New website in development to protect water quality around horse farms

By Mike Loizzo

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) is funding a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences project to create a new mobile responsive website with an interactive farm best management practices evaluation tool.

Carissa Wickens, assistant professor in the UF/IFAS animal sciences department, and Mary Lusk, assistant professor in the UF/IFAS soil and water sciences department, are working on the project, which 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.

The grant from FDACS totals $34,000. Work to design the website began this spring and is expected to be completed next year, 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,” Lusk said, referring to the 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 can then implement. The website, which will be optimized for use on mobile devices, will allow 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,” Lusk said. “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 pollution caused by runoff from agricultural, industrial and residential sites.

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

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The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS website at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media.

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