Tag Archives: farms

‘Designer manure’ could become fashionable on farms


Jactone Ogejo

Eugene Bowman’s family has owned a dairy farm in Franklin County, Virginia, for four generations, and Bowman wants to make sure that when he hands it over to his sons, the land is healthy for generations to come.

“It needs to be as good or better than when I got it,” he said.

So when his local Virginia Cooperative Extension agent told him about a research project Virginia Tech is undertaking to mitigate fertilizer runoff, Bowman jumped at the chance.

He is now working with Jactone Ogejo, an associate professor of biological systems engineering on a project to create the most fashionable thing to hit farms since Carhartts — designer manure.

Plants need nutrients such as those in manure to help them grow strong and produce food to feed the world. Plants love to suck up the nitrogen in manure when it is used as a fertilizer, but they don’t always need the phosphorous that comes with it. If plants don’t take up all the phosphorus, what’s left can run off into streams and waterways, sending pollutants downstream to places like the Chesapeake Bay.

Using a series of operations, Ogejo is developing a chemical-based process where manure is treated to remove some of the phosphorus — hence the term “designer manure.”  The recovered phosphorus is set aside so it stays out of the water source and can be sold separately to farmers who are in need of phosphorus for their plants.

“I approach my work by looking at the most beneficial research we can do for farmers,” Ogejo said. “This solution will not only protect the environment, but it will also help farmers continue farming while increasing their bottom lines.”

Government regulations are increasingly calling on farmers to monitor and curb runoff from their land, and efforts are underway to stem the flow of phosphorus to the Chesapeake Bay, so this research can help them comply with new guidelines. It is being funded in part by the USDA National Institutes of Food and Agriculture.

The process works by first separating the liquid from the solids in manure. The solids can be dried out and reused for other purposes, such as stall bedding. The liquids are then routed to a large vat where chemicals are applied to recover and separate the phosphorus from the other materials; the three different chemicals used are salts based on aluminum, iron, or calcium. Once the chemicals are applied, the phosphorus that is separated can be sold.

Ogejo is testing this system at Bowman’s farm but expects it to be available soon to others around the state. He wants farmers to learn about the process through videos and at field days and Extension events in hopes that it will make their work easier while benefiting the environment.

“I really enjoy agricultural production and the challenges of growing good food to put on the table with limited resources,” Ogejo said. “I hope this work will help make farmers’ work a bit easier.”

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Workshops teach families the necessary skills to transition land

Virginia license plates featuring a farm theme.

The programs are funded in part by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Office of Farmland Preservation with proceeds from the sale of “Farming Since 1614” license plates. Since 2008, money from the specialty plates has been used for nearly 30 farm transition workshops.

Fourth-generation farmers Mary and A.C. “Corky” Shackelford Jr. have more than 360 acres of land, and they aren’t getting any younger. With three children as well as farm employees, they needed to figure out how to distribute their assets — a common problem as farm families age.

Agriculture and natural resources Extension agents like Amy Gail Fannon, Adam Downing, and Peter Callan teach land-transitioning workshops to help families pass on their land, whether it’s farmland or forestland.

The workshops discuss legal issues and tactics for communicating with family members and obtaining a power of attorney. Agents engage lawyers, certified public accountants, and other professionals as guest speakers to provide insight and real-world examples of the process, while participants have an open environment to ask questions.

As the result of workshops in Lee County, 66 percent of attendees said they would start the farm transition planning process, and 90 percent said they would seek professional assistance with financial and retirement planning.

Downing teaches workshops geared more to forestland owners. He says that land transitioning isn’t just about perpetuating land ownership; it is also part of the equation keeping families together through generations. Teaching workshops is one of the most impactful things he does because the land transition process impacts the future so directly.

Since 2009, 159 forestland owners with nearly 60,000 acres have completed the annual two-day Generation NEXT short course that is co-sponsored by Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Virginia Department of Forestry.

“Follow-up surveys reveal that within six months of participation, 75 percent have begun estate planning,” said Downing. “Participants also report significant financial savings in legal fees and potential estate taxes as a result of this program.”

Callan has worked to evolve his farm transition workshops over the years, making them shorter to fit the needs of participants. His workshops start with a discussion of communication issues between family members.

The Shackelford family went to Callan’s class after hearing about it through their local Extension office.

“Neither of us is getting any younger, and we want to see our farm continue beyond our time,” Corky Shackelford said.

According to the Shackelfords, the lawyer who discussed partnerships and corporations was the most helpful part of the workshop. Since then, they continue to follow Callan’s advice of holding family meetings to discuss the farm.

“We would’ve never thought about how to transition our farm if it wasn’t for that class,” said Mary Shackelford.

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