The PRO-DAIRY Nutrient Management Program offers nutrient management educational programs with an emphasis on optimizing crop yields, reducing fertilizer costs, accounting for manure nutrients, identifying related environmental benefits and protecting water quality. One of the main functions of the program is to work with the NY dairy industry to identify and answer pressing, current nutrient and environmental management related questions.
When applied research questions are identified, we operate with the philosophy that replicated studies should be conducted in farmer fields as much as possible to optimize impact and adoption by producers. Additionally, we work to anticipate high impact issues and policy developments, bring them to the attention of the industry as quickly as possible, and help with developing and implementing solutions.
Effectiveness of the program results in part because of active and extensive partnerships with many NY dairy farmers, Certified Nutrient Management Planners and other farm advisors, and state and federal agency staff at the United States Department of Agriculture - Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD), and NYS Departments of Agriculture and Markets and Environmental Conservation (DEC).
Weather records show that NYS is facing increasing annual rainfall and storm intensity. These conditions make it harder to keep soil and nutrients on crop fields, reducing farm productivity, and increasing runoff and water quality challenges. As a result, the general public has become interested in how farmers manage manure. As the interface with the public becomes more active, more time is spent by PRO-DAIRY staff in partnership with an industry Dairy Issues Team to develop community outreach materials and offer meetings to educate local officials and neighbors about farming and nutrient management topics. This effort continues in the Owasco and Cayuga Lake watersheds, with needs also surfacing in the Seneca Lake watershed as well as other parts of the state.
CAFO Training in Nutrient Management
Education and outreach to farmers about careful timing and placement of manure application continues to be a critical effort as harmful algal blooms are being reported with higher frequency. Significant effort continues to be placed on the topic of winter manure application and how to reduce manure runoff risk. While the training is now required by DEC for manure applicator staff on medium and large CAFO farms, it has also been provided to hundreds of small farm operators, certified planners, and support and agency staff.
Over the past few years, on average 500 people attended the manure applicator training held at 12 NY locations, representing 80,000 cows. Farm managers report that after this training staff ask more questions about manure spreading setbacks from waterways and are overall more vigilant of potential manure related risks. Overall, over 1,100 people attended nutrient management and related programs that involve PRO-DAIRY nutrient management efforts.
Nutrient Management SPEAR Program
Core programming efforts are highly integrated with the extension and research efforts of the Nutrient Management Spear Program at Cornell in a strong and productive partnership to develop and interpret soil fertility research data from commercial and research farms for the benefit of NY’s dairy industry. The team is wrapping up a large project to revise the NYS phosphorus (P) index, a tool to assess potential for P runoff loss from a field, and to work with five nearby states to integrate P indices and potentially reduce interstate differences. This project includes efforts to test P index outcomes on farms with sustainable nutrient mass balances. Much of the recent field effort focused on meetings with farmers and CAFO planners to seek feedback on P index structure and water quality protection practices that should be included in the index. The team is also finalizing analysis of more than 160,000 acres of farm yield records to update corn yields in support of important nutrient management objectives.
Water Quality and Groundwater Work Groups
PRO-DAIRY continues to serve as a resource to the Water Quality Work Group, which was formed in 2014 and offers input to DEC on CAFO Permit and related water quality issues. PRO-DAIRY also continues to provide leadership to the Groundwater Work Group that investigates well contamination issues where dairy manure is a suspected contaminant and makes manure management practices recommendations to reduce risk.