Animal Feed Manufactures Support Water Quality Efforts


Louise Calderwood, Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance

The winter snow is gone, spring rain is falling and farmers are busy preparing fields for the upcoming forage growing season. The animal feed industry is working side by side with farmers to reduce soil run off and protect water quality. In the northeast, the focus of water quality is on phosphorus.

Farmers are Water Quality Stewards

Farmers are the primary stewards of soil and water in the northeast as they maintain large undeveloped tracts of land to produce forages to feed their herds. Animal feed companies and other input providers such as seed and fertilizer companies collaborate with farmers and provide valuable assistance in planning and growing crops. By maximizing appropriate production practices for locally grown forage crops, farmers reduce their impact on water quality and import less phosphorus from outside the region.

Phosphorus Management

Phosphorus enters waterways from sewage treatment plants, lawn and roadway runoff and pet waste. It washes from farm fields attached to soil particles. As the nutrient builds up in the water it promotes algae growth the robs the water of oxygen needed to support aquatic life. Appropriate soil tillage and grassed buffers along farm fields reduces the amount of soil, and therefore the amount of phosphorus, that leaves farm fields and runs into surface water.

Minimized Impact from Animal Diets

To meet the nutritional requirements for growth and lactation livestock need carefully balanced diets to support health and productivity. The best sources of these nutrients are high quality forages such as grass, alfalfa and corn grown to provide the protein, energy and minerals her body demands. A common misconception is that animal feed companies push farmers to supplement locally grown forage crops with imported grains. In truth, grain companies encourage farmers to make up as much of the herd’s diet as possible from forages grown nearby, only using grains to supplement what is needed to keep animals healthy and farmers profitable.

Feed companies often partner with universities and seed companies to host forage crop demonstration trials. By growing new varieties of forage crops side by side farmers can choose the best forage types for their management style and growing conditions. Monitoring soil fertility and forage quality allows farmers to balance animal and plant needs with water quality.

Careful Manure Management

Careful use of manure and commercial fertilizers to maximize local forage production reduces the import of phosphorus into the region in animal feed grains and lessens the overall impact of agriculture on water quality. Commonly grown northeast forage crops contain less than 0.3% phosphorus while common grain ingredients imported into the region contain 0.7% to 1.10% phosphorus. Highly trained nutritionists emplyed by feed manufacturers formulate diets specialized to each stage of an animal’s life to maximize locally grown forages and minimize the import of phosphorus heavy feeds onto farms from outside the region.

By maximizing use of high quality, locally grown forages combined with modern nutritional guidelines, farmers and the feed industry are partners in protecting water quality.