We live in an age of information. And, government environmental regulations are driving a need for feedyards to compile, analyze, report and store a mounting array of management information.

Where waste material management is the focus, help is on the way, thanks to precision farming technology.

Precision Ag Data, LLC (PAD) is a new agricultural data management company started this year by the Greeley, CO-based Colorado Corn Growers Association and Colorado Corn.

“PAD is really designed for those who employ precision farming practices,” says Heath Kirk, geographical information specialist (GIS) for PAD. “But, it's also a great tool to help feedyard operators with environmental compliance.”

PAD uses a computerized livestock and crop production data management system designed by SST Development Group, Stillwater, OK, and managed by Crop Quest Information Lab, Dodge City, KS. The database organizes and tracks the following aspects of a farm or beef production facility:

  • soil topography,
  • precipitation,
  • lagoon levels,
  • crop yields,
  • farm/field inputs,
  • soil analysis results,
  • lagoon discharge amounts and
  • manure application rates.

“PAD also allows recordkeeping and specialized reporting for lagoon, manure and effluent management,” says Ginger Davidson, natural resources director for Colorado Corn.

“By using the basic elements of the program, producers will find regulatory compliance much easier to analyze and maintain,” she says.

Collect It And Organize It

The full benefits of PAD will allow producers to develop a comprehensive nutrient management plan (CNMP) and site-specific crop production information.

“The database is designed to take information producers collect on a daily basis and organize it into manageable information,” adds cattle feeder Trevor Tuell, Yuma, CO. He sits on PAD's board of directors as a feeder advisor.

Field and manure management data is collected with software called SST FieldBook. This program is designed to standardize the data entered from any geographical area in the U.S. State-specific environmental regulations can be incorporated or “layered” onto the software to help producers comply with local laws.

“Field data can be entered by the feedyard operator, farming partner or crop consultant,” explains Kirk. “Lagoon and waste management information can be gathered by the producer or an environmental services company.”

Using global positioning satellite (GPS) technology, any activity performed on that field can be recorded. Some examples include: tillage and planting information, herbicide and insecticide use and best management practices data.

PAD combines field management information with outside resource information such as meteorological data, soil type maps, aerial or satellite images, and county and state-wide public land surveys.

“Once the information layers are combined, producers can examine and interact with the information,” explains Tuell.

For a feedyard operator, the database can identify which field is acceptable to spread a particular amount and type of manure or effluent, says Davidson.

“The determination is based on soil type, slope, erosion factors, crop nutrient need, commercial fertilizer inputs and phosphorus index,” he says.

Layers of lagoon information include weekly pond levels, discharge amounts, precipitation and “action levels” — the point at which feedyard managers need to take some sort of action, such as discharge or spreading of effluent on fields.

“The data layers in this program can provide a wealth of information when combined into a surface or mega-surface you want to examine,” adds Kirk.

Completely Confidential

Davidson emphasizes that information collected for each producer or feeder is protected by the subscriber's privacy wishes.

“Confidentiality of the information collected is one of the most important factors associated with participation,” she explains. “Any information entered into the system is held completely confidential and is owned solely by the producer.”

Depending on individual state requirements, PAD will generate a report proving environmental compliance.

“The beauty of the system is its ability to adapt to different regulatory requirements,” says Kirk.

Under Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, a CNMP will be required by every Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO). PAD offers an electronic version of the required CNMP.

Producers will be able to use the information generated by SST FieldBook templates combined with the automated CNMP software to design compliance protocol.

Use of the database software also allows the producer to track every acre where manure or effluent is discharged.

“By using PAD's database, a producer is being a proactive recordkeeper for those future regulations,” explains Don Rutledge, Yuma, CO. He is a confinement hog producer and sits on the executive committee of the Colorado Livestock Association.

Rutledge is using PAD to help manage his crop production and livestock enterprises. “Not only does this simplify and enhance recordkeeping and reporting efficiency — management decisions based upon land use are greatly enhanced,” he says.

Feedyard operators can incorporate their waste management activities with their own farming operations or work with farmer partners to develop plans that best fit the environmental specifications.

“Using PAD, things like buffer zones around wells or waterways can be created, percolation rates can be calculated, crop type determined and cultivation practices can be evaluated,” explains Rutledge. “Being able to ask questions or query the information contained in the database is where the real power of this system lies.”

The cost for using the system for crop production is based on the number of acres placed into the database.

Livestock enterprises will be charged a flat fee, determined by the number of animal feeding units, and will include a per-acre tracking fee for manure or effluent spreading.

“We know how important environmental compliance is going to be in the future — and it's going to be costly,” says Tuell. “But, the cost of not complying might very well mean we're out of business.”

That's why Colorado Corn is so excited to offer this program.

“We've adopted this system as a way to help our feedyard partners stay in business by being profitable and progressive while staying environmentally sound,” says Colorado Corn's Davidson. “Our long-term goal is sustainability for all livestock producers.”

For further information and pricing structures, contact PAD director Ginger Davidson at 127 22nd St., Greeley, CO, 80631; call 970/351-8201; or e-mail gdavidson@coloradocorn.com.