Improving Manure Management to Protect Water Quality in the Southwestern U. S.

1996 Annual Report for EW96-002

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1996: $60,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1999
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $106,019.00
Region: Western
State: Colorado
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Jessica Davis
Colorado State University

Improving Manure Management to Protect Water Quality in the Southwestern U. S.



1) To demonstrate and encourage the use of Best Management Practices (BMPs) for poultry, lagoon, and feedlot operations within the animal production units and in crop production systems in the field
2) To educate NRCS and Cooperative Extension personnel in methods of livestock waste utilization within the frame work of western U.S. agriculture
3) To revise and update NRCS guidelines for livestock waste management to address specific concerns for western U.S. climates, soils, and cropping systems


The purpose of this project was to improve the use of manure as a fertilizer that is applied at agronomically and economically sound rates and to reduce fertilizer applications accordingly, so that water quality is protected. We held nine workshops to train farmers and Extension and NRCS personnel in nutrient management planning using a case study approach. Over 400 participants attended the workshops. The makeup of the participants was 14 percent farmers, 42 percent NRCS, 20 percent extension, and 24 percent other. We wrote an extension bulletin meant for the western dairy farmers. Our bulletin, Manure Best Management Practices: A Practical Guide for Dairies in Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico is available on the Internet at the following address: We printed copies of this bulletin and distributed them to dairies and extension and NRCS personnel throughout our three states. Lastly, we demonstrated manure management Best Management Practices including calibration of manure spreaders, basing manure application rates on soil sampling, and use of polyacrylamides to reduce nutrient runoff from fields with manure applications. Extension and NRCS staff in Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah are now better prepared to help farmers protect water quality.

Specific Results

We held seven training workshops in Utah, Colorado and New Mexico and helped with two additional workshops in Wyoming. The general outline of the workshops was to spend the morning on-site (on a local dairy or feedlot) and the afternoon developing a nutrient management plan for that farmer in a classroom setting. The morning tour included an overview of the farm by the farmer, prior to dividing into three groups which rotated among three tour stops (manure and runoff collection, manure and runoff storage, and field application of manure). The field tour was used to evaluate the current state of the manure handling and management system at this case study farm, and to discuss alternatives for this situation. Each workshop was supported by a handbook containing reference materials.

Potential Benefits or Impacts on Agriculture

Workshop participants are now better able to assist producers in manure management problem solving. In the southwestern U.S., manure management, particularly manure utilization, has generally been left to individual producers with little guidance and few requirements for determining proper manure application rates and developing a manure management plan. This SARE project has provided training on manure management and plan development to Extension and NRCS professionals, thereby allowing them to begin working with producers to voluntarily modify manure management practices.

The Clean Water Action Plan has resulted in the 1999 development of the joint USDA-EPA Unified National Strategy for Animal Feeding Operations. This strategy is expected to affect 20,000 livestock producers nationwide, requiring them to upgrade current waste handling and storage facilities and improve manure utilization, to minimize the threat to water quality and public health. Several key provisions in the Unified Strategy are being addressed by this SARE-funded project:
· Develop a comprehensive nutrient management plan (CNMP) for livestock facilities
· Build the capacity to help producers develop and implement CNMPs
· Where possible, emphasize a voluntary approach.

This training reached a significant number (over 400) of agricultural professionals in Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. Extension and NRCS professionals in all three states are better prepared to help livestock producers develop the required CNMPs. Without the demonstrations developed under the auspices of this program many growers would only have hearsay to base their decisions for utilizing manure.

This SARE-funded training improved cooperation between Extension and NRCS. Prior to this training, members of both agencies separately assisted producers in developing manure management plans. In the past, two plans for the same farm, developed by different agencies, could differ significantly because each agency relied on different reference materials and guidelines for manure management. Preparation of training materials and sessions for the manure management training brought these differences to light and have motivated personnel from both agencies to develop a common set of guidelines for all in-state personnel to use.

NRCS and Cooperative Extension personnel (as well as farmers) now have the knowledge and the tools for developing nutrient management plans. The more people that are familiar with the procedures for planning manure management strategies, the less likely there will be a chance of improper application and subsequent water pollution.

Farmer Adoption and Direct Impact

We gave workshop participants a quiz about manure management before and after the workshop. The average grade before the workshops was 80 percent, and the average grade after the workshops was 98 percent. The workshop evaluation also revealed that the participants expect to influence over 7300 producers in their manure management decisions. They plan to implement their own learning by relaying information to producers and training and assisting them in manure management. The participants consistently stated that the combination of on-site farm evaluation with classroom nutrient management planning was the best thing about the training sessions. Participants felt that the workshops were application and problem-solving oriented with hands-on, on-site training done in a step-by-step fashion. The notebooks were also appreciated for future reference. The participants unanimously agreed that the research base supporting the workshops was good to excellent, and 94 percent felt that the training was experiential and participatory.

Reactions from Farmers and Ranchers

A total of 57 farmers (14% of participants) participated in the training. Initially, farmer reaction to manure management requirements was negative, but reactions by farmers and ranchers were mixed following the workshops. Not one farmer expressed disappointment in the workshop information. The workshop notebooks, it has been said, are easy to follow and derive the necessary numbers. However, many still wish for a one page summary that can be done in five minutes. Farmers have concerns about salts in the manure, the long term weed seed survivability in the manure, and the effect that composting has on survivability. The more demonstrations that are available for farmers and ranchers to see, the better they will be able to assess the risks posed by salts and weeds. One of the Colorado producers stated that he got more out of this activity than anything else Colorado State University had ever done

Responses to the question, What did you like best about the training? follow:
I really like hearing from the people who can solve the problems (the ranchers).
The manual with necessary resources to follow through after training.
Effective, cutting edge information that is valuable to a broad range of interests.
Was on the ground and useable.

Future Recommendations or New Hypotheses

A guiding comment from Extension and NRCS professionals has been that manure management must be kept simple if producers are to voluntarily adopt manure management practices that protect water quality. The challenge of future training should be to promote simplified procedures for developing CNMPs, which still meet the goal of protecting water quality. We need to provide information specific to small acreage farmers, not just the large-scale producers.

This summary was prepared by the project coordinator for the 2000 reporting cycle.