Millions Go To Reducing Nutrients in Kentucky Waterways…By Controlling Manure

By WKMS Murray State University Editorial
February 9, 2015

 A new public-private partnership in Kentucky will help the state’s livestock producers control their animals’ poop.

The project will direct more than $4 million toward planning resources and on-the-ground solutions designed to help keep excess nutrients out of the commonwealth’s waterways. This is an issue in Kentucky—and in many watersheds. Nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus are used heavily in agriculture, but the runoff can cause problems in rivers and streams.

“In crop production, we utilize those nutrients to grow the crops we need,” said Amanda Gumbert of the University of Kentucky’s Agriculture Extension program.

“In livestock production, our animals are given nutrients through their feed, but then also we produce nutrients with manure. So, we have to balance that production of manure with the crops we want to grow without losing excessive nutrients into the environment.”

In agriculture, nutrients are released into the environment when soil or manure gets into water. These nutrient loads travel downstream and contribute to problems like the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico. And Jim Roe of the Kentucky Division of Water said the nutrients cause problems locally, too.

“You certainly don’t want excess nutrient loading in streams, because of drinking water issues,” he said. “There’s some contribution of the excess nutrient loading to the harmful algal bloom issues that are happening through lots of the Midwestern states, including Kentucky over the last few years, which impacts the recreation season, swimming, fishing, things like that.”

So, this new pot of money is focusing on livestock producers, and helping these farmers implement solutions to keep their animals’ manure out of rivers. Gumbert said there’s money for planning, but about 90 percent of the funds will go to constructing actual solutions to the problem.

“What these programs can help do is provide financial assistance to our producers, so they can install some practices on the ground on their farms that will help reduce the losses of nutrients,” she said. “And sometimes those facilities can be very costly.”

Sometimes those solutions are concrete feeding pads, so when a bunch of cattle congregate, they don’t tear up the ground, she said. Sometimes it’s stream crossings for animals, to help reduce riverbank erosion. And for farmers who store large quantities of manure in piles outdoors, the answer could be a dedicated, covered building for storage.

The groups involved in the partnership include the federal USDA’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program, the Kentucky Division of Conservation, the Kentucky Division of Water, the University of Kentucky, the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association and the Kentucky Dairy Development Council.

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