On-Farm Field Days as a Tool to Demonstrate Agricultural Waste Management Practices and Educate Producers

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Teaching Best Management Practices (BMP) or introducing new agricultural waste management practices to livestock producers and farmers is a challenge. This poster describes a series of on-farm field days designed to deliver information and demonstrate on-site several waste management techniques, most of them well established in other parts of the country but sparsely used in Idaho. During these field days, Extension personnel presented each technique and offered written information on how to apply them. But without a doubt, presentations by the livestock producers and farmers who are already applying the techniques and hosted each field day at their farms was the main tool to spark interest and conversations with attendees.

Four field days were delivered in 2012 with more programmed for 2013. Demonstrated techniques reduce ammonia and odor emissions, increase nitrogen retention from manure, reduce run-off risks, and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Topics addressed on each field day were, a: Dairy manure collection and composting, 20 attendees. b: Dairy manure land application ten attendees. c: Grape vine prunings and dairy manure composting, 50 attendees. d: Mortality and offal on-farm composting, 40 attendees. In all cases farm owners and their managers presented and were available to answer attendees’ questions, sharing their experience, and opinions regarding the demonstrated practices. Many attendees expressed their interest and willingness to adopt some of the demonstrated practices. On-farm field days are an excellent tool to increase understanding and adoption of BMP and new technologies. Hearing experiences first hand from producers applying the techniques and being able to see them in action are excellent outreach tools. On-farm field days also fit the fast pace, busy schedule of modern producers who can later visit with Extension and other personnel if they need more details, information, and help on how to adopt the techniques they are interested in.

Why Hold Field Days on Ag Waste Management?

The dairy industry is the number one revenue commodity in Idaho. At the same time Idaho is ranked third in milk production in the nation. Idaho has more than 580,000 dairy cows distributed in 550 dairy operations (Idaho State Department of Agriculture 1/2013). The Magic Valley area in south-central Idaho hosts 54% of those dairies and 73% of all dairy cows in the state (Idaho Dairymen’s Association internal report, 2012).  Odors from dairies and other animal feeding operations are a major issue in Idaho and across the country.  In addition, the loss of ammonia from manures reduces the nutrient value of the manure and generates local and regional pollution. Dairy farmers of all sizes need more options on how to treat and dispose of the manure generated by their operations. Odor reductions, capture of nitrogen in dairy manure, reduction of greenhouse gases emissions, off-farm nutrients export, water quality protection, and reduction of their dairy operation’s environmental impact are some of the big challenges facing the dairy industry in Idaho and around the country. There are many Best Management Practices (BMP) that are proven to work on providing results related to the challenges mentioned before. Some of these practices are widely adopted in certain parts of the country or in other countries, with a lack of adoption by dairy producers and farmers in other parts of the country. This poster shows a series of Extension and research efforts designed to introduce and locally test proven BMP to dairy producers and crop farmers in southern Idaho in an effort to increase their adoption and incorporate those BMP as regular practices in Idaho agriculture. The four projects described were delivered in 2012 and some will continue in 2013.

What Did We Do?

To demonstrate and test BMP we chose to develop on-farm research projects to collect data and couple these projects with on-farm field days to demonstrate the applicability of the BMP in a real-world setting. Extension personnel developed the research and on-farm field days and did several presentations at each location. But without a doubt the stars during those field days were the dairy producers and farmers who hosted the research and demonstration events and who are already using or starting to use the techniques showcased. These pioneer producers are not only leading the way in using relatively new BMP in southern Idaho, they also share their experiences with other producers and with the academia so everybody around can learn from them. Topics addressed in each field day were, a: Dairy manure collection and composting, 20 attendees. b: Dairy manure land application, 10 attendees. c: Grapevine prunings and dairy manure composting, 50 attendees. d: Mortality and offal on-farm composting, 40 attendees.

On-farm manure collection and composting field day.

Some highlights from each project are: a. The dairy manure collection and composting field day demonstrated the operation and use of a vacuum manure collection system and a compost turner. Dairy managers and machinery operators shared their experiences, benefits and challenges related to the use of these two technologies. During the field day attendees also visited the whole manure management system of the dairy and were able to observe diverse manure management techniques. As a result of this project Extension personnel determined the necessity of generating educational programs for compost and manure management operators for dairy employees. A composting school in Spanish and English proposal was presented and a grant was obtained to develop and deliver them in 2013.

b. The dairy manure land application field day featured the demonstration of a floating manure storage pond mixer and pump, and a drag hose manure injection system. We also showed an injection tank that wasn’t operated during the demonstration. The floating pond mixer serves as lagoon mixer and pump. It mixes and pumps the manure through the drag hose system to the subsurface injector. This system dramatically reduces the time required to land apply liquid and slurried manures. It also significantly reduces ammonia and odor emissions to near background levels, as well as avoids runoff after applications. This project included research of emissions on the manure injection sites (see Chen L., et al. in this conference proceedings).

Demonstrating dairy manure subsurface injection using a drag hose system.

c. The grapevine prunings and dairy manure composting project involves research on the implications of increasing the carbon content of dairy manures using grapevine prunings and other carbon sources to retain more nitrogen in the compost, and how it varies among three diferent composting techniques. This project includes two field days, one during the project (2012), and another one at the end of it in 2013. The demonstration includes how to compost using mechanically turned windrows (common in Idaho), passive aerated, and forced aerated windrows (both very rarely used in Idaho). Another novelty in this project is that it aims to bring together dairy producers and fruit & crop producers, or landscaping insustry so they can combine their waste streams to produce a better compost and to reduce the environmental impact of each operation. Several producers of the diverse audience who attended showed interest in adopting some of the composting techniques presented during the field day.

On-farm composting methods featuring grape vine prunings and dairy manure compost

d. The mortality and offal on-farm composting project was located at a diversified sheep farm that includes sheep and goat dairy and cheese plant, meat lambs, and chickens. A forced aerated composting box was used to compost lamb offal, hives, lamb and chicken mortalities, and whey from the cheese plant. A very diversified audience attended the field day and the composting system generated a lot of interest. The farm owner was so pleased with the system that she created a second composter with materials she had on-hand to increase her composting capabilities and compost all year round. The producer stopped disposing of lamb offal, hives, and mortalities at the local landfill.

What Have We Learned?

On-farm field days are a great tool to demonstrate and encourage the application of otherwise seldom applied techniques. They also can serve a dual purpose of demonstration and research, allowing for quality data collection if designed properly. Farmers’ collaboration and full participation during all phases of the project is paramount and pays off by having a very enthusiastic and collaborative partner. Identiying progressive and pioneer producers that are already applying new BMP or are willing to take the risk is very important to develop this kind of on-farm experience. In general these individuals are also willing to share their knowledge, experience, and results with others to increase the adoption of such techiques. Having a producer hosting and presenting during the field day, at their facilities (as opposed to a dedicated research facility) generates great enthusiasm from other producers and helps to “break the ice” and bring everybody to a friendly conversation and exchange of ideas if properly facilitated.

Future Plans

On both projects, a. manure collection and composting and b. manure injection we will generate a series of videos to demonstrate the proper application of BMP, and educational printed material will also be published. Project c. grape prunings and manure composting is still going on and we will finish collecting data by mid 2013. A second field day will be offered and videos and printed educational material will be developed. Project d. will see an expansion with a mortality composter for dairy calves being installed at a dairy, and with a field day following after the first compost batch is ready. Additional programs are in the works; these programs incorporate the on-farm demonstration and research dual purpose and have high participation from the involved producers.


Mario E. de Haro-Marti, Extension Educator, Gooding County Extension Office, University of Idaho Extension.  mdeharo@uidaho.edu

Lide Chen, Waste Management Engineer

Howard Neibling, Extension Irrigation and Water Management Specialist

Mireille Chahine, Extension Dairy Specialist

Wilson Gray, District Extension Economist

Tony McCammon, Extension Educator

Ariel Agenbroad, Extension Educator

Sai Krishna Reddy Yadanaparthi, Graduate student

James Eells, Research Assistant. University of Idaho Extension.


Projects a. and b. were supported by a USDA-NRCS Conservation and Innovation Grant (CIG). Project c. was supported by a USDA-NRCS Idaho CIG. Project d. was supported by a University of Idaho USDA-SARE mini grant. We also want to thank Jennifer Miller at the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides for her help and support with projects c. and d. Finally, we want to thank all producers involved in these projects for their support and openess to work with us, and for their innovative spirit.


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