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A better way to manage phosphorus?

Improvements in science brings improved index

All living things – from bacteria and fungi to plants and animals – need phosphorus. But extra phosphorus in the wrong place can harm the environment. For example, when too much phosphorus enters a lake or stream, it can lead to excessive weed growth and algal blooms. Low-oxygen dead zones can form.

Runoff from agricultural sites can be an important source of phosphorus pollution. To help evaluate and reduce this risk, the USDA first proposed a phosphorus index concept in the early 1990s.

Since then, science progressed and methods improved. In New York State, scientists and agency staff developed and released a phosphorus index in 2003. Now, a new project proposes a restructured index to build on phosphorus management efforts in that state and beyond.

“The idea is to account for the characteristics of a field, and help evaluate the risk of phosphorus runoff from that location,” says Quirine Ketterings. Ketterings is lead author of the new study.

The new index structure improves upon previous approaches. It focuses on the existing risk of phosphorus runoff from a field based on the location and how it is currently managed. Qualities like ground cover, erosion potential, and distance to a stream or waterbody all come into play. The index also highlights best management practices to reduce this risk.

“The new index approach will direct farmers toward an increasingly safer series of practices,” says Ketterings. “Higher-risk fields require more and safer practices to reduce and manage phosphorus runoff.”

Ketterings directs the Nutrient Management Spear program at Cornell University. She and her colleagues used a combination of surveys, computer-generated examples, and old-fashioned number crunching. They used characteristics of thousands of farm fields to develop the new index. Involving farmers and farm advisors was also a key step.

“As stakeholders, farmers and farm advisors are more likely to make changes if they understand why,” says Ketterings. “Plus, they have experience and knowledge that folks in academia and in governmental agencies often do not.”

This field experience can be vital. “Involving stakeholders in decision-making and getting their feedback makes the final product more workable,” says Ketterings. “It may also prevent mistakes that limit implementation and effectiveness.”

Ketterings stresses that the previous index was not wrong, “Farming is a business of continuous improvement and so is science,” she says. “The initial index was based on the best scientific understanding available at that time. Our new index builds and improves upon the experience and scientific knowledge we have accumulated since the first index was implemented. It is likely this new index will be updated in the future as our knowledge evolves.”

The previous index approach could be somewhat time-consuming for planners, according to Ketterings. Further, it didn’t always help identify the most effective practices for farmers. The new approach addresses both of these issues. “We wanted the new index to be practical to use,” she says. “The best index has no value if people cannot or will not implement it.”

In some circumstances of low or medium soil test phosphorus, the original New York state phosphorus index allowed farms to apply manure and fertilizer in what we now consider to be potentially high-risk settings. “The new index approach proposes soil test phosphorus cutoffs and also encourages placing manure below the soil surface,” says Ketterings. “These changes will bring improvements in phosphorus utilization and management across the farm.”

Ketterings also thinks that the new index is more intuitive. “It allows for ranking of fields based on their inherent risk of phosphorus transport if manure was applied,” she says. “It really emphasizes implementing best management practices to reduce phosphorus losses from fields.”

In addition, the proposed index approach could make it easier to develop similar indices across state lines, according to Ketterings. This makes sense, since watersheds don’t follow state boundaries. Growers could use different practices, if deemed appropriate, for different regions.

Read more about Ketterings’ work in Journal of Environmental Quality. Two USDA-NRCS Conservation Innovation Grants funded this project.

Spotlight On: Livestock

The Brabants Farm

The Brabants’ Farm

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The Brabants’ Farm is a multi purpose farming operation whose main goal is to promote “horsefarming.” Our philosophy is to support the transformation of regional conventional agriculture and forestry into a sustainable, socially responsible, and less petroleum dependent based agriculture, by utilizing animal drawn technology (“horsefarming”), and by meeting key challenges in 21st century small scale agriculture and forestry in Colombia and throughout South America.

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 4

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 4

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Over the last few years of making hay, the mowing, turning and making tripods has settled into a fairly comfortable pattern, but the process of getting it all together for the winter is still developing. In the beginning I did what everyone else around here does and got it baled, but one year I decided to try one small stack. The success of this first stack encouraged me to do more, and now most of my hay is stacked loose.

Horsedrawn No-Till Garlic

Horsedrawn No-Till Garlic

We were inspired to try no-tilling vegetables into cover crops after attending the Groffs’ field day in 1996. No-tilling warm season vegetables has proved problematic at our site due to the mulch of cover crop residues keeping the soil too cool and attracting slugs. We thought that no-tilling garlic into this cover crop of oats and Canadian field peas might be the ticket as garlic seems to appreciate being mulched.

Horseshoeing Part 1C

Horseshoeing Part 1C

The horn capsule or hoof is nothing more than a very thick epidermis that protects the horse’s foot, just as a well fitting shoe protects the human foot. The hoof of a sound foot is so firmly united with the underlying pododerm that only an extraordinary force can separate them. The hoof is divided into three principal parts, which are solidly united in the healthy foot – namely, the wall, the sole, and the frog.

Cattle Handling Part 1 Basic Cattle Handling

Cattle Handling Part 1: Basic Cattle Handling

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If they understand what you want them to do, and you give them time to figure it out, cattle are very easy to herd. Pressuring and release of pressure at the proper times will encourage them to move (or halt) and to go the direction and speed you desire. The herd will also stay together, moving as a group if you herd them calmly and don’t get them upset and excited. Best results are had when you move them at a walk, controlling the speed and direction of the leaders.

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 1

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 1

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For the last ten years, I have made hay mostly with a single horse. This has not necessarily been out of choice, as at one time I had hoped to be farming on a larger scale with more horses. Anyway, it does little good to dwell on ‘what if ’. The reality is that I am able to make hay, and through making and modifying machinery, I probably have a better understanding of hay making and the mechanics of draught.

The Best Kept Secret, Revisited

The Best Kept Secret, Revisited

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At the same time that U.S. commercial beekeeping is circling down in a death spiral, hobby beekeeping is booming and almost every beekeeping club in the country has at least twice as many members as it did twenty years ago. What this means is that if you are fortunate enough to live in a place with relatively clean and varied sources of pollen and nectar, the potential for a successful family-sized commercial apiary is better now than it has been for many decades.

The Mule Part 1

The Mule – Part 1

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There is no more useful or willing animal than the Mule. And perhaps there is no other animal so much abused, or so little cared for. Popular opinion of his nature has not been favorable; and he has had to plod and work through life against the prejudices of the ignorant. Still, he has been the great friend of man, in war and in peace serving him well and faithfully. If he could tell man what he most needed it would be kind treatment.

Haying With Horses

Haying With Horses

If the reader is considering the construction of a barn we encourage you to give more than passing thought to allowing the structure of the gable to be open enough to accommodate the hanging of a trolley track. It is difficult or impossible to retrofit a truss-built barn, which may have many supports crisscrossing the inside gable, to receive hay jags. At least allowing for the option in a new construction design will leave the option for loose hay systems in the future.

Cattle Handling Part 2 Use Good Cow Sense When Handling Cattle

Cattle Handling Part 2: Use Good Cow Sense When Handling Cattle

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Cattle are very intelligent, and are just as “trainable” as horses. Like horses, they “reason” differently than humans. Understanding the way cattle think and why they react to you the way they do can enable you handle them in ways that will help rather than hinder your purposes. If you can “think like a cow” you can more readily predict what cattle will do in various situations and be able to handle them with fewer problems.

Work Horse Handbook

Work Horse Handbook

Horses are honest creatures. And, what I mean by honest is that a horse is almost always true to his motivations, his needs, his perceptions: if he wants to eat, if he needs water, if he perceives danger. He is incapable of temporarily setting aside or subverting his motivations to get to some distant goal. This is often mistaken as evidence for a lack of intelligence, a conclusion which says more of human nature than equine smarts. What it means for the horse is that he is almost never lazy, sneaky or deceptive. It is simply not in his nature.

Types and Breeds of Poultry

From Dusty Shelves: A 1924 article on chicken breeds.

Big Logs at Tarn Hows

Big Logs at Tarn Hows

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Simon and his elder sons Simon, Keith, and Ian, with their Belgian Ardennes horses, work good timber in bad places. The felling and extraction operation at the Lake District beauty spot of Tarn Hows was done in often appalling weather, and in the full glare of publicity. It must rank as one of the most spectacular pieces of horse logging, or indeed of commercial horse work done in these islands in recent years.

Hand Plucking Poultry

Hand Plucking Poultry

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I confess that I am cold-hearted and cheap. Though I love raising poultry, I hate spending time and money anywhere but on my little farm. So I process at home. If you are only raising a few birds for yourself, say 25 or 30 at a time, I recommend having a party and doing it all by hand. My journey backward from machines to hands started with a chance encounter with a Kenyan chicken grower visiting the United States. He finishes 15,000 broilers each year.

Mini Horse Haying

Mini Horse Haying

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The first mini I bought was a three year old gelding named Casper. He taught me a lot about what a 38 inch mini could do just by driving me around the neighborhood. He didn’t cover the miles fast, but he did get me there! It wasn’t long before several more 38 inch tall minis found their way home. I presently have four minis that are relatively quiet, responsive to the bit, and can work without a lot of drama.

A Gathering of Comtois in France

A Gathering of Comtois in France

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I was soon planning for a stop in the town of Pontelier, the main hub in one corner of the country I had never been to and was bent on exploring: the Franche-Compte. As luck would have it, this region has its very own breed of draft horse, the Comtois. It was to an “exhibition” of this horse that I was heading, although thanks to my lousy French, I was not sure exactly what kind of “exhibition” I was heading to.

Interpreting Your Horse's Body Language

Interpreting Your Horse’s Body Language

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The person who works closely with horses usually develops an intuitive feel for their well-being, and is able to sense when one of them is sick, by picking up the subtle clues from the horse’s body language. A good rider can tell when his mount is having an off day, just by small differences in how the horse travels or carries himself, or responds to things happening around him. And when at rest, in stall or pasture, the horse can also give you clues as to his mental and physical state.

Camel Power in Georgia

Camel Power in Georgia

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Last spring we got the bright idea to plow some corn with one of the camels, so we went to the shed and drug out the “Planet Jr. one camel cultivating plow”. My 86 year old Grandfather said “Son, don’t worry about thinning that corn, those camels are going to do a fine job of it, for you!” We plowed corn and I have some video to prove it, and as soon as I quit running over the corn and learned how to “drive the plow” we didn’t lose any more corn!

Journal Guide