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Understanding Pennsylvania Farm Regulations

March 27, 2015

As a Pennsylvania Farmer, keeping up with all the current regulations can be very confusing. Do I need a nutrient management plan (NMP) or a manure management plan (MMP)? What’s the difference between the two? Does my conservation plan meet the Chapter 102 requirements? What is Chapter 102? These are just a few of the many questions running through the minds of those in agriculture. There are three chapters used in the regulation of nutrient management and erosion control and between these chapters it is established that a majority of agriculture operations in Pennsylvania need to have a plan for managing nutrients and a plan for reducing erosion and sedimentation. There are different types of plans in each category and certain operations are required to have specific plans. A plan for managing nutrients can be an Act 38 Nutrient Management Plan, a Manure Management Plan, a CAFO Plan, or a PA NRCS 590 Plan. A plan for reducing erosion and sedimentation can be an Ag E&S Plan or a NRCS Conservation Plan.

The most basic requirements are a Manure Management Plan (MMP) and an Ag E&S Plan. Any operation, no matter the size, that produces manure must have a MMP. There is a standard workbook format to make completion by the operator easy. A total of 7 sections are in the workbook. Sections 1-4 must be completed for all operations, while sections 5-7 are only completed if needed. An operation map must be included. This map can be computer generated or hand drawn. Any agricultural operation plowing or tilling or with an animal heavy use area that is 5,000 square feet or more of land must have an Ag E&S Plan. 5,000 square feet is equal to a little over 1/10th of an acre or an area 50ft by 100ft. The Ag E&S Plan must contain cost effective and reasonable BMPs to minimize the potential for accelerated erosion and sedimentation, plus a schedule for implementation of these BMPs. This plan must also include a map identifying the farm and tracts, plus the location of water sources, homestead, setbacks, etc. In addition a soils map and contour map is needed. All cropland, hayland, and pasture rotations must meet the soil loss tolerance (T) to limit soil loss.

The Natural Resource Conservation Service provides Conservation Plans and Nutrient Management 590 Plans. The Conservation Plan includes operation maps with land use designation, plus soils and contour maps. A Conservation Plan assesses the resources of the land and helps the operator to use these resources to best suit the operator and the environment. BMPs are always included in a Conservation Plan, along with an implementation schedule. Crop rotations must meet the soil loss tolerance just like in an Ag E&S Plan. Many times a 590 Plan is included in the Conservation Plan. This plan uses a standard format and helps the operator balance nutrient application. Soil tests and manure analysis are required, along with adequate record keeping of crop yields and manure application.
The final types of plans for managing nutrients are required when a certain amount of live animal weight is on the operation. An Act 38 Nutrient Management Plan is required when an operation is a Concentrated Animal Operation (CAO). A CAO has 8 or more Animal Equivalent Units (AEUs) and more than 2 AEUs per acre available for manure application. This plan follows a standard format, must be written by a certified plan writer, and is reviewed and approved by the local Conservation District. Even if the operation is not considered a CAO, the operator can volunteer to have an Act 38 Nutrient Management Plan. Any operation with more than 1000 AEUs or a CAO with more than 300 AEUs is considered a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO). CAFOs are required to have a NPDES Permit from DEP along with a nutrient management plan, Ag E&S Plan, and a Preparedness, Prevention, and Contingency Plan.

If you have questions about this information, feel free to leave me comments. I also recommend contacting your local Conservation District or NRCS Office.

Soils and Profits with Gabe Brown

March 18, 2015

Yesterday I attended a meeting about connecting soils and profits at the USDA Service Center in Mill Hall. The keynote speaker was Gabe Brown. Gabe is from Brown Ranch in North Dakota. He has been utilizing no-till, cover crops, and grazing for over 20 years to improve the quality of his soils. Soil health is a key factor for improving yields, decreasing inputs, and increasing profits. The higher the percent of organic matter in the soil the healthier the soil will be. Higher organic matter means more water holding capacity, more available nutrients, more microbiology, and healthier crops. Gabe spoke a lot about the 5 keys to regenerating soil. These key factors focus on increasing carbon and organic matter in the soil.

Factor 1: Use the least amount of mechanical disturbance as possible. No-till practices are recommended. We know that when soil is exposed during tillage significant amounts of carbon, released as CO2, is lost into the atmosphere. This loss is counterproductive to our goal.

Factor 2: Keep a year round “armor” on the soil. This armor is created with living crops, cover crops, and residues. Keeping the soil covered year round not only reduces soil erosion, but it also protects the biology in the soil and reduces water loss. A covered soil will stay cooler in hot temperatures and warmer in cold temperatures. This protection from the sun and heat decreases the amount of water lost via evapotranspiration. A covered soil will help shield seeds and young plants from the weather. A covered soil also helps provide food for all the living biology in the soil.

Factor 3: Diversity. The end goal is to improve soil health and increase organic matter. The microbiology in the soil plays a big part in meeting this goal. The more species of microbiology found in the soil the better. Diversity above and below the soil surface increases the diversity of the microbiology found in the soil. Think about a native prairie, how many different species of plants would you find? You would find hundreds of different species of plants and these species provide habitats and food for hundreds of different animals, insects, and microbiology. So planting a diverse rotation of cash crops and cover crops will increase the species of the microbiology and beneficial insects found in the soil. Increasing diversity is not just recommended for the life of the rotation, it is recommended throughout the rotation. A great suggestion was to plant a cover crop mix of 3-15+ species depending on your needs.

Factor 4: Have living roots in the ground as long as possible. Living roots feed the microbiology in the soil. Living roots release exudates that bacteria, fungi, etc. feed on. We need the microbiology to convert plant materials into organic matter. The longer the microbiology are fed by plants, the more time they have to convert organic matter.

Factor 5: Incorporate animals into your management plan. This includes livestock, wildlife, insects, and soil biology. Use livestock for their manure and to even graze cover crops. Reduce the amount of insecticides used to help increase the number of beneficial insects. For every 3,500 beneficial insects there is 1 pest insect. Utilize natural predatory insects to control pest species. Consider planting crop seed without a seed treatment. Many of these treatments not only control the few bad fungi, but they also control the many good fungi too. Talk with your seed representative about varieties of seed that have good seed defenses and germinate quickly.

These 5 factors are definitely the key to increasing soil health. Soil health doesn’t improve over night, it takes many years and changes. One of the best recommendations by Gabe was to talk with someone who is already doing these things. Learning from someone who has been through the change for better soil health will be able to guide you and provide support when needed. Don’t be afraid to call your local conservation district, NRCS, or extension agent for help. You can even leave a question in the comments below!

Sending a Prayer to the “weather gods”

August 27, 2014

Anyone that makes hay has prayed to the “weather gods” many times over. As my uncle mowed hay on Sunday I started thinking about the accuracy of today’s weather forecasts. A farmers success is greatly dependent on the weather. Everything can be done perfectly but with poor weather yield loss and ever crop failure is expect. Here in PA we are experiencing a cooler than normal August. These cooler temperatures haven’t affected the crop production very much. But we’ve seen an increase in hay drying time. Lower day temperatures equal less evaporation and lower night temperatures equal heavier dews. This means the hay lays in the field longer and the chances of it getting rained on increases. So with a 50% chance of rain today and dry alfalfa laying in the field, I say a silent prayer to the “weather gods”. I know my dad, cousin, and uncle are doing the same. My cousin knows the risk we are taking and made sure to fuel and prep the equipment yesterday. As soon as my dad gets home, he will start raking the hay. When my cousin gets home, he will hook everything up and start baling. My uncle and the extra help he’s gathered will be on stand by to start unloading as soon as possible. We are a family operated farm whose members also work off the farm to support their families. So as I check the radar one more time I ask you to say a silent prayer to the “weather gods” to hold off the rain until the last wagon is in the barn.

Thoughts on Invasive Species

August 13, 2014

Many times exotic plants and animals are brought into the US as ornamental plants or household pets. As long as these species are maintained and contained the side effects are minimal. However, when landscaping is let go and household pets are released into the wild, an invasive specie is created. What defines a species as invasive? Simply put it is a non-native species with no enemies or natural bio-controls. These species reproduce rapidly and their populations can grow exponentially. New species are classified as invasive every year. Not only are these exotic species brought into the US intentionally, but sometimes they are brought in unintentionally with imported goods. An example of this is the Emerald Ash Borer. This insect is native to Asia and is suspected to have been introduced to the US from overseas shipping materials. The US Customs Agency has strict policies and procedures in place to reduce the risk of exotic species being imported into the US. Sometimes a designated quarantine period is necessary to make sure goods are pest free.

So what can we do to help with this epidemic? 1. When traveling outside the US don’t bring banned produce, biomass, or animals home with you. 2. Do not buy pets from non registered pet stores. 3. If your exotic pet gets to hard to care for, take it to an animal shelter or have your veterinarian euthanize it. Do not release it into the wild. 4. Familiarize yourself with invasive plant species and report sitings to the state department. 5. Make sure not to transport or transplant invasive plant species no matter how beautiful they are.

With the help of government and industry organizations plus general public awareness we can slow down the spread of current invasive species. And quite possibly halt the addition of new ones.

Alfalfa Management Tips

June 8, 2011

Alfalfa harvesting is well underway and many producers are filling silos, bunkers, and ag bags. Here are some tips to get the most out of your alfalfa.

1. Alfalfa requires adequate amounts of phosphorus(P), potassium(K), and boron(B) to be productive. B is essential for plant growth and disease prevention. P and K are vital for proper photosynthesis, water use efficiency, and growth. P is also essential for protein production. In Pennsylvania, recommendations for P are 15lbs/ton alfalfa produced, for K are 60lbs/ton alfalfa produced, and for B are 2lbs/acre/year.

2. Alfalfa that is going to be used as silage should be cut during the early bloom stage. This is when 25% of stems have at least one visible flower.

3. When packing a bunker full of silage, research has shown that it will take one half hour for a 13,000lbs tractor to pack 7 tons of silage. Make sure you have more than enough packing tractors and weight for the amount of silage you are bring in. A silage bunker can never be overpacked.

4. Leaf hopper can cause serious crop damage. Leaf hopper damage is described as hopperburn. Basically the leaf hopper feeds on the alfalfa plant and its saliva is toxic, this causes the plant to “burn”. It is always a good idea to scout for leaf hopper. Check out this fact sheet for more information on how to scout for leafhopper:

New Job!

June 8, 2011

On June 1, I started a new job with the Bedford Farm Bureau Co-op Association. I am working as the Agronomy Marketing and Sales Specialist. I am very excited about this job. So far everyone has been wonderful and I am learning a lot. I am looking forward to getting out on farms and helping producers maximize their agronomy systems.


May 11, 2011

Things have changed a lot in the past month. About three months ago I decided it was time to quit my job and move back home. Now I want to clear one thing up, I LOVED LOVED LOVED my job with Penn State Cooperative Extension, but I absolutely hated living two hours from home. I missed being home and I missed my family and the farm. April 15 was my last day with Extension. I have been living at home since then. I love all the time I get to spend with my family, especially my 5 month old niece. Four calves have been born at the farm in the past two weeks. They are so cute running and jumping around the pasture. Just yesterday I picked my five year old cousin Kaden up from pre-school. He and I spent the afternoon hanging out. For a good part of the afternoon we were outside taking about plants and bugs. Then we laid under a tree and told “campfire” stories. I had such a blast!!

As for my professional life, I am still working on my Masters of Science in Agronomy from Iowa State. A part time program takes forever. But I am glad it is an online program with lots of flexibility. I just accepted a job offer from a local company. Stay tuned for a future blog post about that! Thanks for sticking with me through everything!!!