Animal production is a major industry in Georgia. And it keeps growing. But due to the concentrated amount of waste produced on confined-animal farms, maintaining water quality around these farms is a growing concern, too.
Researchers with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will focus on poultry and hog farms in the Suwannee River Watershed in south central Georgia.
The research and findings, though, could be used as a model for other regions, said Richard Lowrance, a USDA ecologist.
A new animal water quality project will clean up Georgia's Suwannee River basin. But the research can be used as a model for the state.
"With this project, we'll be able to find out what's going on in the watershed as far as animal production," Lowrance said. "Then (we can) determine best-management practices farmers can use to avoid any (water quality) problems in the future."
Improperly managed animal farms can expose watersheds to fecal matter. This waste can carry disease-causing pathogens or choke streams with excess nutrients and bacteria.
Map, research, spread it around
Scientists will work with area farmers to map and inventory animal farms. Then they'll study the characteristics of the watershed and see how the two are related, or not related, Lowrance said.
With more animals being raised on smaller parcels of land, farmers will have to use innovative ways to handle the waste, said Glen Harris, an agronomist with the UGA Extension Service.
For example, the poultry industry keeps expanding, adding $12 billion a year to the state's economy. Georgia is the fourth largest poultry-producing region in the world.
Harris said the project will show farmers and other area stakeholders, such as landowners and recreational users, the value of management practices such as:
* Setting up buffer zones around waterways.
* Using chicken litter to fertilize farm crops.
* Planting cover crops to prevent erosion.
Further research, he said, will study the effectiveness of the better management practices.
Research will also find out how much of an increase in animal production, if any, the area can safely handle in the future.
A $323,000 grant will fund the project as part of Georgia's Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program. This program supports the study and prevention of pollution that comes from scattered, undeterminable (nonpoint) sources.
To learn more about the Animal Production & Water Quality project in the Suwannee River Watershed, call Andrea Milton at (229) 386-3377. Or e-mail her at email@example.com.
(Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)