It's no secret the majority of agricultural professionals are the best stewards of Mother Nature's environmental assets. The feeding sector is no exception.

Professional feeders have taken environmentalism to heights that rival the tightest industrial standards. Ongoing research at Kansas State University with cooperation from the Kansas Water Office may help rid that state's regulatory bodies of the "one-size-fits-all" regulation mindset.

In a research series on animal waste lagoon water quality, researchers focused on three areas:

* What are the constituents in lagoon waste that pose a threat to water quality and public health?

* Input loading - at what rate does waste seep from a lagoon under field conditions?

* Aquifer vulnerability - how do soil properties, geology and water table depth affect the risk of waste movement from the lagoon to ground water?

During these studies, researchers discovered that a single set of requirements won't fit each region of the state. Differing soil types, effluent type and residential development, among other factors, have a definite influence on waste seepage and where lagoons should be located.

Other revelations show that most animal waste lagoons in Kansas have seepage rates of less than 0.1-in./day. This is well below the design standard of 1/4-in. per day used by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Lagoons with soil liners more than 18-in. thick seep at about 0.05 in./day.

Though these seepage rates are exemplary, researchers note that even at these low rates, significant amounts of ammonium-N can be deposited and stored in the soil under lagoons. This could pose problems after lagoon closure when the soil-bound ammonium-N could convert to nitrate and perhaps more readily move to ground water. Thus, researchers recommend developing best management practices for lagoon closure as well as site remediation.

More Research Needed But, the work isn't complete. As our food production system becomes increasingly scrutinized, we'll have to know more. Kansas State University says future research should focus on chemical and physical soil factors that affect transformation and movement of chemicals and microbes between lagoon bottoms and water tables.

Ideally, this type of research would lead to lagoon system models that consider toxicity, input loading and aquifer vulnerability. This would enhance site-specific waste management based on species, climate, soil types, environment and closeness to a water table.

Such research proves good feedyard stewardship is an ongoing fact, but regulations and management tools that develop as a result will not be a panacea to all environmental concerns. There are still matters of cost, how much individual site assessment is needed and the administrative tasks of making sure regulations are followed.

Site assessment for lagoons can run $2,000 for each review and several assessments are suggested before building. It may be there are better locations for lagoons, even on small parcels of land. For water quality peace of mind, several $2,000 hits are a small price to pay.

Environmental management has always been a priority of the feeding industry. With continuing research on water quality, air quality and soil quality, the industry can assure its end customers of a safe, clean product.