April 21, 2010

Contacts: Larry D. Geohring, Cornell University, 607-255-2481; Eric Young, Miner Institute, 518-846-7121 x113; also see list at end of release

Northern NY Collaboration Enhancing On-Farm Water Quality Control

A local, county and state partnership is evaluating options for Northern New York farmers to enhance on-farm water quality protection measures. Cornell University (Departments of Biological and Environmental Engineering, Crop and Soil Sciences and Animal Science), W.H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute, the Clinton County Soil and Water Conservation District, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation are collaborating to evaluate how soil structure influences the transport of liquid manure into subsurface drainage tiles.

The Subsurface Drainage Water Management in NNY Project Leader Larry D. Geohring, a senior extension associate with Cornell’s Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering, says, “This is a combined laboratory and field-based investigation into ways that we can enhance on-farm water drainage management to prevent nutrient effluent from reaching surrounding water sources.”

The project team has installed flow control structures on the drainage systems of two North Country farms – one in the Lake Champlain area, one in the Great Lakes drainage basin.

The farms selected for the project are voluntary participants in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The program provides financial and technical assistance to help farmers integrate agricultural production and environmental quality as compatible goals.

Miner Institute Agronomist and project partner Eric Young says, “Tile drainage is a critical system for many farms in Northern New York, for example, Clinton County farms near Lake Champlain that use the subsurface tile systems to enhance crop production, land use and natural resource conservation.”

Geohring, a participant in a multi-state regional research and extension committee working on drainage water management, says, “The results of this work in Northern New York will immediately be of use not only to farmers in the region, but will be applicable for farmers all around the Great Lakes Basin from Michigan to Ontario, Canada.”

Holding Nutrients for Crop Use
“The control structures attached to the ends of tile lines on the farms can control the level of the shallow ground water table using ‘mini-dams’ to hold the water back at various rates of flow. Slowing the movement of subsurface water increases the time for soil or crops to absorb nutrients,” Young says.

“Studies have shown that as much as 50 percent of nitrogen previously lost from fields can be retained when the tile system is properly managed. This research will evaluate the effectiveness of the system with Northern New York soils,” Young adds.

The project has equipped eight tile lines in an 18-acre alfalfa field at Miner Institute with the drainage control structures. The researchers are monitoring the system for nitrogen and phosphorus retention before and after manure application.

The Cornell University Soil and Water Lab is analyzing farm field soil samples of different porosity for nitrogen and phosphorus leaching potential.

Miner Institute Director of Lab Studies Stephen R. Kramer, says, “We have established baseline chemistry and flow data for heavy clay tile-drained fields growing corn and grass for comparison to data collected with water control structures (valves) attached to the tile outlets in the spring and fall of 2010. Overall, we hope to quantify the small fraction of land-applied manure that is not absorbed by the field at different times of the year.”

Final project results, expected in 2011, will be used to revise the Drainage Guide for New York State published by the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service and Cornell University’s Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering for use by farmers, landowners, drainage material manufacturers, contractors, engineers, and agricultural educators.

Watch for results of the Subsurface Drainage Water Management in NNY Project to be posted online on the www.nnyagdev.org website of the farmer-driven Northern New York Agricultural Development Program. # # #

Additional Contacts:
• Karl Czymmek, Cornell University Pro-Dairy Program/Animal Science Senior Extension Associate, 607-255-4890
• Stephen Kramer, William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute Director of Laboratories, 518-846-7121 x127
• Jacqueline Lendrum, research scientist, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, 518-402-8118
• Stephen Mahoney, Clinton County Soil and Water Conservation District Manager, 518-561-4616 x3
• Tammo S. Steenhuis, Cornell University Biological and Environmental Engineering Professor, 607-255-2489

Additional information:
Cornell University Soil and Water Lab: http://soilandwater.bee.cornell.edu/

Multi-State Research Committee: Drainage Design and Management Practices To Improve Water Quality: https://engineering.purdue.edu/SafeWater/NCR207