The Maryland Department of Agriculture, working with several partners, has received a $75,000 USDA Conservation Innovation Grant to continue studying an agricultural management practice that removes phosphorus from agricultural systems. If successful, the process would allow dairy producers to spread manure on their fields after the phosphorus has been removed. The grant is being supported by the Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy (MRC), a major partner in the project.
“Dairy farmers already work with variable price cycles,” said Agriculture Secretary Buddy Hance. “Providing them with mechanisms to effectively improve nutrient management on their operations will allow them to remain economically viable. This project is critical to providing dairy farmers with high phosphorus soils the ability to continue to operate without impacting local waterways.”
This research project, which will be conducted on a working dairy operation on the Eastern Shore, is particularly important to those dairy producers whose land already has a high phosphorus content and who may not be allowed to apply any manure to their crops after the Phosphorus Management Tool (PMT) is implemented.
The PMT will limit how much phosphorus can be applied to cropland, depending on the current nutrient composition of the soil. If soil has too much phosphorus, it can run off into local waterways and contribute to nutrient overload in the bay.
There are currently 417 dairy producers in the state who could be impacted.
“The Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy is excited to be a partner in this project,” said MRC’s Drew J. Koslow. “We are determined to bring innovative new technologies to Maryland to help farmers maintain profitability while also reducing nutrient pollution leaving their farms.”
The project being studied involves installing treatment beds on the farm where phosphorus in manure will bind to a filter material, called a phosphorus sorbing material (PSM). The techniques have been under study for three years so far, but the process takes out only 60 percent of the phosphorus – not enough for dairy farms where minimal or no phosphorus applications will be permitted. This project intends to refine the design parameters to reduce phosphorus by 85 to 100 percent.
The technique will have to be studied for two years before MDA or the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) would consider it a best management project, eligible for cost-share funding. Other partners include the University of Maryland, Oklahoma State University, the Caroline Soil Conservation District and the Maryland NRCS office. PD
—From Maryland Department of Agriculture news release