New UVM study tests effects of alternative farming practices - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

New UVM study tests effects of alternative farming practices

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A field at Shelburne Farms has been the site of an ongoing state agricultural study on groundwater runoff. But that study has now been expanded thanks to a four-year USDA grant for half a million dollars. It's money for a new study by the University of Vermont to evaluate how alternative farming practices affect water quality and climate change mitigation. There are several test sites around the state.

"That's right and that's the key way we have expanded the study," said Joshua Faulkner, UVM Extension. 

Faulkner is the farming and climate change program coordinator with UVM Extension.

"Before we were just looking at surface runoff, and now with this new equipment, we are actually looking at what phosphorus moves down through the soil so we get the total picture of how much phosphorus moves off the field both in the surface and the subsurface. This is relatively new information. We don't have a lot of data on this in Vermont, so we are hoping this will add to the bank of information that we have," said Faulkner.

Information that can be used as the state moves to address global warming and tighten rules surrounding water quality.

"We are concerned about water quality and there is talk of regulations for farmers and certain practices that may or may not be required, so we want to make sure that we have the best scientific information available to back up the policy and the programs that are implemented in Vermont," said Faulkner.

The researchers buried special cylinders 6-feet deep in several fields last fall, each with a catch basin at the bottom. Water will be pumped from the bottom of the cylinder and examined in the lab. But water is just part of what's being studied here.

"So, we are measuring greenhouse gas emissions from the fields that mainly is carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide," said Carol Adair, UVM Rubenstein School professor.

Again to see how different agricultural practices affect the environment.

"The thing that makes this exciting for us is that farms produce the majority of nitrous oxide non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gases, but we also know that management can have a really big impact on how much of the non-CO2, like nitrous oxide comes out of soils. So, there is a really big potential for us to mitigate those fluxes," said Adair.

In one field, manure was spread the conventional way, just on top of the grass. 

In the other test field at Shelburne Farms, manure is spread just like on the other field, but here it is incorporated into the soil using something called an airway plow. The thinking is that will keep more nutrients in the soil rather than having them run off into the lake and so far the research is promising.

And so far, research has shown that that produces less gas,

"Yes, produces less nitrous oxide which is really encouraging because other ways of incorporating it, like injection, which is another management practice we are looking at over at the other site in Williston, tends to increase it a little bit. So if this is a way we can incorporate manure, not keep it on the surface and keep it out of the water supply but also reduce greenhouse gases, then that is a great thing for us to know," said Adair. 

The water samples are now starting to be taken.

"That's right, we are pumping out our first, it's our first pump out of the spring to see what happened over the wintertime and we will continue to do that through the summer," said Faulkner.

The samples will be analyzed in the lab and carefully tracked for the next four years.

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