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Reduced nitrates while increasing livestock
Herrings Marsh Run

Water Quality Improvement
Nitrogen concentration at the watershed’s outlet has been cut in half since the project started in 1990, from an average reading of approximately 2.5 mg/L nitrate-N in October, 1990 to less than 1 mg/L in July, 1997. Seasonal peaks are lower now than they were early in the project, too.

Watershed Description
A 5,000-acre, coastal watershed, Herrings Marsh Run had the potential for tremendous water quality problems due to exploding hog and poultry industries, as well as cropland and a growing human population.

The Partnership
Producers in the watershed joined state and federal agencies in a project of voluntary well testing, surface water sampling and Best Management Practices (BMPs).

How They Did It
The watershed project introduced classic BMPs such as conservation farming -- which emphasizes reducing tillage to leave more crop residue on the soil surface to minimize erosion -- and field borders, strips of grass along the edge of cropped fields that capture sediment and nutrients running off the land. The project also introduced groundbreaking practices such as animal mortality composting and variable rate fertilization demonstrations.

Perhaps most important, growers discovered a valuable resource right under their noses: hog manure and poultry litter that provide valuable nutrients for crops and have replaced approximately 180,000 pounds of commercial nitrogen fertilizer per year. Applying animal waste at agronomic rates -- matched to crop needs -- put tons of waste to use, kept nutrients out of the streams, and kept thousands of dollars in growers’ pockets.

Suggestions for Others
No project is perfect, and the Herrings Marsh Run Watershed Project is no exception. Looking back at the program, field project manager Dr. Maurice Cook notes the following shortcomings:

  • Personnel changes took some momentum out of the program on the agency side, as staffers coming into the project lacked the enthusiasm that comes with ownership.
  • It’s hard to keep farmers motivated about the same project for several years. Information gathering became increasingly difficult as farmers’ responses became more vague. Cook believes the participants simply felt that answers from previous interviews would suffice, and that later discussions were redundant.
  • Technicians need to learn to better utilize indirect sources of information, such as Farm Service Agency records, for land-use information, making up for declining data from farmer surveys.
  • An informal meeting at a local country store was a huge success toward the end of the project, when attendance at more structured annual field days had waned. Cook says he’d start holding informal coffee shop meetings earlier in the process next time.
  • Communications -- such as newsletters and press releases -- require attention and dedication. Cook says he would prefer to see a communications specialist on staff of a watershed project to ensure that information is disseminated within the watershed and among its neighbors. Allotting 20% of a staff member’s time could yield much more regular and effective communication, he notes.

Dr. Maurice Cook
3458 Leonard Street
Raleigh, NC 27607
(919) 787-3021
(919) 787-7946 fax

Mr. Mark Rice
Extension Specialist
Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering
Campus Box 7927
Raleigh, NC 27695-7927
(919) 515-6894
(919) 513-1023 fax

Mr. Ed Emory
Director, Duplin County
North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service
P.O. Box 949
Kenansville, NC 28349
(910) 296-2143
(910) 296-2191 fax