Evaluating water quality benefits from soil aeration
The Winooski Natural Resources Conservation District (WNRCD) is working to raise the awareness of soil aeration in Vermont through research, education and outreach. Although aeration of hay-land is a well-known conservation practice, its adoption and use is not widespread in Vermont. The link between aeration and phosphorus pollution reduction is poorly understood. In an effort to raise understanding and build usage of this important best management practice, the WNRCD has partnered with Shelburne Farms and Stone Environmental (Stone) to continue a third year of an innovative paired watershed research project focusing on how water quality may be impacted and improved by soil aeration. Data collection will continue until the end of December 2015 with data analysis conducted in January-March of 2016. When the reviewed data is available, WNRCD will develop outreach materials that interpret the findings for the agricultural community and general public. In addition to supporting research on aeration impacts on water quality, WNRCD works to provided educational opportunities for farmers and the farm educator community, to learn about soil aeration. WNRCD held an aerator demonstration day in October of 2015 and has developed several outreach display materials for future events to be conducted in 2016.
Data Collection and Research
After a wet June, the summer of 2015 was very dry; as such, there were very few paired sampling events for each site between July and September, 2015. In total, since the beginning of the study in 2013 through December 2015, there have been 27 paired flow events for calibration; 20 paired flow events sampled for chemistry and 15 paired flow events sampled for aerator treatment effects. Stone staff have continued to visit the Shelburne Farms monitoring station at least monthly to perform maintenance and upkeep including:
- Downloading tipping bucket data loggers and time-lapse cameras.
- Keeping sampling materials clean and restocking bottles, filters, and other items.
- Replacing instrument desiccant and batteries.
- Leveling flumes.
- Repairing flume bypass points and filling rodent holes or low spots along wingwalls.
- Mowing along wingwalls and around stations.
Stone staff have been in regular contact with the farmer throughout the growing season to provide support and answer questions. The treatment field was aerated in fall of 2014, and then received a second aeration treatment during the 2015 growing season. Specifically, aeration was performed on July 27 and manure was applied approximately two days later. An additional aeration treatment was made on October 20, 2015.
All data analysis is scheduled to occur in January-March 2016, as outlined in the original workplan. The analysis is scheduled to occur after the data collection is complete.
Development of Outreach Materials
WNRCD staff has worked with multiple partners including the Department of Environmental Conservation, UVM Extension and local farmers to get input regarding the development of useful informational materials about soil aeration. Four handouts and public display materials pertaining to aerator use were created. These materials incorporated information from previous soil aeration research and first-hand experiences. WNRCD has created materials that let farmers know how to access an aerator across the state, frequently asked questions, benefits of aerator use and how an aerator works. WNRCD has begun to incorporate these materials into agricultural outreach visits to farms.
After receiving data in early 2016, WNRCD will create additional outreach materials to interpret the findings. These findings will be shared with other Conservation Districts throughout Vermont and farmers in our District. We will also present the newly created display at a minimum of two agricultural events in 2016.
WNRCD held an aerator demonstration day on October 8, 2015 in partnership with UVM Extension and the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition (CVFC). WNRCD demonstrated two aerators and how they can be used prior to manure spreading to increase infiltration. WNRCD facilitated discussion between farmers and agricultural professionals about water quality, aerator use, pros and cons of aerator use and different aerator models.
3/1/15 – 3/31/15
Maintenance on monitoring equipment before data collection begins
This occurred a little later than March due to the very cold winter in 2015. Maintenance was completed in early April.
04/01/15 – 11/30/2015
Continuous data collection period (sustained by installed equipment)
Precipitation event-based visits to the study site to retrieve samples
All data collection and monthly maintenance has occurred on schedule according to the proposed schedule.
Begin coordinating with partners and other experts to develop outreach materials.
Speak to past aerator users about their experiences
Contact farmers who have inquired about the aerator through the District but did not use it, discuss barriers to use and learn about what type of information would be useful to them
Begin planning aerator demonstration day and workshop for the fall (collaborate with partner farmers)
All of the tasks outlined were completed, although over a longer time period (06/2015-9/2015). WNRCD staff spoke with our agricultural assistance partners, past aerator users and interested aerator users to help understand what types of information would be useful to a perspective aerator user. This insight helped WNRCD staff direct the development of outreach materials.
Develop finished outreach products including handouts for farmers, lists of frequently asked questions with answers, handouts with information concerning environmental and economic benefits, tabling and display materials for events. Any available preliminary data from the research at Shelburne Farms will be incorporated into the outreach materials.
Several outreach materials were developed including handouts for farmers and tabling display materials for future educational events. The materials created include: lists of frequently asked questions with answers, handouts with information concerning environmental benefits and scientific research, and how to access an aerator across the state and tabling and display materials for events. These materials were created throughout the fall and were completed in November 2015. Some were available for the aerator demonstration day, but not all of them. Valuable information was learned during the demonstration day that was incorporated into the outreach products. Preliminary data from the research at Shelburne Farms was not available to include in any of the outreach products. Additionally, there is no clear information about economic benefits to include in the outreach documents.
Hold an aerator demonstration day (WNRCD and Dana Bishop, Shelburne Farms)
WNRCD held an aerator demonstration day on October 8, 2015 in partnership with UVM Extension and the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition (CVFC). WNRCD originally planned to hold the event at Shelburne Farms, where the aerator research is occurring, but the aeration/manure application schedules were not compatible with the timing of holding a demonstration day. A local Shelburne farmer had plans to aerate his field in early October before manure incorporation and agreed to hold a public demonstration of his activities on his field. UVM Extension and the CVFC helped advertise and host the event. Over 20 people came to the event. The farmer demonstrated the use of his 20’ folding AerWay and the use of WNRCD’s 11.25’ Gen-Till airway. The participants compared and contrasted the operation and maintenance of the equipment and the relative benefits of aerator use. After aerating a portion of the field, the farmer applied liquid manure so participants could observe how aeration may potentially increase manure infiltration into the soil.
Analyze collected data
Because of the warm fall, data collection has continued into December. Data analysis will begin a little later than expected to account for the extended data collection season.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Data collection on the impacts of aerator use on water quality is still in progress, there are no results to report. However, after the aeration field day, WNRCD has received increased interest from farmers requesting information about aerator use. WNRCD is beginning to circulate aerator outreach materials that will provide farmers with some background information on the practice.
Neill Farm LLC
1946 North Road
Waitsfield, VT 05673
Office Phone: 8023804338
Natural Resources and Assistant Woodlands Manager
1611 Harbor Road
Shelburne, VT 05482
Office Phone: 8029858686