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Demonstration of Methods to Reduce E. coli Runoff from Dairy Manure Application Sites

This article was written by Stone’s Donald Meals and David Braun. It was published in October 2005 in the Journal of Environmental Quality, vol 35 No. 4, p.1088-1100.

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Contamination by bacteria is a leading cause of impairment in U.S. waters, particularly in areas of livestock agriculture. We evaluated the effectiveness of several practices in reducing Escherichia coli levels in runoff from fields receiving liquid dairy (Bos taurus) manure. Runoff trials were conducted on replicated hay and silage corn (Zea mays L.) plots using simulated rainfall. Levels of E. coli in runoff were ∼104 to 106 organisms per 100 mL, representing a significant pollution potential. Practices tested were: manure storage, delay between manure application and rainfall, manure incorporation by tillage, and increased hayland vegetation height. Storage of manure for 30 d or more consistently and dramatically lowered E. coli counts in our experiments, with longer storage providing greater reductions. Manure E. coli declined by >99% after ∼90 d of storage. On average, levels of E. coli in runoff were 97% lower from plots receiving 30-d-old and >99% lower from plots receiving 90-d-old manure than from plots where fresh manure was applied. Runoff from hayland and cornland plots where manure was applied 3 d before rainfall contained ∼50% fewer E. coli than did runoff from plots that received manure 1 d before rainfall. Hayland vegetation height alone did not significantly affect E. coli levels in runoff, but interactions with rainfall delay and manure age were observed. Manure incorporation alone did not significantly affect E. coli levels in cornland plot runoff, but incorporation could reduce bacteria export by reducing field runoff and interaction with rainfall delay was observed. Extended storage that avoids additions of fresh manure, combined with application several days before runoff, incorporation on tilled land, and higher vegetation on hayland at application could substantially reduce microorganism loading from agricultural land.