Wiersema Dairy Agroforestry Project

Final Report for FW98-099

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1998: $5,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2004
Region: Western
State: Idaho
Principal Investigator:
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Project Information


This project proposes to plant an agroforestry demonstration area consisting of hybrid poplars as a field windbreak and woodlot. The objective is to use liquid waste from 1,000 dairy cows and the milking parlor in combination with other water to irrigate the woodlot. The hybrid poplars will take up the nutrients, providing an alternative solution to the area's dairy-waste problem.

Three counties in the Magic Valley - Gooding, Jerome and Twin Falls - harbor more than half of Idaho's growing dairy industry. The waste the dairies generate is more than the entire city of Seattle, reported a local newspaper. Also, the dairies discharge liquids and liquid wastes from their milking facilities into holding ponds, and the dairies and local residents alike are concerned that these liquids might leak into the groundwater or irrigation canals.

Growing hybrid poplars has been shown to provide income from saw log production, serve as windbreaks for crops, homes and farm buildings and clean wastewater from dairies by taking up the nutrients in the wastewater. At the same time, the windbreaks provide a visual screen, easing complaints from urban neighbors.

To test these potential benefits, Patty and Jim Wiersma of the Wiersma Dairy near Buhl, Idaho, planted 14 acres of hybrid poplars to determine which of five varieties would work best for southern Idaho. Members of a local Boy Scout troop and students from the College of Southern Idaho helped plant 500 of each variety in a multi-row windbreak around the dairy and woodlot. The scouts and students have helped record progress through photographs.

Patty Wiersma and Richard Yankey, district conservationist with NRCS and the project's technical advisor, have provided information on the most promising varieties to the NRCS in Idaho and the agency's Western region agroforester, Gary Kuhns. Additionally, they are working with the Idaho Division of Environmental Quality, the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, the USDA Agricultural Research Service and NRCS to set up a long-term monitoring program on the woodlot.

The windbreak planted around the dairy has stimulated interest locally and nationally and is being used as an example for local county zoning criteria and for the dairy industry.

Wiersma says that over the first two years of the project, many lessons were learned, lessons that are being shared with people interested in planting hybrid poplars. In addition, she says that she and Yankey have learned much about the processes needed to develop a successful woodlot operation.

"This an ongoing project with new lessons still being learned and shared with others," says Wiersma. "There are still many years of activities to come before the harvesting of a crop from the woodlot and beginning of the second cycle."

Knowing which trees will adapt best in southern Idaho's climate will help area producers make planting decisions.

No reports have made of other producers adopting the practice.

The project's participants intend to:
· plant more hybrid poplars under a micro-sprinkler system;
· establish a monitoring system that will provide satisfactory results to the environmental, scientific and dairy communities;
· involve the local school district through 4-H, FFA and other school clubs in a monitoring program;
· expand the hybrid poplar plantation concept to other dairies and acres; and
· show how a constructed wetland could be used as a filter for the dairy waste before it's applied to the poplars.

The hybrid poplars were highlighted during the Water Quality Beyond 2000 program in Boise in January 1999 and during a dairy waste management workshop in March and a poplar tour in September, both sponsored by the Balanced Rock and Mid-Snake RC&D. Also, a group of Utah dairy producers visited the project site in October 1999.

In addition, the project has been featured in reports on local radio and television stations and in local newspapers, with interviews done with reporters from as far away as Boise and Spokane.

Many producers have visited the windbreak and woodlot seeking new ideas for their dairies.


Participation Summary

Research Outcomes

No research outcomes
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.