Swine farmers and managers were recently focused on a presentation by Terry Mescher, P.E. from ODNR’s Division of Soil and Water Resources. The farm-bred, born-and-raised engineer bluntly told attendees at the Ohio Pork Congress/Professional Pork Producers Symposium that today, “Water quality issues drive it all.” Mescher, who continues to be involved in production agriculture and is an integral member of the Grand Lake St. Mary’s Ag Solutions group, wasted no words in his presentation pointing out existing challenges dealing with nutrients lost to public waters.
Over the last several decades, much attention has been paid to the loss of nutrients, particularly phosphorus, that was attached to soil particles lost due to erosion. A significant amount of success was achieved, especially in the Lake Erie watershed, improving water quality by lessening the use of intensive tillage practices.
The engineer laid out the current water quality issues, including those in Lake Erie, Grand Lake and the Gulf of Mexico. Most of the emphasis has been on phosphorous in Ohio, while hypoxia in the Gulf has been driven more by the loss of nitrogen from farm fields. He stressed that nutrient management is the issue driven by lake algae blooms, the ‘Dead Zone’ in the Gulf, stricter Ohio EPA Water Quality Standards and increasing scrutiny of nutrient loss, regardless of the source.
In recent years, manure has received nearly all of the attention. Very visible high livestock concentrations and limited acreage have often led to higher soil test phosphorus readings. But, increasing dissolved phosphorus in areas with low livestock density, notably the Maumee watershed to Lake Erie, and the growing concern about the spreading hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico, is forcing everyone in agriculture to ad-dress this public issue.
You have probably been living under a rock if you have not yet heard about the 4R’s approach to nutrient management. The state of Ohio has endorsed this soil fertility management strategy of selecting the Right Source, applying the Right Rate of material, at the Right Time and in the Right Place.
Mescher specified that future application rates will receive more scrutiny for manure and commercial fertilizer. Right Rate practices must include only application of the crop useable gallons or tons/acre of manure and similar amounts of commercial N and P.
The remaining R’s of Source, Time and Place will also need to be addressed. The major question for pork producers, “How will this affect manure applications?”
When looking at the Right Source, realize that some manure may be better suited for some fields, if indeed that acreage needs any at all. The speaker noted that farmers and others, such as Certified Crop Advisers, may have to work harder to monitor manure analysis in order to better match commercial fertilizer needs.
Right Time endeavors may need expanded application windows or development of new application techniques. Application timing related to nitrogen losses may become a larger consideration in manure distribution, with more emphasis on conserving nitrogen.
Application setbacks and incorporation of manure both deal with the Right Place issue. Additional options based on the use of cover crops may help farmers in this arena. However, we are still at the front end of the learning curve in using living plants to protect soils and retain nutrients. And, if there is no Right Place on your farm, export the manure to a different location where the nutrients can be safely utilized.
The creativity of the human mind will help develop new strategies for dealing with organic and commercial nutrients. The focus must be on using all of the nutrients applied, whether they are purchased, or produced on the farm.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Readers with questions or comments for Roger Bender may write to him in care of this publication.