The Oregon State University Extension Service has received the Environmental Stewardship Award from the Oregon Department of Agriculture for its years of work helping dairy farmers protect ground and surface water.
The yearly award recognizes individuals or groups that demonstrate leadership, innovation and creativity in implementing environmental regulations.
One of the largest Extension programs worked cooperatively with the Natural Resources division of the Oregon Department of Agriculture to design the Confined Animal Feeding Operations permit program. "It was important to develop something a producer could easily read and understand," said Mike Gamroth, OSU Extension dairy specialist.
As Environmental Protection Agency standards change, dairy and cattle producers sometimes find themselves suddenly out of compliance, officials say. Extension agents oversee the EPA rules but also provide technical assistance producers need to make required changes on their farms.
"As a fertilizer, manure is important, but when it gets into ground and surface water it can be an environmental hazard," Gamroth said. "Several of us have been working on projects with producers and regulators to help keep water clean."
As agriculture has become more specialized, dairy farmers have added cows but decreased their number of crops, typically growing just feed for their cows. OSU Extension took on the challenge of more manure and fewer fields with a research program focused on selecting grasses that would take up more nutrients, and then determined how much manure could be safely applied.
Their results showed farmers could double the previous manure application standard of one and a half cows per acre. Therefore, a farmer with 100 cows would need just 33 acres to spread their manure, instead of 66.
"It made quite a change," Gamroth said. "It was an economical advantage for farmers and it gave regulators a basis for their regulations."
William Matthews of the Oregon Department of Agriculture presented the award at the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association annual meeting in Bend. He said it was not one person or one program that caught the attention of the award committee, but the cumulative work of several Extension agents on multiple programs.
"Extension agents provide a valuable function in helping producers understand the environmental regulations - what they are, what they mean and how to comply," Matthews said.