Turning pollution into crop nutrients to be focus of 2015 Manure Expo

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- As agricultural groups and government agencies continue to tackle the vexing problem of nutrient pollution entering waterways, Penn State Extension is hosting an event in the heart of the Chesapeake Bay watershed aimed at helping producers to reduce negative impacts of excess manure nutrients.

The 2015 North American Manure Expo will take place July 14-15 near Chambersburg, Franklin County. The event provides an opportunity for commercial applicators and livestock producers to advance their knowledge about manure-nutrient utilization, while showcasing the latest technology in manure handling, treatment and application, according to expo co-chairman Robb Meinen.

"Manure Expo combines a one-of-a-kind trade show with educational sessions where researchers, extension educators, government agency personnel, vendors, certified haulers and farmers can share important information surrounding this critical area of animal production," said Meinen, a senior extension associate in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences who specializes in nutrient and manure management.

The 2015 expo's theme, "Manure than You Can Handle," is a play on words that reflects the wide range of continuing-education opportunities the event offers, Meinen said.

On Tuesday, July 14, the expo will feature tours of area farms that are implementing advanced manure technologies, followed by demonstrations of manure agitation and dragline equipment and evening educational sessions. Activities on Wednesday, July 15, will include a trade show, educational seminars and field demonstrations.

"The event will feature experts from within and beyond the state's borders presenting the latest research and best practices," Meinen said. "Many vendors will unveil new technologies or models at the Manure Expo, and side-by-side demonstrations will allow attendees to view and compare these technologies. Nowhere else can this audience kick the tires in such a large forum."

Manure nutrients typically enter water as a nonpoint source of pollution. This can occur from pastures and barnyards but also as runoff from crop fields that receive manure applications. Because the Chesapeake watershed is so large, even small losses from individual farms can add up to create a serious problem, Meinen explained.

According to 2009 data from the Chesapeake Bay Program, agricultural manure accounted for 19 percent of the nitrogen and 26 percent of the phosphorous delivered to the bay. More than half of Pennsylvania drains to the Chesapeake via the Susquehanna River and its tributaries.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2010 enacted the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), which established a "pollution diet" to improve the bay's water quality. Based largely on implementation plans prepared by Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, the TMDL aims to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment delivered from upstream sources.

"Nutrient and manure management planning is a great starting point to address the problem, providing a tool that matches the rate of manure nutrient application to crop uptake," Meinen said. "Under a nutrient management plan, manure application rates are calculated to allow maximum crop production while minimizing environmental risk."

Meinen noted that Manure Expo attendees can gain knowledge that will enhance execution of nutrient management plans at critical control points.

"There are numerous factors that can aid nutrient placement and retention," he said. "Manure applicators must have both knowledge and skill to place the manure nutrients where they want them and in a manner that allows the nutrients to infiltrate the soil to reach plant roots. The equipment that the applicator utilizes can greatly influence nutrient utilization efficiency."

Meinen said hosting the expo dovetails with other Penn State research and extension programs. For instance, Penn State Extension spearheads educational efforts for the Pennsylvania Manure Hauler and Broker Certification Program. Created under a 2006 state law, the program educates commercial manure applicators on the importance of nutrient retention at the field level, covering topics such as nitrogen and phosphorous behavior in the environment, manure application setbacks from environmentally sensitive areas and manure-spreader calibration.

The Manure Expo is held in a different location each year, most recently in Missouri and Ontario, Canada. The event last was hosted in Pennsylvania in 2010 on the Ag Progress Days grounds at Penn State's Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center.

"We had more than 1,300 attendees at the Ag Progress Days site," said Meinen, who is co-chairing the 2015 expo with Jennifer Bratthauar, of the Franklin County Conservation District. "I said if we ever brought the expo back to Pennsylvania that I would want to move it to a more animal-centric region.

"Chambersburg is accessible to many dairy, poultry and livestock producers from the entire Chesapeake Bay region and beyond," he said. "We fully expect to surpass 2,000 attendees. Besides commercial haulers and producers, we really hope to see decision-makers from across the bay states. This expo will facilitate a connection between policy and practicality."

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Last Updated March 16, 2015