Cayuga County Plan Minimizes Potential Negative Impacts of Manure on Water Quality

By Nick Colas, Principal Analyst, Cayuga County Department of Planning and Economic Development

Since the beginning of organized agriculture, farmers have understood the value of livestock manure as a soil amendment useful in improving farm
production. By replacing soil nutrients, the application of manure to farmland contributes to increased crop yield. If not managed carefully, however, manure can pollute our water resources.

Agriculture is the dominant land use in Cayuga County. With 891 farms and more than 238,000 acres of farmland, the county ranks second in the State in the total value of agricultural products sold. The largest number of agricultural operations in the county are dairy farms. The county ranks
39th out of all U.S. counties in the value of the milk its farms produce. If the total land area of the county is taken into account and the value of milk sold is calculated on a per acre basis, Cayuga County ranks 13th among the top milk producing counties in the nation, a testament to the resourcefulness and efficiency of local farmers.

Management of the manure produced by the approximately 72,000 cattle and calves in Cayuga County can be challenging. Fortunately, the vast majority of farmers realize that it is in everyone's best interest that they handle and utilize manure in a manner that is protective of water quality. But changes in the dairy industry driven by both supply and demand factors on a global scale put pressure on farms to grow larger and concentrate  manure applications onto a relatively smaller land base. Understandably, in places such as Cayuga County where critically important environmental areas include 133 miles of shoreline of lakes and ponds, the public is increasingly uneasy about the risk of pollution as livestock production grows in

Public concern about manure runoff incidents that occurred on frozen and saturated ground during the winter of 2013-2014 in Cayuga County and across the State prompted the formation of the Cayuga County Manure Management Working Group. This group is a committee organized by County Legislators Keith Batman and Michael Didio to investigate how practices involving the storage, application, processing, and transport of manure can be improved so that their negative impacts on water quality are minimized.

After considering public input provided at a community forum held in October of 2014, the Working Group appointed an Advisory Committee comprised of both farmers and non-farmers to make recommendations addressing manure management issues. The Advisory Committee released a
report summarizing its conclusions in May of 2015 and presented it at a second community meeting where attendees had the opportunity to offer additional input on the subject.

Over a period of months following the release of the Advisory Committee's Recommendation Report, the Working Group met to consider all of the suggestions that had been made and discuss how best to put the Advisory Committee's report into action. A draft of the Working Group's plan titled Improving Manure Management: A Fourteen-Point Countywide Agenda for Action was presented at a third public meeting held in November of 2015 and revised in response to comments received. In February of this year the Cayuga County Legislature unanimously voted to adopt the final draft, the full text of which may be accessed via a “Manure Management” link on the County Planning Department's website at:

The following is an abbreviated summary of the county's program of action for improving manure management:

Planning and Research

1. Determine priority nutrient management research needs and endorse proposals that address them.

2. Prepare watershed management plans that include the elements identified by the EPA as critical for achievingimprovements in water quality.

Standards and Practices

3. Develop a comprehensive set of clearly specified, locally appropriate set of recommended standards for manure management.

4. Determine what field conditions must exist and what management practices must be followed in order for manure application on frozen, snow-covered and/or saturated soil to be considered acceptable.

5. Implement a program promoting the standards developed in Nos. 3 and 4 above.

Compliance and Enforcement

6. Request records compiled by the NYSDEC relating to complaints regarding manure activities.

7. Analyze NYSDEC records relating to complaints relating to manure activities to determine if issues of concern to the county are adequately addressed.

8. Share with the NYSDEC any concerns that an analysis of records relating to complaints regarding manure activities may raise.

9. Call upon enforcement officials to be especially watchful of farmers providing livestock with direct, unrestricted access to streams.

10. Adopt a resolution urging the State Legislature to approve using fines collected from farms that have been found to violate water pollution control
regulations to fund the establishment of nutrient management practices in the same region.

Education and Communication

11. Create a branding and communications plan for the County's Water Quality Management Agency (WQMA).

12. Sponsor conferences on water quality and sustainable agriculture.

13. Expand the WQMA's website to include more useful information on manure handling.

14. Discuss with local educators how best to improve opportunities for students to learn about the relationships between
water quality and farm activities.

The plan identifies the agencies charged with carrying out the action items, and these “responsible parties” have submitted preliminary project plans to the Working Group.

Due to the combined efforts of many Cayuga County residents, this process, while not easy, has been productive thus far. It is clear that our community of farmers and non-farmers values clean water as well as a viable agricultural economy. Now the hardest work begins. The Working Group
shares the view expressed by its Advisory Committee that implementation “…will require the investment of significantly more time and resources by a variety of individuals and agencies, but we are confident that our fellow citizens including our governmental representatives are equal to the task.”