Online Tool Helps PA Farmers with Conservation and Nutrient Management Planning
August 3, 2011 | Justin Stoltzfus
Farmers in the state of Pennsylvania must comply with strict regulations that require them to implement responsible nutrient and soil management practices to not only protect local environments, but also the Chesapeake Bay and other sensitive ecosystems beyond the state’s borders.
To help Pennsylvania farmers meet regulatory requirements for conservation and nutrient management planning, the Penn State Cooperative Extension Land Analysis Lab in collaboration with regulators, including the PA State Department of Environmental Protection and the PA State Conservation Commission, are developing a set of online tools called PAOneStop.
The purpose of PAOneStop is twofold: to provide farmers with a simple tool to create high-quality maps that the state requires for Nutrient Management Plans and Nutrient Balance Sheets in order to insure water quality protection; and to help farmers develop required erosion and sedimentation (E&S) plans to responsibly manage and control nutrient runoff and soil loss. PAOneStop’s Nutrient Management Mapping Module is currently available and being used by farmers across the state. The second module, the E&S Planning System, which will help farmers address erosion and sedimentation requirements, is in development.
Rick Day, Associate Professor of Crop and Soil Sciences at Penn State as well as the Director of the Land Analysis Lab, says that PAOneStop’s aim is to reduce pollutant loads and other issues that threaten water quality, and to help farmers manage the costs of complying with related state regulations.
“We’re hoping that the new system saves money for everybody,” says Day. “Anybody can use it.”
He says the Nutrient Management Mapping Module makes it easier for farmers to put together detailed nutrient management plans that are required of operations involved in the transfer of manure from one farm to another. PAOneStop also frees up the nutrient management specialists at Penn State, who routinely provide farmers with assistance in understanding state requirements and developing Nutrient Management Plans. Day says that PAOneStop simplifies the process for farmers by presenting them with mapping technologies that clearly mark many of these requirements.
The module allows farmers to map their farmland and then overlay it with details such as manure setbacks, soil k-factors that outline soil susceptibility, stream setbacks that are required to control pollution, and more. After mapping their operations and including all of the state requirements, farmers can print a hard copy to submit to regulators for compliance.
PAOneStop’s upcoming E&S Planning System will help farmers to more easily develop erosion and sedimentation plans required for all but the smallest farms, Day says. The E&S Planning System will allow farmers to calculate soil loss and provide them with the necessary information to determine whether their farms are in compliance with state regulations. Day says the erosion and sedimentation plan is not something that a farmer necessarily needs to submit every year, but rather a plan that the farm must have on hand in case of a request from a state regulatory department.
Farmers will be able to enter specific erosion and sedimentation-related data into PAOneStop’s E&S Planning System module such as tons of nutrients per acre, crop rotations, climate conditions and soil types to obtain a calculation that reveals whether their farm has “acceptable” soil loss values per USDA standards. Day says that farmers who find out that they are not in compliance will need to adopt “best management practices” to reduce soil loss. While the actual E&S regulations are issued by the state, and often stem from federal EPA requirements, Day says that Pennsylvania counties often become involved in evaluating erosion and sedimentation control in their jurisdictions.
Officials at many levels of Pennsylvania government, from state legislators to the council members and supervisors of the state’s many townships and boroughs, realize that nutrient runoff is a major issue and that soil loss from individual farms can cause a ripple effect that harms major waterways. “We need to get all of these farmers in compliance,” says Day. In the end, the program will help farmers to see where they can make improvements in their operations and adapt sustainable practices to “keep soil on the farm” and use fertilizer and other resources more efficiently and responsibly.