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DEQ Helps Farms Protect Water Quality

Picture of blooms in front of a farm in the Uinta Basin

By DEQ Communications

When most people think of water pollution, what typically comes to mind is images of large discharges from industrial sources. Pollutants, however, can originate from other, less expected sources. One of these sources can be the over-application of fertilizer and manure on agricultural fields. When nutrients are over-applied, the nutrient-rich runoff can enter into streams and rivers, and potentially harm water quality. Having a plan to avoid this problem can reduce expenses and improve agricultural operations.

To aid Utah’s farmers and ranchers, the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF) in cooperation with the Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) Division of Water Quality (DWQ) have begun the Agricultural Voluntary Incentive Program (AgVIP) to help farming operations develop Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans (CNMPs). These plans can help producers maximize crop yields, stay in compliance with state water quality regulations, and even includes several financial incentives.

Eliminating runoff from areas where fertilizer or manure is applied is one of the main goals when preparing a nutrient management plan. This can help maintain the quality of surface and groundwater. On livestock operations, the proper management of manure can be challenging since applying manure to fields when they are snow-covered or saturated can increase the chance of manure leaving the fields when it is applied. To overcome this obstacle, producers need to have sufficient storage to make it through the spring and winter months. These plans will help determine how much storage is needed for the number of animals present at the operation.

The CNMPs also help to better manage the timing, location, and quantity of nutrients to their crops. The plans identify appropriate conservation practices and management activities that help keep nutrients and animal waste away from water sources. When properly executed, these practices can increase crop yields, improve soil health, and add value to operations, while protecting and improving water quality.

Participants in Utah’s Voluntary Agricultural Incentive Program will be able to sit down with Nutrient Management Planners from UDAF to discuss their agricultural operation; then utilizing soil tests, manure tests and crop nutrient uptake, the Planner can develop a CNMP that will prescribe proper application rate of fertilizer or manure to maximize crop grown, while reducing nutrient runoff that can occur by over application.

As an incentive to participate in this program, DWQ has agreed to pay each producer a one-time $1,000 payment to work with a UDAF Planner to develop a CNMP. This $1,000 can help cover the cost of soil and manure tests that the planner will need to develop the CNMP. After the CNMP has been implemented for a one year period, DWQ will then pay the producer $12/acre for each acre enrolled in the VIP program. At the end of each year, the producer will sit down with their Nutrient Management Planner and review their soil tests, manure tests, and application records. If the planner determines that the plan was followed correctly the annual payment will be submitted to DWQ and a check will be issued to the producer. The producer will be enrolled in the program for a three year period and will be eligible for the incentive payment annually for a three year period.

Application for the Voluntary Agriculture Incentive Program ran from July 1 to Aug. 1, 2020. It is anticipated that open enrollment will occur every year during this time period. To learn more about the AgVIP program, visit DWQ’s AgVIP page.