All Washington dairy farms are required to review, and update if needed, their field specific nutrient budgets each year. Among other elements, the plan requires dairy farmers to conduct soil assessments to determine the soil’s ability to utilize manure-based and commercial fertilizers and to prevent over application that can affect water quality and crop yield.
Prior to his retirement this year, Dr. Craig G. Cogger worked as a soil scientist at WSU extension for more than 30 years, and knows well how proper management of organic manure nutrients help build soil quality, feed plants and why farmers must take precautions to avoid over application.
Dr. Cogger has educated hundreds of farmers about soil management, how best to assess soil conditions, how much and when to apply manure-nutrients for soil health. Manure-based fertilizer is added to soil for slower release of nutrients compared to what occurs with chemical fertilizers. Annual soil tests conducted by an experienced lab service will provide recommendations for fertilization to avoid over application.
“Soil assessments allow us to determine nutrient uptake from manure-based fertilizers to determine appropriate application rate on fields for crop production,” he says. In 2002 his program expanded its scope to include organic soil quality farming systems for vegetable crops and cover crops such as rye, vetch, and clover.
“Soil productivity in support of local agriculture increases yield while at the same time protecting water quality,” Dr. Cogger says. “Basic soil tests that focus on phosphorus, potassium, and pH will reveal the soil’s reserve supply for uptake of nutrients. The phosphorus soil test is one piece of a big picture for soil health and water quality.”
Washington dairy producers, the Washington State Conservation Commission, and Whatcom Conservation District have launched a new Washington Discovery Farms program for conducting on site farm research to assess and monitor land conservation practices to improve water quality and crop production.
Applied field level research on participating Discovery Farms will provide valuable information about improving farm operations with actionable best practices. Although the program is open to all farmers, dairy producers are taking the initiative to validate existing farm practices and improve others with real data to support changes.
The Discovery Farms program aims to engage operating farms in effective monitoring of various practices such as manure application setbacks, cover crops, buffers, manure application timing and more.
Discovery Farms is a collaborative approach to promote the viability of agriculture for livestock and cropping systems by improving farm operations. In addition to directly assisting producers, research on Discovery Farms will foster understanding of agricultural impacts on water quality, by providing better, science-based information for environmental management, public policy makers and related regulatory efforts.
Participating farms agree to develop a Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP) of practices including standard operating procedures, field set-ups and sampling protocols.
The statewide project will be organized by state and local farmer led steering Committees that will provide input on research needs, advance project ideas for funding, and outreach to farms for participation. The program will help identify and implement effective on-farm environmental management compatible with profitable agriculture.
Dr. Craig Frear, a biological systems engineer with WSU Extension for the past 12 years, has joined Ferndale-based Regenis as Director of Research and Technology to explore and develop advanced uses of anaerobic digestion systems on dairy farm operations. Regenis is the largest builder of digestion systems in the western U.S., working on several fronts to expand use of these systems including efforts to build digesters that work economically for smaller dairy operations.
“These systems have so many possibilities to create win-win scenarios for dairy farmers. Researchers continue to push the envelope, exploring applications beyond electric power generation, to produce a viable economic model for biogas and technologies that hold promise to discharge cleaner waste water,” Dr. Frear says. “Anaerobic digestion is evolving into a systems approach to meet more of the dairy farm’s needs.”
Dr. Frear plans to maintain his academic non-government organization (NGO) contacts to help ensure Regenis is engaged and aware of developing technologies while applying his talents as a resource for Regenis and the dairy industry in recognition that every dairy farm is different so there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.
Although Washington State has a ‘clean energy fund’ in place, support for digestion systems could change dramatically should Governor Inslee’s low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) be eventually adopted and a carbon tax imposed on certain industries similar to the one in California.
Dairyland News is distributed to dairy farm families, business leaders/dairy farm suppliers, government staff, elected officials, and news media to show how dairy farmers contribute to the community, with safe operations, best farm management practices and effective stewardship of land and animals. Dairyland News is produced by the Washington Dairy Products Commission in cooperation with the Washington State Dairy Federation.