We’ve all heard the term “watersheds.” We use it to describe a land area that channels rainfall and snowmelt to creeks, streams, and rivers. It helps us think about all the resources in one place and how they are distributed.

Now, scientists are using that same concept to look at how we can reconnect livestock and crop production so that problem manure becomes a fertilizer solution. Thanks to Dennis O’Brien of the Agricultural Research Service for sharing this article with us.

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists are developing an innovative approach to address a major environmental challenge facing the nation’s animal farmers: the accumulation of nutrients in the manure.

Manure produced in livestock and poultry operations has been increasing since the 1950s when large-scale feeding operations, along with large-scale crop farms, began to replace many of the nation’s small, family-run farms that traditionally produced both crops and livestock and used the manure as fertilizer to boost crop yields.

The transition has created efficient, high-yielding crop and livestock operations, but it has also severed a longstanding symbiotic relationship where the excess nutrients created by the manure had productive uses. Though some animal farms typically use some manure to grow feed, most animal farms have insufficient land for using all of their manure. The surplus can pose an environmental threat to air and water quality. Yet manure contains phosphorus and nitrogen, which are key nutrients for many crops that are now supplied by commercial fertilizers.

“The question is what to do with the manure from livestock operations with surplus manure nutrients, and how to get it to farmland where it is needed most,” says Sheri Spiegal, an ARS scientist in Las Cruces, N.M.

Read more at On Pasture.