Nutrient loading of nitrogen and phosphorus in runoff and water leachate threatens Florida’s environmental and water resources. Of those nutrients, nitrate (NO3–) nitrogen is highly soluble and not strongly bound to soils. Consequently, nitrate is highly mobile and subject to leaching losses when both nitrate content and water movement are high.
Due to Florida’s sandy soils and humid subtropical climate, nitrate losses from leaching and runoff are high and creates concerns for animal waste handling1. Mitigating nutrient loading to ground and surface waters through proper management of horse manure and stall waste can help protect water quality. However, information regarding the relationship between on-farm equine manure management practices and water quality remains limited.
What did we do
The objective of this study was to address waste management challenges on Florida equine operations by developing methodologies for in-situ characterization of nutrient profile of pore and surface water runoff from stockpiled equine waste and waste that has been effectively composted. Two small-scale horse properties with 2-8 horses managed on 4-9 acres, and 1 larger scale operation with up to 70 horses managed on 300+ acres located within the Rainbow Springs Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) were enlisted for the project. Lysimeters (soils enclosed in suitable containers and exposed to natural surroundings to capture leachates) were constructed of PVC and non-woven filter fabric suspended between a 4” and 2” PVC reducer with a total length of 24” and deployed 6” below ground2 (Figure 1).
One hole was drilled between the 4” and 2” PVC reducer to insert the sampling lines to the bottom well of the lysimeter and secured with duct tape. For each lysimeter installation, the top 6” of the soil profile was removed using a 6” diameter core ring to ensure the soil profile was undisturbed. The remaining 6”-12” depth of soil was composited and repacked into the lysimeter container, layer by layer. An auger was used to achieve a total depth of 30 inches from the surface to secure the lysimeter in the ground. Following lysimeter installation, the top 6” of intact soil was replaced above the lysimeter and all lines were buried 6” in the soil and channeled to one central location. The collection trenches were fabricated from vinyl gutter material filled with river rock (pre-rinsed for removal of iron and sediment) and installed up and downgradient at stockpile systems and at the opening of each compost bin. A 5-gallon bucket attached to the downgradient gutter served as the water collection reservoir (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Placement of runoff collection trenches within the (a) compost and (b) stockpile manure bin structures. The trenches intercept any runoff during heavy rainfall and drain into a 5-gallon bucket. Once the bilge pump below the bucket is adequately submerged, the water is evacuated to the secondary collection bucket for sampling.
For the lysimeter leachate sampling, eight peristaltic pumps were arranged in an array of 4 pumps wired together and controlled by an on/off switch connected to a sampling tube of the lysimeter (Figure 3).
A grid of 4-5 lysimeters were placed under each compost bin for collection and compositing of samples. The lysimeters for the stockpile were arranged in a 3×3 grid across the stockpile bin with each row (3 lysimeters) representing a composited sample (Figure 4).
The lysimeters were purged with deionized water after two weeks or after a heavy rainfall event prior to the first sample collection. For water runoff collection, a 12 volt (500gph) automatic bilge pump, powered by a marine battery, was used to pump water from the collection bucket to a 5-gallon sampling bucket. A 10% subsample was collected with the remaining 90% expelled to the ground surface using a 2-way restricted-flow Y connector. Runoff samples (collected immediately post rainfall event) and leachate samples (collected biweekly) were acidified and stored in scintillation vials at 4oC for nutrient analysis (NO-X, NH4+, TKN, and TP).
The lysimeter and water runoff collection trench construction provide a cost-effective, easily deployed system for characterizing nutrient loading in leachate and surface runoff from manure storage and composting sites. The system has been successful in collecting samples for nutrient analysis, however, a few challenges have also been identified. (1) The runoff system requires periodic maintenance, primarily cleaning (re-rinsing) the gutter and river rock to remove any material lying above the trench. (2) Also, the Y connectors require calibration every month to remove leaf litter and other debris to allow water flow through the valves to ensure a 10% subsample is collected. (3) Suspended materials (fine soil or organic matter) have been observed in lysimeter leachate samples and runoff collection trenches. (4) A subset of lysimeter samples have emitted a sulfur odor when adverse weather conditions or other events delay sampling beyond the target 2-week interval.
To assess potential nitrate losses due to sample retention time, the lysimeter effluent will be sampled at specific intervals (day 1, day 3, day 6, day 9, day 14) during a period of no rainfall. These measurements should help determine the optimal time interval for sample collection for analysis of nitrate levels. Additionally, runoff samples are being collected for analysis of fecal coliform and E. coli. The methodologies employed in this field level study represent an important step towards an improved understanding of the impact of manure management BMPs on water quality.
Corresponding author, title, and affiliation
Agustin Francisco, Graduate Student, University of Florida
Corresponding author email
Carissa Wickens, State Extension Horse Specialist, University of Florida Mark Clark, Wetland Ecologist, University of Florida; Caitlin Bainum, Extension Agent, Florida Cooperative Extension, Marion County, Ocala, Florida; Megan Mann, Extension Agent, Florida Cooperative Extension, Lake County, Tavares, FL
1FDEP. 2013. Small Scale Horse Operations: Best Management Practices for water resource protection in Florida.
2Bergstrom, L. 1990. Use of lysimeters to estimate leaching of pesticides in agriculture soils. J. Environmental Pollution. 67:325-347
The authors wish to thank the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) for funding support, the farm site cooperators Dave and Deb Kane, Jim and Merry Lee Bain, and Eli and Jeff McGuire. We would also like to thank Carol Vasco, Ellen Rankins, Ana Margarita Arias, Anastasia Reif for their assistance with site installation and data collection.
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