Waste not, want not

By Bill Wilson

Dairy farming has been good to Orville and Mary Jane Miller.

That's why the rural Hutchinson farmers didn't blink at the notion of spending thousands to return something to the land that's been their living.
The Millers, who operates a 115-head dairy and grain operation southwest of Hutchinson, spent $150,000 for a state-of-the-art dairy barn and manure-management system. The result has been a more efficient and environmentally-friendly farming operation.
"We want to leave the land in as good or better shape than when we started farming," Orville Miller said. "It's the responsible thing to do."
Miller is one of several farmers and ranchers in the Cheney Watershed who have developed best management practices, or BMPs, for their crop, range and confinement operations.
It's part of the Cheney Watershed Cleanup Initiative, a cooperative effort among the city of Wichita, producers and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
For the manure project, Miller teamed with Kansas State Research and Extension biological and agricultural engineer Joe Harner to restructure the management system.
The result was a $150,000 contained water and flushing system for his new dairy barn.
The new system begins with solid manure stacked in a pit and the liquid drained into a lagoon. The flushing system pulls the water from the lagoon, propelling manure into the pit.
The solid manure is then applied onto 40 of Miller's 700 acres, chosen by soil tests and fertilizer needs.
The system uses 20,000 gallons of water per flush, but allows recycling of that water so it can be used again, reducing the demand on the groundwater table.
"We've been looking for management methods recently to better manage our resources," Miller said. "Manure management had become an issue. We were spending quite a bit of time hauling to the closest field."
So the K-State crews, along with Reno County Extension Agriculture Agent Greg McCormack, began work to develop a better disposal system, improve the lagoon operation and identify fields where the manure could best be used in lieu of fertilizer.
"Don't know that we're saving a lot of money," Miller said. "Right now, we think we'll haul two times a year to a field, then we'll disc it in. This gives us an opportunity to use a resource to our advantage, rather than just dispose of it."
Miller's system also controls run-off water.
"We built a system where all the water that runs off the fields is diverted around the dairy farm, and all the water that falls on the cattle lots is contained in a lagoon," Miller said.
"That water doesn't leave the farm. It simply evaporates. It doesn't take a lot of management and it gives us the assurance that no contaminated water leaves our facilities."
The manure fertilizer is a big part of a largely self-sufficient farming operation. Miller and his family grow almost all the grain needed to feed the 115 head of Holsteins.
"Raising the feed for the cows comes first for us," Miller said. "We do grow some wheat, but it's mainly for the rotation value and it's the only cash crop we grow."
That's where the manure comes in.
"It's a big thing for us because we can apply it where the corn needs it to grow," Miller said. "We hadn't been testing the ground before this project, though, to know where it's most needed."
Miller acknowledged the need for farmers to be environmentally conscious. But he said agriculture is an easy scapegoat for environmentalists.
"I think it's just easier for us to be proactive like this," he said. "It's got to be to our advantage to dialogue with the authorities and work through the regulations that will come anyway, rather than have the regulations handed down to us.
"I'd rather be a part of the process and decide what reasonable regulations are. I'm all for common-sense regulations that will work for producers and for the environment.
"What we're about is producing milk. If we can do that and not pollute the area, then we're happy."
That's the idea, according to a state environmental official.
"People are very concerned about their county, their town," said Bill Har-grove, director of the Kansas Cen-ter of Agricultural Resources and the Environ-ment. "The challenge is to get local people aware of what the issues are, then develop strategies for local partnerships and how to carry out the cleanup plan."

Copyright 2000 The Hutchinson News