SUNNYSIDE Farmers are working on strategies to improve water quality in the Lower Yakima Valley.
A record number of dairies are opting to learn new approaches to manure nutrient application that will help curtail the impact to both surface and ground waters.
A recent state Department of Agriculture progress report to the Legislature said a total of 296 producers who use manure in their cropping recently participated in 10 accredited training sessions led by local conservation districts.
Farmers learned how enhanced practices — when applying manure nutrients at the right time, right place and right amount — help to avoid over application on field crops, the report said.
The report said 28,878 acres in Yakima County were reflected in test levels that reduced from 11.9 percent needing attention in 2014 to 6.6 percent this year.
Dairy representatives say there is more work to do, but expressed pride in the effort.
“In only two years, Yakima dairy farmers dramatically reduced the number of fields that are of concern for high nitrates,” Washington State Dairy Federation Policy Director Jay Gordon said. “I have never seen a report that is such an excellent quantification of a team effort...”
Yakima Dairy Federation’s Steve George said the report reinforces how dairy farmers respond to good information.
“It shows tangibly the changes dairy farmers have made in short order to protect the environment, when delivered professionally by public and private professionals,” he said.
Last year, approximately 100 dairy farmers attended pilot manure management training programs conducted by Whatcom and south Yakima conservation districts.
“These early events were well-attended and prompted the industry to ask the 2016 Legislature for additional funding for future training and related activity,” Agriculture’s Assistant Director Brent Barnes said.
“There has been good response from ag producers in early 2016.
“The soils testing results are very good with similar improvements in the future with so many improved application protocols, farm equipment innovations and new technologies,” said Laurie Crowe, Livestock Nutrient Management Specialist with the South Yakima Conservation District. “Precision ag-software allows farmers to ‘log in’ specifications for their crop land to determine exactly how much manure nutrient can be applied, but it is a never ending target that producers are always striving to improve.”
As one of the organizers of manure nutrient management training in the area, said Laurie Crowe, South Yakima Conservation District livestock nutrient management specialist.
Crowe said she is encouraged by the number of dairy farmers and managers who attended the four-hour training session.
“Recordkeeping for each farm’s Dairy Nutrient Management Plan is more accurate from increased awareness, use of technology and recognition that properly applied organic matter increases crop yield,” she said.
State agriculture officials will continue working with producers into 2017 as manure nutrient training, on-site field work, soil testing and developing best practices for nutrient management improve.
In addition, dairies Are working with officials on a reasonable Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation permits.
Officials also will partner with group of stakeholders on the new Dairy Nutrient Advisory Committee.