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Wednesday, 16 November 2011 08:18

Sustainable Ag Tour focuses on innovations/waterways

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By Jamie Woodford
Southern Alberta
Protecting the quality of local waterways was the theme of a sustainable agriculture tour recently hosted by the County of Lethbridge. 


The tour highlighted beneficial management practices local producers are integrating into their farming operations to keep manure, and the potentially harmful bacteria within it, out of area water systems.

By reducing their nutrient footprint associated with intensive livestock operations, producers can avoid unnecessary spreading of manure that could potentially leech into rivers and lakes.

“If we can reduce the nutrient load that’s on the land, or better manage that nutrient that’s on the land, we can — no guarantee — but we will know that we are reducing the leeching effect of the nutrients that are coming down into the water base,” said Dwayne Rogness, tour host and extension specialist for the county.

“If we can alleviate that mass amount then that’s the key thing right there.”

Environmentally-friendly practices also result in a better product for the consumer.

“And at the same time helps us become sustainable,” Rogness said. “The producer becomes sustainable because they have children, they want to pass this operation down, I’m sure, so sustainability is the key thing right there, and environmental sustainability means we all benefit from it in the end.”

A stop at the Elk Creek Dairy Farm just east of Lethbridge showcased its manure management with a solids/ liquid manure separator that reduces the farm’s manure output while creating its own bedding for cows.

Manure is collected from the floor and transferred to a pit in the centre of the barn. From there, it is pumped above ground to the separator where solid fibres are squeezed out and liquids go back into storage.

“We reuse the fibre for bedding for the cows. The cows lay on the fibre from the manure,” explained farm owner Brian Stoutjesdyk.

“The reason we did that is because we were buying 18 semi-truck loads of sawdust for bedding, and that was creating a lot of extra manure for me.”

He hopes to eventually use the remaining stored liquid manure to inject into an irrigation system.

“To make this a real, complete cycle would be to take the manure to a biogas generator for the methane, then run it through a separator, then get the bedding out, and then compost the bedding ... but that’s a big a expense so maybe someday in the future,” he said.

Since installing the separator, the manure output has dropped by about 30 per cent, said Stoutjesdyk, which means 30 per cent less manure ends up on the land.

“(That’s) 30 per cent less nutrient basically,” said Rogness. “So when you have an extreme rainfall event that comes across, it’s going to leech it across the soil and into the waterways and then pollute our water systems.”

He said the trickle-down effect of such environmentally-friendly practices is exponential.

“If we have everybody doing this then we don’t have the waterways polluted with the nutrients that are in there ... we try to alleviate the phosphorous in the systems.”

Phosphorous is a chemical element usually found in fertilizers, that can create algal blooms in freshwater, which can kill fish and other animals that live nearby.

Renae Barlow, director of business development and marketing at Economic Development Lethbridge was along for the tour to learn about the different types of sustainable practices in use in order to attract business investment to southern Alberta.

 “(The tour) is telling me about how I can talk about how green southern Alberta is, and why it’s a really good place to invest,” she said, and added knowing what kind of practices are already being implemented can help her identify what other kinds of businesses could come in to compliment the industry “and maybe fill some gaps in the supply chain to continue to develop the region.”

Such complimentary businesses could include those in alternative energy, biofuel, processing, packaging, transportation, and support industries.

Barlow added the water management issue can help attract business to the area.

“Water is a huge issue coming up, it’s a global issue, and we manage water really well,” she said.

“We have access to water here, so we can talk about those things, and we can be shown as a leader and that is part of the attraction of investment ... If larger corporations are looking to relocate, it might as well be here.”

In addition to the dairy farm, the tour stopped in at a composting site, an off-site watering system that reduces nutrient buildup in dugouts, and an Agriculture Canada Watershed Evaluation of Beneficial Management Practices (WEBs) research site.

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