizer.
Lentz added that soil testing is critical even if manure is not part of the farm’s program.
“We encourage producers to use soil tests; they are important for nutrient management and crop production,” he said. “Application rates should meet the crop’s needs. You need critical levels to grow the crop, whatever the crop is taking out, should be put back on.”
Lentz added producers also need to set realistic yield goals for their farm and not over apply nutrients. They need to follow the state’s recommendations for fertilizer application rates to prevent runoff and leaching.
“‘Today, proper nutrient management is critical,” he concluded. “Otherwise, TMDL is going to mean that tomorrow may be a day late.”