Sep 21, 2011 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
What do dairy farms do with all their cow manure in the winter?
That’s not a trick question. In fact, it is an important consideration for farm costs, soil and animal health, and even lake watershed purity.
The owners of the John F. Tucker & Sons Farm at the corner of Coon Hill and Rickard roads have just had installed a new 450,000-gallon liquid manure storage tank to help accomplish what they hope will be reduced fertilizer costs, improved soil quality and better resource conservation. And the best part about the project: it was paid for mostly through city, state and federal funding.
This project — as well as others ongoing at the Tucker farm — are part of the NYS Agricultural Environmental Management program, administered by the Skaneateles Lake Watershed Agricultural Program in the Skaneateles Lake watershed area, and funded by the city of Syracuse.
“This is a very effective, very popular program, and the fact that only two farms out of the 41 in the watershed area have opted to install conservation practices on their own says a lot,” said Erick Haas, resource conservation specialist with the Skaneateles Lake Watershed Agricultural Program. “This program has given the Tucker farm an opportunity to install good conservation practices on their farm, increasing the protection of the Skaneateles Lake watershed and thereby enhancing the overall environmental health of the land.”
The mission of the SLWAP is to carry out a cost-effective, innovative program for the farming community that upholds the high drinking water quality standards of Skaneateles Lake. The city of Syracuse established the program in 1994 as an alternative to a costly filtration system required by the 1986 Amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act. The SLWAP is a voluntary program operated out of the Onondaga County Soil and Water Conservation District that serves portions of Onondaga, Cortland and Cayuga Counties within the watershed.
“This program is very good; it helps farmers get done all the work they need to do, because without it finances are tough,” said Mark Tucker, co-owner with his brother Kirk of the farm their grandfather started in 1918.
The Tuckers’ new liquid manure storage tank is part of the program’s Farmstead Best Management Practices. The tank is 80 feet across, 14 feet deep and holds 450,000 gallons of barnyard waste, mostly manure, but also barnyard runoff and milkhouse waste. It also has a milkhouse pipe that runs directly into the tank for old milk and wash water drainage. It is designed to hold about five months’ worth of waste.
The tank, made of concrete and circled by a safety fence, is adjacent to the cattle barns, which makes it easy after each day’s barn cleaning to push it all right into the storage area.
The idea behind the tank is that it allows a farmer to store manure through the winter to get maximum use out of the nutrients in the spring. Typically, winter barnyard waste is spread around the farmland in order to get rid of it. But placing manure on top of snow does not allow the nutrients it contains to benefit the soil; it also increases the chance that manure will wash into streams during snowmelt. The new tank creates a storage place and will allow the Tuckers to spread the nutrient-rich manure on the farm fields in the spring when crops are growing for the maximum fertilizing benefits.
The spring spreading will be done with the use of a manure pump, which also will be provided by the SLWAP, that agitates the manure to turn it into spreadable form. The manure will then be spread on specific fields across the farm with the use of a manure spreader.
“I think this will definitely help us reduce fertilizer costs, which have gone high recently, and we’ll also get more value [from the manure],” said Tucker said.
Haas said one of the benefits of the storage system is that the manure crusts over and emits hardly any smell, contrary to what most people might think. The only real odor comes in spring when the manure gets churned up in preparation for field spreading.
The bill for installing this entire storage system was paid for by the city of Syracuse, the NYS Environmental Protection Fund, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Tuckers, Haas said. The staff of the SLWAP authored the state and federal grant applications to secure the grant funding for this conservation project, as they do all other projects in the watershed.
The Tuckers are one of about a half dozen farms near the village to have installed a manure storage tank in recent years.
But manure storage is not the only conservation project going on at the Tucker farm. The SLWAP also built a new calf facility in 2007 for the Tuckers’ Jersey cows in order to promote better pathogen (germ-carrying, disease-causing microbes) management. This facility divides the cows by age and promotes better calf health, which reduces the potential for pathogens from entering the drinking water supply — the highest priority of the SLWA.
Twelve years ago, the SLWAP helped the Tuckers install roof gutters and drip trenches around the farm to collect rainwater. This helps farmers “keep clean water clean” and separate it from dirty water, preventing the mixture of clean rain water and barnyard manure, milk, and other natural pollutants, which would then drain down into the lake. The clean water is released into safe outlets within the same sub-watershed in which it is accumulated.
“Just think of the size of a barn roof and all the water that runs off it; you’re talking thousands of gallons of water per year,” Haas said.
The SLWAP also placed new underground milkhouse waste tanks on the farm (after removing the old tanks) and connected them to a pipe that runs directly into the manure storage tank to pump out all the waste milk and dirty water.
The Tuckers paid to decommission the old tanks, and to help secure necessary grant funding for the replacement project they agreed to plant 20 acres of cover crop on bare farm land. The benefit of a cover crop is that it protects the soil from erosion and runoff and helps overall land conservation.
Other conservation best management practices the SLWAP has helped the Tuckers plan and install include water deflectors across access roads to prevent gully erosion, and black silt fences along road runoff ditches that catch soil and other detritus. The Tuckers also have been using strip-cropping on hills — planting alternating strips of corn and grass —to prevent soil erosion due to runoff.
“It takes years to build soil health, and once you lose it you don’t get it back,” Haas said. “Farmers realize this.”
The Tucker Farm is one example of 41 farms in the Skaneateles Lake area currently enrolled in the NYS Agricultural Environmental Management program, as administered by the SLWAP. Core funding for the program has been provided by the city of Syracuse since its inception in 1994.
For more information go to the Onondaga County Soil and Water Conservation District website at ocswcd.org, and click on the SLWAP tab.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.