New website designed to protect water quality around horse farms

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) is funding a UF/IFAS project to create a new mobile responsive website with an interactive farm Best Management Practices evaluation tool. It will allow horse owners to assess their property and identify possible threats to surface and groundwater from manure. The evaluation tool also suggests ideal locations on the property to store and/or compost manure to protect water quality.

Horse farm in North Florida.

Dr. Carissa Wickens, assistant professor in the Animal Science Department, and Dr. Mary Lusk, assistant professor in the Soil and Water Sciences Department, are working on the project. The grant from FDACS totals $34,000. Work on designing the website began this spring, but the effort to keep manure waste out of water systems has been ongoing.

“Dr. Wickens, extension agents in Hillsborough County, and I have been working on some programs to help small horse farm owners,” said Lusk of workshops conducted in the west-central part of Florida beginning in June 2018. “We’ve found their knowledge of manure management practices is limited, but they’ve responded well to the information we’ve given them.”

Small equine farms, generally with one to three horses on five or fewer acres, and their manure management came on the radar for FDACS a few years ago. There is an apparent gap in terms of manure management because they are not large enough to qualify for cost-share help from FDACS. On the other hand, they are large enough to impact local water quality, if manure is not managed properly.

The funding from FDACS will enable the UF/IFAS team to create a website with options for manure management practices that horse owners implement. The design will work on a mobile device and allows users to input features about their property such as size, location of nearby water features, location of manure stockpiles and other features. The program then provides feedback and guidance on an appropriate manure management plan for the user that should protect water quality.

“Manure has pathogens as well as nitrogen and phosphorus that lessens water quality,” said Lusk. “Our hope is horse farm owners can take steps to protect surface and groundwater with this new website.”

Lusk’s research focuses on nutrient, pesticide, and waste management as well as soil, water, and aquifer remediation. Her Extension work deals with water conservation and urban water quality. These efforts include reducing nonpoint source pollution typically caused by runoff from agricultural, industrial, and residential sites.

The website will draw on information from a Florida Department of Environmental Protection publication on manure management for small horse farms. The team expects the website will be ready for beta testing in January 2020. A full launch is scheduled for that spring. This research and education project covers three-years of data collection and analysis of the users’ experiences.