Proper application of fertilizer to farmland provides essential nutrients required for crop and forage production throughout Oklahoma. However, improper application can lead to water quality concerns.

“Education on proper application of fertilizer to farmland can improve crop or forage yield, reduce environmental impact and reduce producer costs by properly managing nutrient inputs,” said Josh Payne, area animal waste management specialist for the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service.

Part of Oklahoma State University's Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, Cooperative Extension specialists and educators make such educational opportunities available through the statewide agency's Poultry Waste Management Education Training Program.

“We offer initial nine-hour training courses covering poultry waste management for all new poultry producers and poultry waste applicators,” said Payne. “Both poultry producers and poultry waste applicators are required by law to receive this education.”

Producers and applicators must then earn three hours of continuing education each year, helping to ensure they are up-to-date on the most current information.

Information about these and additional educational opportunities can be found at www.poultrywaste.okstate.edu on the Internet, as well as through OSU Cooperative Extension county offices, usually listed under “County Government” in local telephone directories.

“These educational opportunities provide vital information to producers on topics such as soil and litter testing, soil fertility recommendations, proper land application rates, current regulations and basic nutrient management,” Payne said.

Efforts to promote sustainability of Oklahoma's agriculture water supply are crucial to the state's economy and the health and well-being of residents and the environment, said James Trapp, OSU Cooperative Extension associate director.

“Decisions made by Oklahoma producers, agricultural processors and value-added industries about their use and management of water have never been more key than today, with demand for water increasing from multiple users and interest groups,” he said. “The division has long had a significant investment in water research and education that has allowed us to develop science-based Extension programs that help residents and communities to maintain and enhance their water resources.”

Water quality concerns associated with excess nutrients primarily come from rainfall runoff and infiltration. The nitrogen and phosphorous stimulate algae and aquatic plant growth, which is not necessarily bad on a small scale.

However, if the algae and plants become too populous, several problems arise within the water source. Dense clumps of algae appear in the water, which is a poor food source for aquatic life. Also, fish populations will change and the decaying plants and algae will make drinking water expensive to treat.

“Marketing poultry litter to more distant nutrient-deficient areas or for further processing offers one solution to the litter surplus problem associated with high production areas,” Payne said. “Nutrient-deficient soils suitable for litter application are abundant in farmland at a distance of 50 miles to 100 miles from the heavy production areas of northwestern Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma.”

However, the poultry litter problem is not a quick fix.

“The nutrient buildup in some eastern Oklahoma soils is an event that took many years to occur,” Payne said. “It will not be a problem that we can solve overnight.”