UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A Penn State Extension curriculum designed to help youth agriculturists protect water quality by better managing manure recently received a 2020 Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence.
“Manure Management Planning for Youth Animal Projects” was one of 14 initiatives honored out of more than 60 nominated for the award. The curriculum is aimed at all youth who are raising animals for 4-H, FFA and agricultural education programs, according to Jennifer Fetter, water resources extension educator.
“Animals at a farm operation are enclosed in pastures, meadows, barnyards and barn areas,” Fetter said. “This leads to concentrated areas of manure accumulation. Even when just a few animals, or a single animal, are being raised for a couple months before summer fair season, that manure can add up fast.”
A single pig can produce a ton of manure in the five months it takes to grow to 250 pounds, she noted, and that manure can have a significant impact on local waterways if it leaches into groundwater or runs into creeks and ponds with rain and melting snow.
“In Pennsylvania, anyone who raises animals that produce manure or who applies manure to the land as fertilizer is required to have a written plan about how they are managing their manure,” Fetter said. “Many smaller farms, hobby farms and youth who are raising project animals may not know about the impacts of manure and the type of plan they need to write.”
She said the award-winning curriculum, developed with support and contributions from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Lancaster County Conservation District and the Manheim Central Ag-Ed program, is intended to help guide youth in implementing manure management best practices.
The “Manure Management Planning for Youth Animal Projects” curriculum features hands-on activities and includes chapters on manure composition, soil types, how plants utilize manure, manure impacts on water, mapping for planning and the basics of a Pennsylvania manure management plan.
Of youth who responded to a follow-up survey six months after participating in workshops using the curriculum in 2018-2019, 20% reported they already had written a new manure management plan or made improvements to their existing plan, noted Erin Greenleaf, 4-H extension educator, who helped plan and implement the workshops. Another 55% took an action to reduce the impact of manure on the environment, affecting about 430 acres of land, she said.
Greenleaf pointed out that proper manure management planning on these 430 acres could lead to a potential annual reduction of about 244,000 pounds of nitrogen and nearly 18,600 pounds of phosphorus entering local waterways, which potentially could save remediation costs ranging from about $1.4 million to more than $21.5 million.
Capri Stiles-Mikesell, 4-H extension educator, said as a result of the early successes of this program, manure management was adopted as the key topic for the 2020 Pennsylvania 4-H Quality Animal Management program.
“This means that all youth participating in 4-H animal science programs in 2020 have been required to complete a training on manure management,” Stiles-Mikesell said. “There is potential to reach more than 13,000 youth raising animals in Pennsylvania in 2020.”
Presented annually by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence is the highest statewide honor bestowed upon businesses and organizations for environmental performance and innovation in cleaning up watersheds, saving energy, eliminating pollution, reducing waste and other initiatives.
“These awards highlight the ingenuity and commitment Pennsylvanians have for protecting and improving our environment,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “The unique projects show how communities, businesses and educational organizations can come together to meet the diverse needs of our environment.”
–Chuck Gill, Penn State University