Virginia Tech researchers in the Department of Dairy Science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences have been awarded an $882,910 Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to assist dairy farmers in reducing pollution in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

This project will allow Virginia Tech, dairy farmers, and the NRCS to identify new technologies and processes for feed management, which could lead to lower nitrogen and phosphorus levels in manure, an identified contributor to nonpoint source pollution in Virginia. The project forms the core of the dairy science department’s new “Targeted Environmental Solutions for Virginia’s Dairy Farms” education and outreach effort.

"The agricultural research conducted at Virginia Tech contributes significantly to conservation and farming practices in Virginia as well as throughout the country. We are very fortunate to have such a premier agricultural research institution in the state of Virginia. The grant awarded will fund research that has the potential to help farmers meet the environmental standards created to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. Farmers need this kind of help to comply with often costly environmental regulations. We should be looking for more ways to help farmers remain competitive in the face of rising costs," said Congressman Bob Goodlatte at an event announcing the grant recipients.

The project consists of a two-pronged feed management study to reduce nutrient nonpoint source loading from Virginia dairy farms to the Shenandoah River, which is part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Incentive payments will be offered to farms that reduce overfeeding of phosphorus. Three hundred eligible producers will be enrolled in this scaled incentive program, with payments of up to $12 per milking cow per year for producers feeding less than 5 percent excess phosphorus.

“Reducing the overfeeding of dietary phosphorus is a powerful technique to reduce phosphorus excretion and phosphorus runoff from fields,” said Katharine Knowlton, associate professor of dairy science and project director. Other Virginia Tech scientists involved in the project include Charlie Stallings, professor of dairy science and Extension specialist; Bob James, professor of dairy science; and Mark Hanigan, associate professor dairy science; as well as Rick Kohn associate professor of animal and avian sciences, at the University of Maryland.

According to Knowlton, the second component of the project will facilitate further improvements. On ten collaborator farms, demonstrations of advanced feeding management to reduce reliance on purchased grains will also be conducted to increase adoption of these next generation dietary nutrient management practices. The research team will work intensively with these farms to implement dietary nutrient management plans. These plans will include precision feeding (more precisely defining and meeting nitrogen and phosphorus needs of cows), improved forage quality (to reduce reliance of imported feeds), and improving feed storage, mixing, and delivery to reduce nutrient losses via wasted feeds.

“This research will provide us an opportunity to enhance the economic viability of our agricultural industry while protecting and conserving the environment. The two components of this project will help farmers reduce their feed costs, while reducing the possibility of nutrient losses from their farms,” said Sharron Quisenberry, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

This project is a result of last spring’s Waste Solutions Forum that brought together university scientists, engineers, farmers, waste-management facility operators, economists, conservationists, policymakers, and government regulators to develop a comprehensive strategy for identifying, researching, and implementing alternative solutions for the Shenandoah Valley’s animal manure and poultry litter management problems.

“The forum provided the opportunity to identify the most promising strategies for addressing excess animal manure and poultry waste,” said Knowlton. “Because it is both cost effective and powerful, improved feed management was identified at the forum as the highest priority in the strategy. This NRCS-funded project is a direct result of cooperation and partnerships formed through this collaborative meeting.”

NRCS is funding $882,910 of the more than $1.7 million project, adding to the significant in kind cost-share pledged by Virginia Tech, and $400,000 in matching funds provided by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation from the Water Quality Improvement Fund. Another key project partner is Cumberland Valley Analytical Services, a commercial feed laboratory providing analytical services.

The grant is part of more than $19 million USDA is providing to fund 54 projects in 40 states and Guam. Selected proposals receive grants for up to 50 percent of the total project costs and must provide nonfederal matching funds for at least 50 percent of the project cost. Of the total amount of the grants, more than $4.5 million will fund 12 projects that address natural resource concerns in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

Consistently ranked by the National Science Foundation among the top institutions in agricultural research, Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences offers students the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s leading agricultural scientists. The college’s comprehensive curriculum gives students a balanced education that ranges from food and fiber production to economics to human health. The college is a national leader in incorporating technology, biotechnology, computer applications, and other recent scientific advances into its teaching program.

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