Southern Regional Water Program

Research, Extension & Education Water Quality Programs through the Land Grant University System

Nutrient & Pesticide Management in Louisiana

Production of sufficient quantities of high quality produce to stay in business is the challenge facing America’s farmers. To meet this challenge, it is necessary to supply the plants with the needed nutrients to support high yields, to protect crops from insect and disease pests and to reduce competition from unwanted plants. The shift from the farm to the office and factory was made possible by the development of manufactured fertilizers and synthetic pesticides to nourish and protect the new high-yielding crops. This change was paralleled by the shift from horse power to power from the internal combustion engine for transportation and tilling the land, vastly reducing the amount of manure generated by confined animals. Thus began an era of near total dependence on manufactured fertilizers and pesticides followed by vastly increased farm yields. Termed the “Green Revolution,” the American model spread world wide to end hunger and disease.

Problems soon began to appear: first, resistance to insecticides by the target insects, followed by impacts on non-target species, like birds and fish, and the appearance of diseases and pests that preferred the new crops. Competition and lower farm prices caused growers to try to get the maximum yield from each acre, and more fertilizers were applied. If applied in excess, fertilizers, especially nitrogen, will leave the field and become potential pollutants of ground and surface waters. The movement of more than 95% of the population from the farm to the city placed increasing demands on the remaining growers to produce the meat, eggs, milk and poultry needed to feed the growing non-farm population. This has resulted in a tremendous increase in the number of animals confined to close quarters and large amounts of manures that require disposal in an environmentally sound, beneficial manner.

Today, growers use nutrient management practices that apply nutrients precisely as overhead.gifrequired by the crop based on soil test results and apply pesticides only as needed following integrated pest management (IPM) practices. GIS technology allows application of nutrients at variable rates within fields, depending on soil deficiencies, and can precisely mark the area to be sprayed. Best management practices (BMPs) are used to reduce runoff containing nutrients, pesticides and sediment.

Nutrient management and the use of organic by-products, including animal manures, are important issues. Concerns from the environmental and economic standpoints are part of the equation. Applications of poultry litter to forage crops in the north-central and west-central areas of Louisiana have led us to the point where we must place critical importance on fertilization practices in production agriculture. Traditionally, poultry litter has been surface applied on pastures and hay fields in areas adjacent to the production area.

A crucial part of the nutrient management plan is an accurate soil test. Soil testing every three years will determine the nutrient needs of the crop that can be supplied by commercial fertilizer and/or organic sources. A representative soil sample analyzed by a reputable laboratory, using procedures accepted by the LSU AgCenter, is the basis for a successful nutrient management plan.

The two most important fertilizer nutrients that may contaminate water bodies are nitrogen and phosphorus. A nutrient budget for nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium will be developed as a part of a nutrient management plan (NMP). This will consider all significant sources of nutrients contained in animal manures and organic/ non-organic by-products, waste water, commercial fertilizers, crop residues, legume credits, etc.

Poultry Litter Application to Land

Land application is the most common method of using poultry litter because of its nutrient value and organic matter. Poultry litter should be applied to the land to ensure that the material does not cause pollution. Therefore, based on a soil analysis and seeder.giflitter analysis, calculations should be made to determine the proper amount of litter to be applied to meet, but not exceed, crop nutrient needs. Also, land management practices to prevent runoff and erosion of poultry litter applied to crops or pasture lands must be used.

Regulations pertaining to contamination of water sources and resources that are available in the way of cost-share assistance that apply to nutrient management planning are available through Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), respectively. The LSU AgCenter Soil Testing and Plant Analysis Laboratory in Baton Rouge offers soil testing services to all clientele to promote nutrient management planning and protect water resources by the judicious use of plant nutrients.

Resources and Programs

The LSU Agricultural Center, a campus of Louisiana State University and A&M College, conducts research, education and extension programs to assist federal and state agencies, municipalities, business, industry, agricultural and forest producers and processors and private citizens in protecting and preserving water quality. Research and education programs on environmental and water quality protection are also conducted in the Engineering and Environmental Science Departments at other LSU campuses.

Extension Outreach

The LSU Agricultural Center’s Cooperative Extension Service develops and delivers educational programs to all audiences in every parish. These programs provide research-based information to residents. Some Extension educational programs addressing nutrient and pesticide management are:

A Pesticide Safety Education Program is conducted by the LSU AgCenter to assure that applicators use pesticides in a manner that will not have unreasonable adverse effects on humans or the environment. The pesticide applicator training program is part of this program. The pesticide applicators, private and commercial, are taught the principles required to pass the competency test to become certified pesticide applicators and to maintain their certifications. The testing is done by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, and the applicator must attend an approved conference every three years to maintain the certification.

Protection of the environment is an important component of this program. The applicators, certified or uncertified, are taught the fundamentals of BMPs (best management practices) and IPM (integrated pest management). The protection of ground and surface water is an integral part of this program. That is, what characteristics of the soil and the chemical make it a likely candidate for ground water contamination and what elements will contribute to pesticide-laden runoff into surface streams.

Annual fly-ins are held in which aerial applicators can fly their planes to a central airstrip and have them pattern tested and calibrated. If a problem is found it is corrected immediately. This procedure has helped the aerial applicators apply duster.gifpesticides more accurately and efficaciously. Almost of the planes used for aerial application in Louisiana are equipped with Global Positioning Systems, which also is an asset in stewardship of the environment when applying pesticides aerially.

The Best Management Practices (BMPs) Web Portal provides links to descriptions of BMPs for nutrient and pesticide management for a variety of commodities including agronomic crops, rice, sugar cane and sweet potatoes. Each BMP is a culmination of years of research and demonstrations conducted by agricultural research scientists and soil engineers.

The LSU Agricultural Center, W.A. Callegari Environmental Center conducts Compost Facility Operator Training Programs each year. The course is designed to train participants who will manage and operate compost facilities, want to learn the basics of composting, and experience real composting operations.

The LSU AgCenter Soil Testing and Plant Analysis Lab offers a variety of soil, plant tissue and water tests to the general public and research community. With integrated effort from both research and extension agronomists, the LSU AgCenter Soil Testing and Plant Laboratory is the only laboratory that incorporates the latest Louisiana-specific soil fertility research in its recommendation system to help farmers meet today's challenges in agricultural production.

The Master Farmer Program is a multi-agency effort that helps agricultural producers achieve environmental stewardship as well as production and farm management and marketing skills critical to the continued viability of Louisiana agriculture.

Scientific Research

Research on nutrient and pest management is conducted by the Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station through its facilities in Baton Rouge and at the Branch Stations around the State. Some examples of major nutrient and pesticide management research efforts in Louisiana include:

Management Systems to Improve the Economic and Environmental Sustainability of Dairy Enterprises examines nutrient utilization in dairy heifers and mature dairy cows for optimum performance that is economically efficient and environmentally sound.

Utilization of Organic Waste for Cotton and Pine Production determines the influence of poultry litter used in cotton and pine tree production on water quality.

Fate of Applied Agricultural Chemicals and Plant Nutrients in Alluvial Soils as Affected by Sugarcane Management Practices quantifies water quality benefits and effectiveness of best management practices (BMPs) on reducing nonpoint source pollutants from fertilizer and herbicide applications to sugarcane fields.

Animal Manure and Waste Utilization, Treatment and Nuisance Avoidance for a Sustainable Agriculture assesses pollutant transport from grazed pastures and development of treatment options for animal manures in order to protect Louisiana's water resources. The water quality impacts of grazing dairy cattle on pasture will be studied in regard to fecal coliform content in runoff water.

Tillage, Silviculture and Waste Management evaluates dairy management practices as they affect the quality of surface runoff from pastures and develops systems to differentiate between fecal and non-fecal origins of coliform in runoff. The project also investigates the effects of poultry litter used to fertilize pine trees and forage crops, measures the effects of poultry litter on pine tree growth, and determines the related effects on water quality.

Reactivity of Applied Agricultural Chemicals in Alluvial Soils as Affected by Management Practices determines the influence of crop residue or surface mulch on the retention of metribuzin and atrazine in Mississippi River alluvial soils.

Water Quality Issues in Poultry Production and Processing seeks to develop methods for proper management and recycling of poultry production and processing waste to improve water quality.

College and University Education

Youth and continuing adult education are critical to develop new talent and human resources to address the water quality issues of the future. Educational curricula in nutrient and pesticide management are available within several departments at the LSU AgCenter. Graduate and undergraduate programs in key departments include:

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