Use ofAnimal Density to Estimate Manure Nutrient Recycling Ability of Wisconsin DairyFarms

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Agricultural Systems

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Animal density is increasingly being used as an indicator of agricultural nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) loss potential in Europe and the US. This study estimated animal-cropland ratios for over 800 Wisconsin dairy farms to: (1) illustrate the impact of alternative definitions of this ratio; (2) evaluate how the definition of ‘cropland’ would affect Wisconsin dairy farmers’ ability to comply to manure N and P land spreading standards and (3) investigate the potential of using an animal density standard for targeting manure management plan implementation on Wisconsin dairy farms. Animal density calculations based on total cropland area indicate that 95% of Wisconsin dairy farmers have sufficient cropland for recycling manure according to a N-based nutrient management standard. Calculating animal density based on tilled cropland area decreases this value to 79% of dairy farms. Implementation of a P-based standard increases the land requirement for manure application, and a large proportion of Wisconsin dairy farms (37% based on total cropland and 75% based on tilled cropland) would lack sufficient land area for recycling manure P. When the area of cropland on which manure is actually spread is used to calculate animal density, it is clear that the majority of farms do not currently meet either manure N- or P-based land application standards. Reasons for not utilizing the full cropland base for manure application are unclear, but regional differences suggest soil texture, land tenure, and development pressures may limit the proportion of cropland receiving manure. These results indicate the need to better understand factors influencing cropland management and manure spreading behavior on Wisconsin dairy farms.

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