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April 23, 2015

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PA Manure Application Setbacks

April 14, 2015

All agricultural operations in Pennsylvania that land apply manure need to have a Manure Management Plan (MMP) and follow setbacks established by the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law. These are the minimum setback requirements. Any operation considered a Concentrated Animal Operation (CAO) must have an ACT 38 Nutrient Management Plan (NMP) and follow specific ACT 38 setbacks.

The following setback requirements are for MMPs. A 100ft setback is mandatory for all manure application near an existing open sinkhole, private drinking well or spring, and public water well. When applying manure near surface waters like a stream, lake, or pond a 100ft setback is required. If a 35ft permanent vegetative buffer is established, manure can be land applied up to the buffer. A 50ft setback is allowed if current soil tests show less than 200ppm phosphorous, no-till practices are used, and a cover crop is planted when residue is removed. Winter application of manure can occur if there is a 100ft setback from streams, lakes, ponds, existing open sinkholes, private drinking wells and springs, public water wells, and above ground inlets to agricultural drainage systems. Plus no application on slopes greater than 15% and there must be a minimum of 25% ground cover from cover crops or crop residue.

When following an ACT 38 NMP slightly different manure application setbacks are required. A 100ft setback is mandatory for all manure application near an existing open sinkhole, private drinking well or spring, and public water well. However, if a 35ft permanent vegetative buffer is established around an existing open sinkhole, manure can be land applied up to the buffer. When applying manure near surface waters like a stream, lake, or pond a 100ft setback is required. If a 35ft permanent vegetative buffer is established, manure can be land applied up to the buffer. Fall application of manure must follow all surface and ground water setbacks plus there must be a minimum of 25% ground cover from a cover crop or crop residue or manure must be injected or incorporated with 5 days with minimum soil disturbance. Winter application of manure can occur if there is a 100ft setback from streams, lakes, ponds, existing open sinkholes, private drinking wells and springs, public water wells, and above ground inlets to agricultural drainage systems. An additional 100ft setback is required from all wetlands identified on the National Wetlands Inventory, if that wetland is within a 100 year floodplain of an Exceptional Value stream and surface flow is toward the wetland. There must also be a minimum of 25% ground cover from cover crops or crop residue.

Anyone that works at your local Conservation District or NRCS can help you determine the necessary manure setbacks on your operation. In addition you can visit https://www.paonestop.org/ to create your own operation maps showing the location of necessary manure setbacks.

Is It a Weed?

April 9, 2015

This is not as simple of a question as it may seem. A weed is defined by Merriam-Webster as a plant that is not valued where it is growing and is usually of vigorous growth, especially one that tends to overgrow or choke out more desirable plants. In crop production a weed is any plant competing with the crop for nutrients, sunlight, water, and space. A volunteer corn plant in a soybean field is a weed. But the same volunteer corn plant in a corn field would be a crop. Another example is a dandelion. When it is found in an alfalfa hay field it is not a weed. However, when it is found in a turf lawn it is a weed. Location is a key factor when determining if a plant is a weed or not. Another key factor to consider is the plants use. We have to ask ourselves: does this plant have any usefulness to me or my goals. A lot of plants that are typically called weeds make great food for pollinators and wildlife. A major portion of our food supply comes from plants that require pollination. Providing pollinators food in the “off-season” is highly important for good yields during food production. So called weeds also can provide continuous ground cover to reduce soil loss and increase wildlife habitat. There are species and situations when a plant is definitely a weed. Species like eastern black nightshade, horse nettle, and ground cherry are all part of the nightshade family. These weeds can harbor diseases and pests that affect tomatoes and potatoes, which are also members of the nightshade family. All plants classified as invasive species are definitely weeds. A few examples of invasive species includes: Purple Loosestrife, Jimsonweed, Japanese Knotweed, Cheatgrass, and Multiflora Rose. Each state maintains of list of species designated as invasive. In Pennsylvania the plant list is maintained by the DCNR: http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/forestry/plants/invasiveplants/index.htm.

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Purple Loosestrife Lythrum salicaria

Musk Thistle Carduus nutans

Musk Thistle Carduus nutans

Designating a plant as a weed is not a cut and dry process. Always consider the plants location and use. Most importantly, if you determine a plant is invasive use proper control methods to eliminate the problem.

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.