Dairy farms have been maintaining mandatory manure nutrient management plans for 17 years, but Whatcom dairies have special challenges that require unique and evolving multi-faceted practices.
The Whatcom Conservation District (WDC), Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) and the dairy industry have developed better processes and procedures to assess and prevent environmental risk from dairy operations. Farmers have learned how seasonally high Whatcom water tables and rainfall can lead to saturated soils. These soils in turn may not be able to absorb the nutrients in manure fertilizer as well as they can during drier months.
Whatcom dairy farmers are applying proven, science-based practices to prevent runoff during fall and winter, thereby helping to reduce fecal coliform levels in waterways across the county. Educating dairy farmers on how to make agronomic applications of nutrients that match crop needs is an ongoing process.
Lenssen Dairy near Lynden is operated by third-generation dairy farmer Troy Lenssen, his wife Jamie and his brother Terry. The Lenssens farm 500 acres near the Canadian border and, like other Whatcom dairy producers, they take multiple precautions to ensure their fertilizer applications are performed properly.
“We work closely here with the Whatcom Conservation District and N3 certified agronomists to maintain our Dairy Nutrient Management Plan,” says Troy Lenssen, who also serves on the Whatcom Farm Bureau Board of Directors. “Timing for fertilizer applications is totally based on the ground you are farming, whether sandy or hard stuff. Weather is a factor as we complete application risk management worksheets and agronomic rate calculations. They tell us what fields are high or low so we are selective on where we apply down to specific sections of a field.”
The Lenssen Dairy assesses agronomic rates from both their independent agronomists and those with the Whatcom Conservation District to obtain approval from two sources before they apply. Weekly Manure Application advisories provide additional insight about whether it is a good time or a bad time to apply.
“Research conducted by the Whatcom Conservation District reinforces many of the basic principles of manure application and water quality,” Lenssen says, “and when coupled with the latest technologies and procedures help us make informed decisions.”
Farmers and weather are in a constant struggle – too hot or cold, too dry or wet, too much sun or not enough. Whatcom County farmers and their land are vulnerable to weather, especially during fall and winter when rainfall is at its highest and soil becomes saturated with water.
Farmers are taking extra precautions to prevent manure-based fertilizer runoff and to irrigate at appropriate times by accessing state-of-art, online weather forecast information from real-time monitoring stations that provide useful decision-making input for farmers.
Weather forecasts, monitoring and information are readily available online as a resource for farmers who apply manure-based fertilizer on field crops. “Farmers are using several weather information resources to ensure proper application of manure-based fertilizers,” says Michael Isensee, NW Regional Dairy Nutrient Inspector for the WSDA’s NW Region. “Dairy producers committed to staying in business into the future use forecasts and real-time weather information for scheduling field activities including cutting grass and applying fertilizer.”
The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service provides detailed weather forecast information that farmers use to determine daily operations. Weather forecasts can be found at www.wadairyplan.org/weather for locations statewide with forecast range options for precipitation, soil moisture, temperature, chance of precipitation, total rainfall amounts, humidity, wind and other measures.
Washington State University’s Agriculture Weather Network – Weather.WSU.edu – website portal provides weather news and information from 161 automated weather monitoring stations across Washington (four of them in Whatcom County, where weather can fluctuate based on terrain and convergent conditions).
The service is used primarily for agriculture, giving more than 10,000 farmers and other registered users access real-time wind, humidity, temperature and rainfall information from the website free of charge. According to Dr. Gerrit Hoogenboom, WSU Professor of Agrometeorology and Weather.WSU.edu Director, the website logs more than 250,000 visits each month.
Farmers have been applying nutrient-rich cow manure to fertilize fields with no effect on water quality since the beginning of farming. Fast forward to the present where a collaborative effort to mitigate groundwater contamination from storm water runoff, septic tanks, sewage treatment overflows, weather anomalies, lawn care fertilizersand farming operations must become a priority.
The Washington State Department of Agriculture’s (WSDA) new Nutrient Application Education Project is dedicated to educating farmers about water management and proper application of manure nutrient fertilizer on fields in practically all forms of farming.
The farming community has sought to learn more about waysto reduce its impacts on groundwater and surface water. Funding from the state legislature will provide for a statewide education project with potential topics ranging from understanding soil chemistry, soil testing, water management, best management practices for cropping, surface and groundwater protection and fertilizer application.
According to Jay Gordon of the Washington State Dairy Federation, water management goes beyond proper application of manure manure-based fertilizer to protect groundwater and grow good crops. “A focused effort to educate farmers on how to read a soil test, how to manage irrigation water and what new technologies are out there to better manage applications is what is needed,” Gordon said. “We want farmers to have a greater ability to describe how they are managing water and applications, as well as learn how to continue to do things better.”
The WSDA has called for proposals from experts for classroom, on-site field instruction and other ways to educate farmers about how to better manage their fields, crops and cows in a manure-based fertilizer system. For information, visit the WSDA training project grant page.
Ginny Prest, WSDA Dairy Nutrient Program Manager, says the Nutrient Application Education Projectapplies to dairies and to all farmers who use livestock manure as fertilizer on crops. “This is an extension to the productive program we initiated last year with the Whatcom Conservation District, Lower Yakima Valley Conservation District and dairy industry to put on well-attended educational workshops on both sides of the state,” she said.
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