Chesapeake Bay visitors credit Arkansas research with moving water quality science forward in U.S.

April 23, 2015
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By Fred Miller, Division of Agriculture Communications

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jeff marley and group

Jeff Marley, owner and general manager of Marley Family Farms, describes how he has implemented best management practices in his poultry and cattle operation. From left are Marley; Andrew Sharpley, professor of crop, soil and environmental sciences for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture; Larry Berry, division program technician; Rona Kobell, staff writer for the Chesapeake Bay Journal, and Ann Swanson, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission.
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Fast Facts:
• Executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission and a Maryland environmental reporter visited Arkansas to see Division of Agriculture research firsthand.
• Division phosphorus management research is leading research efforts in other states.
• Visitors credit Arkansas scientist Andrew Sharpley with helping move Maryland toward phosphorus management tools for improving Chesapeake Bay water quality.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — During a visit to an Arkansas Discovery Farm in Washington County, Ann Swanson and Rona Kobell saw how Jeff Marley cooperates with University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture scientists to measure and document the effectiveness of best management practices for controlling phosphorus from chicken litter.

Swanson, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, and Kobell, an environmental reporter for the Chesapeake Bay Journal, came to Arkansas to see Division of Agriculture research firsthand and learn more about how the science is put to work on the state’s poultry farms.

Marley told them he adopted best management practices developed over many years of Division of Agriculture research because he wants his family’s poultry and cattle operation to run cleanly.

The Marley Family Farm became an Arkansas Discovery Farm because Marley supports ongoing research. He said the information he gets from nutrient management research by Andrew Sharpley, professor of crop, soil and environmental sciences, shows him how his management practices are working.

Arkansas Discovery Farms are privately owned businesses on which Division of Agriculture water quality research is being conducted. The main goal of the program is to determine the effectiveness of water and soil conservation practices on working farms.

Swanson said University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture research is ahead of the curve in phosphorus management research in the U.S.

“One of the reasons we came to Arkansas is that Arkansas and Andrew Sharpley and his folks really are leading the way in terms of phosphorus science,” Swanson said. “The research and application in Arkansas is driving what’s happening in phosphorus management elsewhere in the country.”

The Chesapeake Bay Commission is a tri-state legislative commission set up to negotiate environmental policy and law between Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia, and between those states and the U.S. Congress. Swanson said clear and credible research is critical to establishing effective environmental regulation.

“One of the things we’re really working on right now is phosphorus,” Swanson said. “Phosphorus tends to be a big challenge in the area and one of the largest sources of that phosphorus is manure.”

Kobell said the Chesapeake Bay region is third in poultry production in the U.S., behind Georgia and Arkansas, and phosphorus management is a big issue.

After hearing Sharpley speak during a science summit devoted to phosphorus management, Kobell said she wanted to come see what he and other Division of Agriculture scientists were doing. When Swanson learned of Kobell’s plan to come to Arkansas, she signed on to the visit.

Swanson said the phosphorus summit was a turning point in Maryland passing regulations for Phosphorus Management Tools, a system for reducing the impact of the nutrient on area streams. She added that Sharpley’s clear and compelling presentation at the phosphorus summit was key to getting Chesapeake Bay region officials onboard with taking regulatory action.

“When Andrew Sharpley got up on the stage and began explaining phosphorus, everyone — farmers, scientists, non-profits, the legal negotiators like myself — we all got it,” Swanson said.

Sharpley clearly explained his research, what it meant and how it applied to policymaking, she said.

Swanson said the research and regulations applied to managing phosphorus in Arkansas’ Illinois watershed were educational for similar efforts in the Chesapeake Bay region and other parts of the country.

“What happened here in terms of industry and academia and non-profits and even the courts coming together to help determine what’s the next step with phosphorus is really meaningful,” Swanson said. “In fact, it’s so meaningful, even though it happened in Arkansas, it really is affecting what’s happening elsewhere in the country and how manure is being properly managed.”

“We really do have Arkansas to thank for helping us understand what were the right moves to control that pollution,” Swanson said.

During their visit to Arkansas, Swanson and Kobell toured two Arkansas Discovery Farms and met with Division of Agriculture scientists and government agencies to learn how the research efforts and application in Arkansas might be applied to the Chesapeake Bay region.

Mike Sullivan, Arkansas State Conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services, said he hopes the visit will spur an information exchange in which the research and application of nutrient management systems in Arkansas and the Mississippi Basin will help those working in the Chesapeake Bay region.

The University of Arkansas is an equal opportunity/affirmative action institution.