Technology for farmers

Dane County and the Yahara Watershed Improvement Network are purchasing a manure tanker and spreading tool for use by local farmers. The new tractor attachment inserts manure deeper into the soil, which limits phosphorus runoff.

Farmers in the Yahara watershed will have easier access to a manure-spreading tool that reduces phosphorus runoff under a partnership between Dane County and local organizations.

The implement, which farmers in the area can rent by the hour, injects manure into the earth, rather than depositing it on the surface, where it is prone to drifting off fields and into waterways.

By sharing the cost of the cutting-edge technology, more farmers are able to make use of what would otherwise be a cost-prohibitive tool, said Maria Woldt, a spokeswoman with Yahara Pride Farm Group, a coalition of farmers that focuses on conservation practices.

Organizers said the tool can reduce the amount of phosphorus entering the watershed by 1.5 pounds per acre. The nutrient is a leading cause of dangerous algae blooms in local lakes, with just one pound of phosphorus producing up to 500 pounds of algae, said Josh Wescott, a spokesman for County Executive Joe Parisi.

The new technology is the result of a partnership among Dane County, the Yahara Watershed Improvement Network, Yahara Pride and Carl F. Statz and Sons Inc., which is providing a tractor.

Dane County is contributing $60,000, paired with another $60,000 from the Yahara Watershed Improvement Network, to buy the tanker and injection bar.

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The effort provides a “long-range” continuation of another county initiative — a four-year, $12 million project to remove phosphorus-laden sediment from local streams, Parisi said. The first stage of removal, on Dorn Creek, will begin this fall.

“In addition to that, we need to continue to do conservation work upstream — just like what we’re doing now — so that once we remove that legacy sediment, that legacy phosphorus that’s feeding the current blooms, that those streams aren’t filling up again with new sediment,” Parisi said.

The new tool allows the soil to retain 15 percent to 20 percent more nitrogen than if the manure were simply spread over the earth’s surface, organizers said.

Several farmers in the group have experimented with the injection bar already, resulting in 1,100 pounds of phosphorus savings on 1,200 acres of land in 2016. Jeff Endres, the Yahara Pride Farm Group’s chairman, projects that, through the new cost share system, the average cost per farmer will be $35 per acre, which would cover operator costs, tractor rental and repair and maintenance.

Endres said that farmers can also increase the conservation impact of the technology by pairing its use with the planting of cash crops, such as corn or alfalfa. He projects that up to 20 farmers will be using the technology by the end of the summer, though the hope is to attract more.

“The ones who have used it in the past, would use it again,” Endres said. He anticipates that the technology will be used on 500 to 600 acres in its first year.

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