MERCER, Pa. – When the snow blows and the winds howl across Bald Hill Dairy’s 220 acres next winter, Dan Kloos can stay warm and dry in his barn.
He won’t have to haul spreader-loads of manure to frozen fields or watch melting snow and freezing rains wash the nutrients down the ditches.
By the time winter sets in, Kloos plans to have a 152,000-gallon manure storage tank, fenced and filling up, less than 100 feet from his dairy barn in Mercer, Pa.
The round concrete tank is 8 feet deep and 60 feet across, with a ramp leading to the slab. Kloos beds with sand, which settles out of the effluent, so the tank had to be strongly designed with a ramp for cleaning, he said.
Improving watershed. Manure will flow from the barn to a drop box, then through a 2-foot pipe into the tank. Not only can the process temporarily bypass the farm’s well-used spreader, it will benefit nearby Otter Creek, improving water quality in the Shenango Watershed.
USDA incentive funding made it possible for Kloos to afford the $100,000 project, which includes surfacing the access road at the barn, manure storage for his heifer barn, an evaporation pad at the end of his silo bunk and a filter area for the milkhouse wastewater. (See related article.)
“The idea behind (the program) is to clean up the Ohio River in this part of the state,” Kloos said.
Multi-stage plan. His five-year plan started in late 2004 when he built a covered structure for manure stacking beside his 12-year-old heifer barn up the hill from the cow barn. The heifer barn is set up to be cleaned by a skid loader and the manure is stored until needed on a field.
Since then, the evaporation pad for the silage was poured and unseasonably dry weather in late April and early May made excavation for and construction of the tank possible.
A stretch of grass at the end of the evaporation pad will filter silage run off.
Whole-farm picture. Historically, USDA cost-share money went to individual projects on different farms. But that system has expanded, now requiring recipients to address conservation on a farm-wide basis, according to Kerry Prince, civil engineering technician with the USDA National Resources Conservation Service Mercer County field office.
Under the current Environmental Quality Incentives Program, farmers must have a study of all the resources on the site. Once the study is complete, they work with NRCS to plan an operation-wide strategy.
“Now we are trying to address all the problems on that particular site,” Prince said.
If the environmental rating of a property is high enough, the farmer may qualify for the federal money. Kloos has a 75 percent incentive for his project, but that kind of manna from heaven doesn’t always materialize.
“He got a real good deal,” Prince said. “The previous year the cap was at $50,000. The maximum amount of money (available) can change each year.”
Not all qualify. The money is allotted to the NRCS in Washington every year, with slightly different strings attached. The national service passes it down to its state offices, where it filters down to local field offices, he said.
The Mercer office typically has 20 to 40 farmers interested in NRCS funding, but not all will qualify.
People sign up and the local office evaluates their properties, Prince said. Not everybody gets money every year, and every year there is a new evaluation form, so paperwork has to be updated.
“Hopefully, the changes make it better, simpler and correct what wasn’t working before,” he said.
Take some work. Getting funding is not easy or quick, but the final results can make a big difference to a farm. The work agreed upon in the contract has to be completed in five years.
Kloos was smart to get his improvements made early in the five-year contract, Prince said. Once the check is written, there are no allowances for inflation. If the prices of lumber or concrete skyrocket before the materials are bought, the farmer has to make sure the contracted work gets done. That may include finding the money for completion from a different source, Prince said.
“They get paid on the year the contract was written,” he said. “We always encourage people to do everything they can as soon as possible.”
Hitting the ground running includes rounding up contractors who have the ability to follow the engineer’s plans. In Kloos’ case, he needed a concrete contractor with the experience and forms to pour the walls on the round tank.
“It was better for him to find a contractor to do that kind of work, and they are hard to find,” Prince said. “We work with (the contractors) to make sure they understand the designs the engineers have drawn.”
Funding for a technical service provider can sometimes be arranged through one of the NRCS programs, Prince said.
Kloos had Wishart Excavating of Mercer dig out the hillside for the tank and found Fairfield Concrete from Columbiana County in Ohio for the concrete work.
Family farm. Kloos, who has a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Pennsylvania State University, is the fourth generation of his family to farm Bald Hill Dairy. He grew up helping his parents, Glenn and Imogene, and eventually purchased the farm from them. Both are still involved with the operation.
The family quit bottling milk in 1984, Kloos said, and now they sell their daily product through the Dairy Marketing Service.
His parents still live in the farmhouse near the barn and Kloos, his wife, JoAnn, their son, Matthew, who is one month old, and their collie, Jake, have a home nearby.
Working for tomorrow. The decision to make the major changes to the dairy was a combination of concern for both the environment and the bottom line. Kloos, 40, has kept his eye on both targets during his career.
“They don’t want you hauling manure when the ground is frozen,” Kloos said. “Starting in December, the nitrogen runs off or evaporates and you have a lot of phosphorus leeching out.”
Management of run-off water keeps nutrients available to the crops and keeps streams and rivers healthy. “That’s really the big thing – run-off,” he said.
Voluntary, for now. Although adopting conservation practices on a farm is currently voluntary, Kloos said he expects the government will make them mandatory. Funding for such improvements might be harder to come by then, he said.
Kloos has a herd of about 100 and milks about 50, and he knows the tank will only hold about four months-worth of manure. But a farm is not snowed under or frozen all winter and he plans to make the best use of the natural fertilizer that he can, when he can.
“Basically, we’ll be able to haul whenever we can, or when we want to,” he said.
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