Yahara Pride Farms offers new conservation programs

By Mary Hookham for Yahara Pride Farms

The 2018 Yahara Pride Farms annual meeting held in Deforest, Wisconsin on March 7 provided farmers in the watershed with the latest conservation programs and techniques available to them through the organization. Two of the latest programs to be added to the organization’s lineup of offerings – Composting and Paid for Performance – were the subjects of two presentations at the meeting.


Pat Murphy, field consultant for Yahara Pride Farms, talked about the organization’s manure composting program. He explained that there are multiple composting programs in Europe and the practice is gaining popularity in the United States.

Murphy explained that the level of nitrogen in manure that has been composted drops significantly. The phosphorus and potassium, on the other hand, are concentrated during the composting process. As the compost matures, it doesn’t work well as a nitrogen fertilizer, which can sometimes be a concern, Murphy said. However, farmers composting also generally have fresh, raw manure that can be used as good-quality fertilizer more immediately, he said.

“Having the phosphorus and potassium concentrated, we can, in fact, use that more as a topdressing fertilizer over the top of a hay crop after harvest,” Murphy said. “We don’t have a negative impact on the regeneration of the next crop of that hay because the acids and the organics are not like those of fresh manure that can damage a young, emerging hay crop.”

Highly-managed compost piles can reduce manure leaching and nutrient loss to farms and surrounding areas. The weight of the composted manure is reduced between 10 and 30 percent making it lighter to move as needed. Air space is increased within compost piles, which helps speed up the decomposition process and helps with overall weight.

“As the pile is turned, we get a lot of decomposition,” he said. “We also get some breakdown and reducing of the strands of bedding material that’s in there.”

A uniform spread is easier to achieve with composted manure because of a better texture than raw manure, Murphy said. Compost that is uniform in density and manure distribution will heat more consistently and will maximize loss of moisture and weight.

“One of the major environmental benefits of composting manure is removing the free nitrogen from the compost pile after it’s been stacked and turned a few times,” Murphy said. “The other benefit is because the pile leaks and does drive the moisture off, once rainfall does come, which it inevitably will during your cycle, that pile is much less likely to weep or lose any liquid because it’ll just absorb back into itself.”

A minimum of four turns are needed for noticeable change in composted manure. If compost sites are close to farm buildings or an area where the farmer frequents often, it’s more likely the compost will be more consistently managed.

Yahara Pride Farms offers incentive payments for farmers willing to compost their manure. This year farmers will receive $1,100 to build and haul a minimum 220-cubic-yard bedded pack manure composting pile. YPF will provide compost turning service to the farmer at no charge as well as before and after nutrient analysis of the compost. Consultants will also help plan land application if needed.

To learn more about this program, contact Pat Murphy at murphpa58@gmail.com or call (608) 772-2602.


The Paid for Performance program is designed to help farmers reduce phosphorus delivery from farms to streams and surface waters of the Yahara Watershed, provide meaningful financial incentives to reward farmers who reduce and maintain phosphorus loss below minimum state and federal requirements, establish long-term contracts for goals and payments and establish agreed-upon methods to clearly track phosphorus reductions.

“We want to make the program meaningful with incentives and rewards to reward the farmers who reduce and maintain the phosphorus losses well below the minimum state standards,” said Bob Uphoff, vice-chair of YPF.

YPF is working for raise funds to launch a pilot for the Paid for Performance program this year. Minimum producer requirements to participate include:

  • a current 590 nutrient management plan organized in SNAP Plus, documenting a maximum whole farm phosphorus index of 3.0 or less,
  • completing a YPF conservation assessment and addressing any critical sites and/or practices that are rated in the assessment as high risk,
  • agreeing to an annual review of enrolled land and reporting and,
  • agreement to participate in a follow-up YPF conservation planning assessment every five years

“We want to make sure everybody is participating and that we’re working with the practices we are talking about,” said Uphoff. “You know your own farming system better than anybody in this room. You know the challenges you face.”

Uphoff said phosphorus reductions can come from three main production areas: farming systems (changes in tillage, crop rotations and cover crops), nutrient application (manure and fertilizer application methods and timing) and nutrient balancing (effectively balancing nutrient applications to lower fields with high phosphorus soil test levels and bring low testing fields up to optimum levels).

Farmers can implement any practice(s) that SNAP Plus is able to calculate a nutrient loss reduction on, so options are numerous.

The phosphorus reduction payment is based on a rotational whole farm phosphorus index estimate and payments will vary depending on the starting and target phosphorus index. Higher payments will come for lower phosphorus index numbers and the payments change for each 0.5 reduction in the phosphorus index number. Payments will be made for reductions and when the target number has been achieved and maintained for an extended period of time. Maintenance payments are a percentage of the target payments.

“Payments will be made based on reductions,” said Uphoff. “Let’s be realistic about what we can do.”

For more information on the Paid for Performance program, contact Jeff Endres, YPF chair, at jeff.endres@yaharapridefarms.org or call (608) 279-8991.

Natalie EndresYahara Pride Farms offers new conservation programs