Nutrient mismanagement by producers is not to blame for the pollution that plagues Chesapeake Bay, says Doug Beegle, professor of agronomy at Penn State University. Rather it is the economics of agriculture that have driven producers to specialize in raising livestock, import the majority of their feeds and spread manure on a limited land base.

Traditionally farmers raised a few animals, spread the manure on their own fields to fertilize the crops they grew and the system stayed in balance for centuries. Today, agriculture is concentrated, especially pork and poultry production with little land base. Dairies have grown too, but producers in the Susquehanna River watershed still grow most of their own feed so they have more acres on which to spread their manure.

The solutions are not simple. “We can’t solve this simply by going to farmers and asking them to change what they are doing on their farms because the problem is not usually caused by on-farm management practices,” explains Beegle. He offers three possible solutions: Develop better feeding programs to reduce the amount of nutrients excreted by animals, use economic incentives to encourage hauling manure outside of the watershed, or transferring manure to farms without livestock.

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Dairy Herd Management