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Computer Program Helps Farmers Plan Manure Use

UW-Extension county faculty and crop advisors have a new tool to help dairy producers decide about manure management and address potential environmental effects of herd expansion, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences researchers announced on Wednesday.

Developed by Sherry Combs and written by Scott Lindsey of the Soil and Plant Analysis Lab in the soil science department, the UW-Field Nutrient Application and Recommendation Manager (UW-FARM) is a computer program that analyzes soil test results and related crop nutrient recommendations to help answer “what if” questions about how expanding or modernizing dairy operations will affect manure management and crop rotation. UW-Extension county faculty and crop advisors can use the program when they educate or consult with farmers about managing nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus.

The program includes specifications for NRCS-590, a federal nutrient management standard designed in part to improve water quality while maintaining farmers” profits. In Wisconsin, a multi-agency committee developed the standard to include applying manure to meet crop nutrient needs and limiting applications where runoff may occur.

“UW-FARM can be used for producers who want to plan manure and fertilizer applications within current best management practices,” Combs explains. “Also, it can address what producers may need to think about in the future to meet environmental constraints, if they choose to expand or modernize their operation,” she adds.

Dairy expansion and nutrient management is a big issue for Wisconsin farmers. Results from a survey published by UW-Madison dairy science researchers found that of 694 dairy herds in Wisconsin that had undergone expansion, almost half had increased herd size at least 40 percent between 1994 and 1998, and many had more than doubled their number of cows.

“Farmers that participate in cost-sharing programs related to nutrient management must follow NRCS-590, so these constraints are built into UW-FARM,” says Combs. “So, when they think about expanding the number of cows they now have or change crop rotations to meet increased forage needs, the effects on NRCS-590 constraints can be evaluated.”

Although other states use similar programs, UW-FARM is unique in that it is based on soil test results and recommendations researched by the soil science department. “The regulation specifies that soil tests and nutrient recommendations must be from a Wisconsin Farm Service Agency-certified soil testing lab because that ensures the information is consistent with the soil science department,” explains Combs. “Soil test results and related information meeting this requirement can be transferred electronically into UW-FARM.”

The program consists of a series of screens that ask the user to enter specific field information and farm management practices. The program allows users to produce a farm plan for nutrient use that will meet NRCS-590 requirements as well as “mini-plans” that identify fields to receive manure or those with additional fertilizer needs.

Combs says that UW-FARM does not hold all the answers for a farmer who is trying to manage nutrients or plan for expansion, but it is a first step. “I”m looking for my colleagues, both UW-Extension county faculty and in CALS, to add information to it,” she explains.

For more information,contact Sherry Combs or Scott Lindsay, UW-Soil and Plant Analysis Lab, (608) 262-4364, or visit the lab”s Web site to request or download a copy of the program here.