Reduced nitrates while
Herrings Marsh Run
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.
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.
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
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) 787-7946 fax
Mr. Mark Rice
Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering
Campus Box 7927
Raleigh, NC 27695-7927
(919) 513-1023 fax
Mr. Ed Emory
Director, Duplin County
North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service
P.O. Box 949
Kenansville, NC 28349
(910) 296-2191 fax