by Jane Primerano
New Jersey is a small state with a lot of water. Lakes, rivers, streams, creeks, ponds and vernal pools, not to mention the surviving sections of two man-made canals ribbon the state.
Keeping that water clean and potable is a challenge in both urban and rural areas.
In the rural northwest and south of the state a major water-quality concern is non-point source pollution from farms. Often, the pollution comes from manure.
The county Soil Conservation Districts are working to inform livestock farmers of the manure maintenance assistance they offer.
One of the first things SCD agents are finding they have to do is convince horse owners that equines are actually livestock.
Eileen Greason of the Warren County SCD explained cattle farmers and those who keep sheep and pigs are picking up the district’s brochures and logging onto its website—horse owners, not so much.
“People think of horses as pets,” Greason said.
Often they are treated that way. Aging Shetland ponies nibble backyard grass, mini horses are treated like dogs, mule’s birthdays are posted on Facebook.
However, their manure must be managed the same as other livestock’s.
Protecting water quality is vital, but it is not the only reason to manage manure.
The SCD published a brochure explaining the advantages of proper waste management: improves soil nutrient levels, supplements or replaces commercial fertilizers, can be property composted and sold as a farm product, promotes health and welfare of farm livestock, reduces non-point source pollution.
The New Jersey Department of Agriculture developed criteria and standards for animal waste management with five general requirements each New Jersey farm must abide by. These are also listed in the SCD brochure. They aren’t new and most farmers already abide by them.
Animals in confined areas cannot have access to state waters unless the access is controlled in accordance with the New Jersey Department of Agriculture Best Management Practices Manual. Many farmers implemented these practices when they first came out a number of years ago.
Other requirements are: Manure storage must be at least 100 linear feet from state surface waters and land application shall be in accordance with BMP. Farmers must contact the state veterinarian before disposing any animal that dies from a reportable contagious disease or act of bio-terrorism. Any person who enters a farm for official business must follow bio-security protocols.
Greason said the SCD does not charge for assistance to farmers in writing a self-certification plan to comply with the state criteria.
She believes the practices will not come as a surprise. “Most farmers will find they won’t have to change, they are already using BMPs,” she said.
At least in Warren County, many farmers have the information from the SCD.
“We’re not looking for violations, we’re not trying to get people in trouble. We’re trying to protect water,” Greason said.
The SCD brochure defines BMPS as “any method, measure or practice used to protest, maintain and preserve water quality.” It also suggests some useful BMPs. These include installing an area of vegetation to trap organic materials, composting manure, permanent manure storage, soil testing, and using manure appropriately on land.
Greason suggests farmers contact the SCD at 908-852-2579 or firstname.lastname@example.org.