By Teresa Hinrichs
Seaboard Farms, Inc.
Hog producers on the plains of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas strive to recycle and reuse water in their operations.
But these producers also are keenly aware of other environmental aspects to consider, while getting a second and third use out of their water supply. That is why they test effluent before applying it to their cropland.
Louis Long Jr. raises hogs for Seaboard Farms, Inc., and applies effluent to his cropland using center pivot irrigation systems. Long recognizes the tremendous value to his farm and the environment when he recycles his hog effluent through his irrigation system. Although effluent is 99% water when it is applied to fields, it still contains nitrogen and phosphorus--vital and valuable nutrients in crop production.
"By using effluent, we save about two weeks of pumping irrigation water from the ground," Long says. "And we save about $5,000 in commercial fertilizer costs per site, or per lagoon."
Commercial fertilizer use is reduced and natural and organic fertilizer use is increase, while saving groundwater. But even with those benefits, Long takes extra care and precaution to ensure safe effluent applications on his fields. To do that, he regularly tests the level of nutrients in the effluent.
"By law, we only can apply the amount of fertilizer the crop needs," Long explains. "We know from agronomy journals the amount of nutrients a particular crop needs, such as corn. We test the ground to see the amount of nutrients that are available to the crop. Then we test the effluent to find the level of different nutrients it contains. That way, we know how much effluent to apply to get the most out of the effluent, while still protecting the environment."
The law requires Long and other farmers applying effluent to check nutrient levels once a year. But Long, as well as the Seaboard Farms environmental management team, checks lagoon nutrient levels more often. Long tests effluent two weeks prior to application. He also tests soil nutrient levels each year after harvest.
According to Jay Moore, Seaboard Farms air quality coordinator, Seaboard Farms routinely tests lagoons and cropland before effluent application. The company also provides controls to ensure environmentally and neighbor friendly usage when local farmers use their own effluent. "We keep records of every application and report each application to the Department of Agriculture," Moore says.
Long and Seaboard Farms must make sure the effluent they apply to cropland stays on that land. "We cannot have any run-off," Long says. Run-off is defined as a liquid not absorbed into the ground that stays on the surface of the ground and can potentially flow off the field, if there is a slope. And while eliminating run-off is a requirement mandated by law, Long points out if there were run-off, he would be loosing valuable moisture and nutrients that could be used for his crops. And as it is, Long says, he actually could use more effluent than his hog barns produce, in terms of irrigating water and nutrient requirements for his crops.
The irrigation systems applying hog effluent are equipped with valves and shutoffs. These valves ensure the effluent flows only one way in the irrigation pipes--toward the crop. No "backwash" is allowed to drain back into the groundwater. Long and Seaboard Farms check these valves periodically or before effluent application.
Long points out another safety measure-an alarm system on his irrigation sprinklers that alerts him when something is amiss. "Our irrigation system electronically notifies us through an alarm when there is a problem with the system moving through the field, or if there is a problem with the water or effluent source," he says. "This prevents us from creating a puddle in the field, or tells us if a line feeding the sprinklers breaks. We know right away and can shut the system down immediately, if there is a problem."
All these safety efforts and precautions are worth it to Long and Seaboard Farms. That is because they are long-term members of the community. "We live here and drink this water from our own wells," Long explains. "We don't want it contaminated, and we do everything possible to make sure our water is safe."