The purpose of this project was to collect local on-the-ground data to evaluate the effectiveness of different manure storage options installed on working farms in King County, Washington. Agricultural areas in King County receive over 40 inches of rain annually with most of it falling between the months of October through March. During this time, farms often store and compost their manure for spring and summer field application. Composting livestock manure and waste can produce a valuable resource for land managers. However, if managed improperly, manure leachate and runoff can contaminate ground and surface water resources posing a risk to humans and other wildlife.
The project aimed to collect data on water quality and manure quality under different solid manure storage options during the fall and winter months. During the project, we worked with two farms to monitor water quality and manure quality as well as held education and outreach events to engage with stakeholders about benefits and/or costs of adopting new manure management BMPs.
What Did We Do
For the project, we worked with two farms and established four manure storage areas on each including: a concrete slab with walls and a roof, concrete slab with walls and no roof, a compacted soil areas with a tarp cover, and a compacted soil area with no cover. The manure piles were managed by the farmer following common winter practices and were turned and added to 2-3 times per month. We monitored the temperature of the piles over time to assess their composting activity, although it was not a primary focus of our study.
We collected samples of the manure from each storage area during the project to monitor changes over time. To assess nutrient loss and pollution via a stormwater runoff pathway, we collected runoff from the concrete slabs. To assess nutrient loss and pollution via a leaching pathway, we collected soil samples, from under the compacted soil areas. This monitoring allowed us to compare the storage options. The study was conducted over the course of eight months from October 2020 through May 2021. Below are photos of our study setup. Stormwater runoff water quality samples were collected using an ISCO automated sampler that was programmed to grab samples during rain events that generated runoff from the manure piles. Soil and manure samples were collected on a monthly basis.
What Have We Learned
The project results support the conclusion that the covering of solid manure piles had positive environmental benefits. Covered manure piles stored on a concrete slab have less stormwater runoff with lower loads of nutrients in the leachate than uncovered manure piles on a concrete slab. The covering of dry manure piles stored on compacted soil surfaces reduced the leaching of nutrient, particularly nitrate and nitrite, from manure piles into the soil. It also created a better manure end-product by allowing higher heat values to be reached and creating a drier end product. Additionally, the
placement of manure on a non-permeable, concrete surface eliminated the leaching of manure nutrients below the piles. Covered manure piles, whether stored on a concrete slab or dirt, tended to be drier and have higher temperatures, which results in a better composted manure product.
The results of this study demonstrated that the type of animal species and pile management (how often the pile was turned or added to) also greatly affected the nutrient composition of the leachate. For instance, at Site A, there was higher TP in the manure, and thus higher TP in the runoff water quality and in soil samples.
Due to the short duration of the project, we pursued and were awarded additional funding to extend the project and expand the data set to allow for more robust statistical analysis and conclusions. Partner agencies and organizations as well as the farmers have expressed support and interest in continuing this research, and the project Steering Committee members have also expressed interest in further participation.
In future studies, we intend to try to better quantify the flow volumes from manure piles stored on slabs. In addition, we intend to better assess leaching potential underneath the manure piles stored on soil by using lysimeters to measure leachate volumes.
Scarlett Graham, Conservation Research Specialist, Whatcom Conservation District
Laura Redmond, Landowner Incentive Program Coordinator, King Conservation District
Addie Candib, Pacific Northwest Regional Director, American Farmland Trust
American Farmland Trust website: https://farmland.org/project/south-puget-sound-discovery-farms/
Dr. Nichole Embertson, PhD, Dairy Sustainability at Starbucks (formerly worked at the Whatcom Conservation District)
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