What is that smell? Spring work has begun on most farms across the county and that can only mean one thing for our dairy and livestock farms. You guessed it. Or should I say, "You smelled it."
As we move closer to the official first day of spring, the temperatures are on the rise, the ground is getting drier, which allows the spreading of manure without cutting ruts in the fields or causing compaction of the soil. The first week of March and the next few weeks should provide an excellent window for farmers to get this valuable fertilizer material onto the fields and incorporated into the soil to preserve the nitrogen content.
So farmers must be the ones to blame for the odor.
Farmers have been storing the manure in large storage ponds, tanks and lagoons over the winter so they can spread it on the fields that will soon grow crops. This practice allows the nutrients in the manure to be taken up by the crops during the growing season, which in turn prevents the nutrients from leaching into the ground water, running off into streams and ending up in the Chesapeake Bay.
So it must be the environmentalists who are to blame, since they are the ones who forced farmers to construct these large storage structures which all get emptied at the same time in the spring.
The environmental movement has indeed had an effect on the rate of acceptance of the manure storage systems by farmers, but it is the farmer who benefits the most with the systems. Savings on purchased fertilizer, time and better soil stewardship all contribute to the profitability of the farm. Remember, farmers were the first environmentalists; their lives depend on preserving their land and water resources.
So it must be the government's fault. The legislators passed the nutrient management laws and wrote regulations restricting the application window.
Although the state prohibits spreading manure between Nov. 15 and Feb. 28, which contributes to the need for all livestock producers to have increased manure storage capacity, the ultimate goal is to have the nutrients applied to the fields at a time when crops need them most. This minimizes the need for additional commercial fertilizer and decreases expenses for the farmer.
So, who is to blame for the manure odor that is permeating the Frederick area this spring? Everybody. Environmentalists, government officials, farmers and every citizen of the state has some blame for the odor because we are all demanding, or at least expecting, clean water and an improved environment. Manure storage structures just happen to be one of those best management practices that provides the biggest bang for the buck when it comes to potential improvements to water quality.
One of the unintended consequences of the manure application time limits placed on farmers is the few weeks of odor as all the large storage units are emptied during a short time window in the spring. Manure is a product of livestock agriculture. Frederick County is the largest dairy-producing county in the state with 103 dairy farms and 14,200 milk cows. It takes a large agriculture infrastructure to support this industry. It is this infrastructure, including grain-producing farms, open pastures, and yes, the dairy farms themselves that provides the beauty that has attracted many of us to want to live here. True, the odor is not always pleasant, but it is not permanent either. Soon the tanks, lagoons and storage ponds will be empty, the crops will be growing and the odors will be forgotten, at least until fall.
Stanley Fultz is the Dairy Science Extension Agent with University of Maryland Extension, Frederick County Office. He can be reached at sfultz@ umd.edu or 301-600-3578. ___