eOrganic Extension

Subscribe to eOrganic Extension feed
Updated: 5 days 4 hours ago

Fire Ants: Instructional Videos

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 19:44

Watch videos to see how fire ants bite and sting, forage for food, care for their young, and take care of the queen. Learn how to identify fire ants and their swarms. You can also see videos on how to properly treat your property to control fire ants.

Fire Ant Control (Management)

Learn first hand how to manage and control fire ants by viewing these instructional videos.


Fire Ant Biology

Learn what it is like to live in a fire ant colony.

Hormigas bravas: Videos de instrucción

Control Fácil de las Hormigas Bravas

Biological Control of Fire Ants

Video Clips on Fire Ants from eXtension and Other Sources

The following clips show how fire ants behave or demonstrate concepts and procedures associated with controlling fire ants. They were filmed with the input of fire ant scientists for use in educational programming. Most of them are silent videos.

Biting/Stinging Foraging and Bait Applications Individual Mound Treatments Biology and Identification Mating Flight/Movement



What do fire ants eat?

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 15:19

Imported fire ants are omnivores.  They eat both plants and animals to satisfy their nutritional needs.  Their menu includes carbohydrates (sugars), lipids (fats), and protein. Worker ants cannot ingest solid food particles (greater than 2 microns, 1 micron = 0.000039 of an inch), so they primarily feed on liquids. Only the last developmental stage of the fire ant larva (fourth instar) can convert solid food particles into a liquid that is then fed to other colony members.

How Do Fire Ants Find Food?

To search for food, foraging worker ants leave the nest or mound and wander randomly. Upon discovery of a food source, they head straight back to the colony, using their stingers to periodically mark the ground and leave a chemical pheromone trail (watch video). When they reach their colony or colony "outpost" (the end of a subterranean tunnel radiating away from the colony where forager ant "reserves” congregate), additional worker ants follow the pheromone trail to the newly found food source.  Those ants retrieve the food and return to the colony, also marking the pheromone trail laid down by the first group of ants. In a short period, many more ants follow the foraging trail, quickly arriving at the source and dominating the site to protect it from competitors.

Fire ant foragers are very effective predators. They have strong jaws or mandibles that bite and secure prey. Venomous stingers on the end of their abdomen can sting multiple times while injecting a toxic venom into prey. This enables fire ants to paralyze and kill animals much larger than they are. Once they immobilize their prey, the fire ants carry it back to the colony.  If the prey is large, the fire ants dismantle it into small, transportable pieces.  Fire ants will also eat other insects (like fly larvae) that feed on decomposing bodies (carrion). By eating the fly larvae, the ants can delay decomposition and dominate the food source.

Food Preferences

Fire ant food preferences include a smorgasbord of plants, microscopic organismsinvertebrates (including arthropods), and  vertebrates (reptiles, birds, mammals).  Fire ant workers have been known to wander into dirty laundry, probably attracted to the sugars and/or oils that are soaked into clothing. In companion animal and wildlife areas, fire ant control may be required to reduce losses.

In some cases, other pests are prey for fire ants. This food-seeking behavior is considered to beneficial. Fire ants are known to prey on ticks and boll weevils. In other instances, the predatory behavior is can be a serious threat – as when fire ants go after songbirds or endangered or threatened species. In areas of fire ant infestation in the southern U.S., fire ants may be the most dominant predatory insect in the environment. Infestation of new areas, or removal of these exotic invasive fire ant species by any means, will undoubtedly have a profound effect of the flora (plant life) and fauna (animal life).

Fire ants, like many other ants, will feed on other food substances like the sweet liquid produced by special plant glands called nectaries; and also on the honeydew produced by sucking insects like aphids, whiteflies, scale insects, and mealybugs (see below). Fire ants tend the insects producing the honeydew by providing them protection from natural enemies (parasites and predators).  They also and eliminate diseased or unhealthy individuals, which allows the insects  to grow and flourish.  This can aggravate the problem caused by the insects in the first place and can result in over-use of pesticides in an attempt to control them.   Ant control is often part of the effort for managing sucking insect pests.

One of the best tools used to detect and monitor fire ants and other ant species is the use of slices of hot dogs as a food lure. Research on foods that attract foraging fire ant workers has led to development of effective granular bait products. Conventional fire ant bait formulations are made of processed defatted corn grit impregnated with soybean oil.  The soybean oil contains the active ingredient, or toxicant that kills the ant.  Fire ants feed on the oil and ingest the toxicant.

In the southern United States, the invasive imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta, feeds on honeydew from grass-feeding mealybugs. Most important appears to be Antinina graminis, the Rhodesgrass mealybug. Researchers found more mealybugs closer to S. invicta mounds suggesting that mealybugs benefit as well. Mutual benefits derived by S. invicta and A. graminis are consistent with the hypothesis that associations among invasive species can be important in their success at introduced locations (from Helms, K. R. and S. B. Vinson. 2003. "Apparent facilitation of an invasive mealybug by an invasive ant". Insectes Sociaux 50:403-404).


Imported fire ants can affect many parts of a plant. They cause economic losses to agricultural crops such as corn, sorghum and soybeans by feeding on germinating seeds, killing young corn by tunneling into the bases of young plant stalks, tunneling into potato tubers, and consuming developing okra and citrus fruit. In newly planted citrus plantations in Florida, worker ants in mounds around the base of young tree trunks can remove bark, causing girdling and killing the trees. Fire ants collect certain seeds while foraging. In some cases the seeds are eaten. In other cases (e.g., horse mint ) they do not consume the seed's embryo, but rather scatter the seeds around their mounds.  This results in dispersal across the landscape, which could affect plant species distribution and abundance.



Fire ants eat the oil-containing embryo portion of corn (top left) and sorghum (top right) seeds causing plant stand losses during dry spring conditions (photos by B. M. Drees); fire ant damage to young corn stalk, bottom left (photo by J. W. Stewart); fire ants feeding on developing okra (photo by B. M. Drees).


Scorpions and spiders: Red imported fire ant can prey on scorpions if they cannot escape attack. They can also feed on spider eggs laid in egg cases.


See animated GIF of fire ants preying on a scorpion, left (images by B. M. Drees). See larger image of fire ants preying on spider eggs in egg cases, right (photo by B. M. Drees).

Ticks and chiggers: Evidence has shown that Imported fire ants reduce populations of certain tick species by preying on engorged female ticks filled with blood and eggs or small hatching ticks. Non-engorged ticks freeze in place and "play possum" when examined by a foraging ant, thus escaping their fate as ant food! Fire ants also prey on chiggers, reducing their populations.


Imported fire ant preying on engorged adult female tick (left), and examining a  non-engorged tick (right).

Insects:  Fire ants prey on many different life stages of various insects including flea larvae and cockroach eggs.  This helps reduce populations of these pests. They would readily eat termites, but the soldier caste in termite colonies defends the colony while the worker termites seal any holes in the colony walls made of carton, a mixture of chewed food and saliva (see a YouTube video of fire ants fighting a soldier termite). However, many animals rely on insects as a food source, including many birds such as young quail and prairie chickens, which feed on insects before they begin feeding on grains. When fire ants consume food such as grasshoppers, they may indirectly affect the health and survival of these species. Fire ants also directly attack weakened honey bee colonies and may need to be managed to prevent losses. Imported fire ants attack other ant species and raid their colonies, but not necessarily as a food source (see video of red imported fire ants fighting a tropical fire ant, Solenopsis geminata). These exotic invasive fire ant species have displaced native fire ant species as they expanded their geographic range. Fire ants also eat dead insects.  This research has led to one ant bait product that is produced from ground up silkworm pupae!


See larger image and close-up of fire ants preying on grasshoppers hatching from underground egg pod (photos by N. Troxclair). See larger image and close-up of fire ants attacking an adult differential grasshopper (photos by A. Calixto).

Caterpillars and other insects: Imported fire ants prey on all stages of developing butterflies and moths: eggs, caterpillars, pupae and adults (when they can catch them!). Some of these caterpillars are serious agricultural pests of cotton and sugarcane and therefore the ant's activities are beneficial, providing biological control. However, when fire ants prey on butterfly caterpillars, their activities are considered to be a problem (See Fire Ant Project Fact Sheet, Managing Fire Ants in Texas Schoolyards and Butterfly Gardens).



Fire ants preying on bollworm egg (top left), bollworm caterpillars (top and bottom right photographs by W. Sterling) and sugarcane borer (bottom right)(photograph by D. Pollet).

Green lacewing eggs: One organism commonly used for biological control of aphids, mealybugs and other pests is the predaceous green lacewing larva, often called an aphid lion. Companies selling this biological control agent can provide winged adults, larvae1, or eggs2 glued onto cards. The cards can be placed around plants to control pests.  If imported fire ants are present, they will consume all of the eggs glued to the cards (see image below where the left one side was shielded from ant predation using a microscope slide). Thus, fire ant control may be necessary to achieve successful biological control using this natural enemy.
1 the predaceous feeding stage with sickle-like mouthparts that pinch prey and suck out the haemolymph or insect blood of the prey
2 normally laid on stalks which helps prevent cannibalism by hatching larvae


Green lacewing life stages, left (adult, bottom left; eggs, top center and larva or aphid lion, bottom right (photo montage by B. M. Drees); Green lacewing eggs removed by imported fire ants on unprotected (right) side of egg card used to release this biological control agent (photo by B. M. Drees).


Reptiles and amphibians: Reportedly, fire ants will attack all stages of development of snakes, lizards, turtles and crocodiles.  These animals are most vulnerable during and shortly after hatching. Red imported fire ants are thought to have dramatically reduced population levels of the Texas horned lizard either through direct predation of hatching lizards or eliminating the lizard's major food source - the red harvester ant. Alternately, insecticides used to treat for fire ants may have eliminated the red harvester ants. Other factors, such as elimination of horned lizard habitat by land use (subdividing ecosystems into smaller parcels of land with multiple uses), cultivation, urbanization and introduced predators (cats and dogs) are other possible factors in the declining horned lizard population levels (in east Texas and elsewhere).


Texas horned lizard with radio transmitter glued to its back (photo by B. M. Drees). See videos of Texas horned lizard feeding on a red harvester ant.

Birds: Birds, particularly those nesting on or near the ground, are vulnerable to fire ant predation. In some cases, such as colonial waterbirds, ants directly prey on hatching eggs. Fire ants have reduced the overall survival of nestling songbirds in Texas. When a chick first punctures the egg shell as it starts to hatch, yolk from the egg attracts foraging worker ants.  The worker ants quickly alert other ants to the food source. Soon, fire ants overrun the nest and sting the chick to death.

In other species, such as quail and prairie chickens, fire ant stings to young birds seems to be more of a factor than egg predation. Stinging debilitates the young birds to the point that they cannot keep up with the mother bird, thus reducing the young bird's chance for survival. Finally, fire ants can prey upon the insects young birds depend on for food, as described above. Chickens in poultry operations can be affected by fire ant predation. Those that survive may have blemishes on their skin from fire ant stings that reduce their market value. Thus, fire ants are frequently controlled around these operations.


Tricolor heron chick being attacked by imported fire ants (photo by B.M. Drees). See video (Warning: graphic subject matter) of fire ant attack (video by J. Summerlin ).

Mammals: Rodents, particularly those that nest in one place (rather than moving nests frequently when disturbed) may be particularly vulnerable to imported fire ant predation. Foraging ants recruit to moisture and softer tissues of newly born animals and bite and sting them multiple times. Reduction in rodent numbers may indirectly affect other animals that rely on rodents as a food source, including raptors (e.g., hawks, owls) and other predators (e.g., bobcats).

Deer fawns born near fire ant mounds, particularly during warmer months of the year, are vulnerable to fire ant attack because they instinctively hide and remain still while the mother forages for food. Ants sting their eyes, causing blindness and dramatically reducing chances of survival. Although heartbreaking, deer population levels continue to increase in many areas where fire ants occur.

In cattle operations, imported fire ants injure or kill newborn calves by stinging soft moist tissues including the eyes. Calves that have been attacked by fire ants will lick ants from their skin.  This is the reason many ants are found in their digestive systems at necropsy. This is just one of the costs of imported fire ants to cattle producers, according to a 1994 survey of Texas veterinarians.



Fawn with fire ant sting scars on head, top left (photo by B. M. Drees); Calf eyeball showing fire ant stings on pupil, top right (photo by J. Joyce); Rumen content from calf that suffered fire ant anaphylaxis, bottom left (photo by C. Barr).

Carrion: Fire ant workers are often found feeding on dead animals (carrion). Whether or not the fire ants killed the animal cannot often be determined confidently.  Images of a dead newborn rabbit illustrate how imported fire ants exploit this food resource over time (photos by B. M. Drees).


             Click here for larger images.

Related Literature Cited

Lofgren, C. S. 1986. The economic importance and control of the imported fire ant in the United States in The Economic Impact and Control of Social Insects (S. B. Vinson, ed.). Praeger Press, N.Y.

Tschinkel, W. R. 2006. The Fire Ants. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 723 pages.

Starting from Scratch – Let’s Get Cooking School Meals

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 15:32

Webinar on June 28th, 2017 at 3pm: https://learn.extension.org/events/3121

When progressing to a scratch production model in your school kitchens, making small but manageable changes is the name of the game. Join Shellie Kark, Chef Consultant with LiveWell Colorado’s School Food Initiative, for an informative webinar on getting started with scratch cooking, tips & tricks for planning ahead, and marketing the new menu items. Let us assist in making this fresh transition as smooth as possible for the entire Food & Nutrition Services Department. 


PDF of Presentation Slides (forthcoming) 


The Use of Runoff Risk Advisory Tools for Water Quality Protection

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 20:30

This webinar presents four different current runoff advisory tools: the Runoff Risk Advisory Forecast (WI), Application Risk Management System (WA), Fertilizer Forecaster (PA), and the Saturated Area Forecast Tool (VA). This presentation was originally broadcast on June 16, 2017. More...

What software do you need to view the slides and the videos?
The embedded videos can be viewed full screen by clicking on the icon in the lower right corner.

The Use of Runoff Risk Advisory Tools for Water Quality Protection

Nichole Embertson, Whatcom Conservation District and Washington State University (16 minutes)

Presentation Slides
Download a Copy of this segment (56.4 MB)
Listen to the podcast of this segment (10.8 MB)

Runoff Risk: A Multi‐Partner Decision Support Tool to Mitigate Environmental Impacts of Nutrient Applications

Steve Buan, National Weather Service (12 minutes)

Presentation Slides
Download a Copy of this segment (37.6 MB)
Listen to the podcast of this segment (7.8 MB)

The Fertilizer Forecaster: guiding short‐term decisions in nutrient management

Anthony Buda, USDA-ARS - Pasture Systems and Watershed Management Research Unit (16 minutes)

Presentation Slides
Download a Copy of this segment (46.1 MB)
Listen to the podcast of this segment (11 MB)

Coupling Short‐Term Weather Forecasts with Distributed Watershed Models to Predict the Extent and Timing of Saturated Areas (Right Time and Right Place)

Zachary Easton, Virginia Tech University (15 minutes)

Presentation Slides
Download a Copy of this segment (45.9 MB)
Listen to the podcast of this segment (10.3 MB)

Questions and Answers

All Presenters (7 minutes)

Download a Copy of this segment (42.6 MB)
Listen to the podcast of this segment (5.1 MB)

Additional Information Continuing Education Units

Certified Crop Advisers (CCA, CPAg, or CPSS)

View the archive and take the quiz (not available yet). Visit the CCA continuing education page for additional CEU opportunities.

American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists (ARPAS)

View the archive and report your attendance to ARPAS via their website. Visit the ARPAS continuing education page for additional CEU opportunities.

Research Summary: How Bioenergy Experts Can Improve Public Engagement

Fri, 06/16/2017 - 16:19

By including landowners in conversations about bioenergy crops such as switchgrass, willow and Miscanthus, experts are more likely to promote adoption than by just providing new information.

Sponsoring Partner

Funded by AFRI. Learn More.

Table of Contents Introduction

Current efforts to engage landowners on the topic of dedicated energy crops may fall short due to a crucial assumption made by scientific and policy experts about what causes changes to human behavior. By providing opportunities for dialogue between groups with different viewpoints, however, those experts may be able to encourage support and adoption of crops such as switchgrass, Miscanthus, and shrub willow.

Research Purpose

NEWBio researchers Weston Eaton, Morey Burnham, Clare Hinrichs, and Theresa Selfa wanted to know if the way bioenergy experts think about landowner behavior might affect their outreach to those landowners, and how both groups could better understand each other's viewpoints on bioenergy crops and their adoption.

Research Activities

/*-->*/ The researchers interviewed plant scientists, policy specialists, government employees, and other bioenergy experts in the Northeast United States and analyzed the results. They wanted to learn how these experts think about or conceptualize landowner behavior and how that perspective influences the way these experts design and practice landowner engagement and outreach.

What We Have Learned

The bioenergy experts in the study viewed landowners as unaware of or misinformed about dedicated energy crops, a perspective that is termed the “knowledge deficit” model in the literature on public engagement. According to this model, it is assumed that landowners’ misunderstanding of, or lack of awareness for bioenergy crops is a major hurdle to the successful development of a bioenergy economy in the Northeast and one that can be overcome through the provision of facts.

One respondent in the study, for example, said that landowners “tend to have very emotional, knee-jerk, non-science based reactions…”. Another responded, “[Landowners] have no real sense of…whether or not wood or grass is better than oil or natural gas…I think people just make assumptions and don't really understand truly what the differences are.”

In adopting this perspective, bioenergy experts often design their engagement approaches to try to fill perceived knowledge deficits of landowners with what experts view as the 'correct' information on energy crops. For example, ‘fact sheets’ suggest there is one correct understanding for particular energy crops and that through conveying this information, ‘incorrect’ understandings can be overcome. Importantly, engagement activities that intend to overcome misunderstanding with fact, or fill knowledge gaps with information, are premised on the assumption that providing correct information causes landowners to change their behavior regarding adoption and support of energy crops.

However, the effectiveness of this approach in changing human behavior is limited. While facts sheets do, of course, provide information, in focusing solely on scientific perspectives they exclude any alternative understandings landowners may have for dedicated energy crops specifically, or for managing their land more generally. In effect, when new information sources fail to recognize the existence or value of current ways of understanding the world, people may feel left out of the conversation. This can lead to negative rather than positive responses to new information. So, while fact sheets may in fact provide correct scientific information, information provision alone is likely insufficient for promoting support and adoption of energy crops among Northeastern landowners. 

Why This is Important

What alternative approaches might experts take to better partner with Northeast landowners to realize some of the potential economic and environmental benefits of dedicated energy crops? Drawing from the literature on public understanding of science, the researchers suggest that humans do not change their behavior through reviewing new information alone. Instead, humans also change their behavior when groups with different forms of knowledge and experience engage in productive dialogue about the views and interests of all parties (see Figure 1).

Fig 1. A productive dialogue. Graphic: Dr. Weston Eaton.

Through dialogic processes, which are premised on mutual respect for experiences and perspectives that at times contrast, new understandings for energy crops can be developed by all parties, experts and public groups alike. The researchers suggest that this dialogic approach can indeed change human behavior—although what that change looks like will depend on the outcome of the dialogue between experts and public groups. 

For More Information
  • Eaton, Weston M., Morey Burnham, Clare Hinrichs, and Theresa Selfa. 2017. “Bioenergy Experts and Their Imagined “Obligatory Publics” in the United States: Implications for Public Engagement and Participation.” Energy Research & Social Science 25:65-75.
  • Busch, Lawrence. 1978. “On understanding understanding: two views of communication.” Rural Sociology 43(3):450–473.
  • Wynne, Brian, 1992. “Misunderstood misunderstanding: social identities and public uptake of science.” Public Understanding of Science 1(3):281–304.
Contributors to this Research Summary Authors
  • Dr. Weston M. Eaton, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education, The Pennsylvania State University

Peer Reviewer
  • Dr. Theodore Alter, Professor of Agricultural, Environmental and Regional Economics; Co-Director, Center for Economic and Community Development, The Pennsylvania State University


The Northeast Woody/Warm-season Biomass Consortium - NEWBio is supported by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. This material is based upon work that is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award number 2012-68005-19703.

Led by Penn State University, NEWBio includes partners from Cornell University, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, West Virginia University, Delaware State University, Ohio State University, Rutgers University, USDA’s Eastern Regional Research Center, and DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Idaho National Laboratory.

Grow This, Eat That! Youth Learning Healthy Living through Gardening and Culinary Programs

Fri, 06/16/2017 - 12:57

University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Brevard County Extension and Family Nutrition Program along with Brevard County Public Schools, Afterschool Program, 21st Learning Centers, have partnered to offer youth an opportunity to grow their own food and learn how to prepare healthy snacks.  The program is offered to schools throughout the county and allows youth to learn STEM in the garden and bring those concepts to the kitchen through culinary lessons.  Youth enjoy what they learn and what they eat too!


Elizabeth Shephard, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

Vanessa Spero-Swingle, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences


Research Summary: Socio-cultural Factors Shape Landowner Support and Willingness to Adopt Bioenergy Crops

Fri, 06/16/2017 - 03:14

Socio-cultural meanings that landowners give to their land, community, and bioenergy technologies are important in determining whether landowners will participate in renewable energy technology development.

Sponsoring Partner

Funded by AFRI. Learn More.

Table of Contents



Research by NEWBio scientists breaks new ground in how the meanings landowners and farmers attribute to their land, community, and bioenergy technologies influence their willingness to adopt dedicated energy crops and to support the development of a bioenergy industry in their communities. 


The successful development of a sustainable and profitable bioeconomy in places like the Northeast United States will require the widespread adoption of dedicated energy crops such as switchgrass, shrub willow, and Miscanthus. However, adoption and support for dedicated energy crops by landowners and farmers is complex, and our scientific understanding of these processes is underdeveloped.

Research Purpose

Recent research suggests that while economic considerations remain important, on their own they are inadequate to explain how landowners make decisions about energy crops. To do that, we need to better understand the social and cultural components of landowners’ decision-making processes.

Research Activities

In their study, NEWBio researchers Weston M. Eaton, Morey Burnham, Clare Hinrichs, Theresa Selfa, and Sheng Yang surveyed 907 landowners in the Northeast United States to investigate how cultural meanings influenced their support for local bioenergy development and their willingness to grow energy crops on their land. The literature on social responses to the development of renewable energy technology shows that people draw on their cultural understandings to construct diverse and often contrasting meanings for both the places they live and the technologies proposed for local development. For instance, for some landowners, their land may represent a resource for making a living, while others see their land as fragile and in need of protection. For some, technologies like bioenergy crops are seen as in harmony with nature, whereas others see these technologies as uncertain and imposing new risk.

What We Have Learned

People defined as "technology progressives" often respond better to traditional outreach approaches such as field days and demonstration sites than do those defined as "technology skeptics." Photo credit: NEWBio.

The researchers analyzed factors underlying the place-based meanings respondents attributed to their land, community, and bioenergy technologies. Specifically, their survey asked respondents to indicate their level of agreement with ten statements, including “bioenergy crop production conflicts with natural processes” and “bioenergy crop production would provide benefits to my community.” A factor analysis of responses to these ten statements suggested two underlying categories that the researchers termed “technology progressives” and “technology skeptics.”

Specifically, the research found strong, statistically significant correlations between landowners described as technology progressives, those described as technology skeptics, and the study’s two outcome variables. The key finding is that technology progressives, or those who viewed bioenergy crop technologies as innovative and in harmony with nature, were more likely to support local bioenergy development and more likely to be willing to adopt these technologies on their land. However, technology skeptics, or those who indicated bioenergy crop technologies were risky and in conflict with natural processes, were less likely to support local development and less likely to be willing to adopt them on their land. 

Why This is Important

The widespread adoption of bioenergy crops by farmers and other landowners could provide biomass feedstocks for a burgeoning bioenergy industry in the Northeast. Moreover, when adopted on the landscape, bioenergy crops can improve damaged soils and protect and enhance water and air quality. However, the realization of these economic and ecological benefits is premised on landowners deciding to adopt bioenergy crops on the land they manage and own.

Our research findings show that technology progressives and technology skeptics view and make decisions about adopting bioenergy crops very differently. Traditional outreach approaches, such as fact sheets and demonstration sites, are premised on the one-way communication of facts from experts to the public. Such approaches may be sufficient for communicating bioenergy crop opportunities to landowners or other stakeholders with technology-progressive stances, as such individuals already view bioenergy crops in a positive light and are therefore more likely to be open to considering information in such formats.

However, if bioenergy development is to be successful, and economic and ecological benefits are to be obtained, bioenergy crop adoption will need to be widespread. This means adoption cannot be limited to landowners with “technology progressive” leanings—“technology skeptics” will also need to adopt bioenergy crops.

But, as the literature on public engagement suggests, traditional one-way communication outreach approaches will likely be insufficient or misdirected for engaging landowners with technology-skeptic leanings. To engage successfully with this latter group, promoters should instead use dialogue-based approaches premised on two-way communication, meaning both parties contribute to the defining of problems and solutions. For example, in a two-way communication, dialogue-based approach, experts and others who hold a range of views on bioenergy crops would share their views on and experiences with bioenergy crops, consider contrasting views, and weigh the views of others against their own understandings. In this dialogue-based fashion, “skeptics” and experts could work together to identify what opportunities may exist for a bioenergy future that is seen as desirable and beneficial for all parties.

See eXtension summary “Bioenergy experts and engagement” for further discussion of engagement with landowners. 

For More Information
  • Weston M. Eaton, Morey Burnham, Clare Hinrichs, Theresa Selfa, & Sheng Yang. “Socio-cultural factors shaping landowner support for and willingness to plant bioenergy crops.” Under Review.
  • Eaton, Weston M., Morey Burnham, Clare Hinrichs, and Theresa Selfa. 2017. “Bioenergy Experts and Their Imagined “Obligatory Publics” in the United States: Implications for Public Engagement and Participation.” Energy Research & Social Science 25:65-75.
  • Eaton, Weston M. and Wynne Wright. 2015 “Hurdles to Engaging Publics around Science and Technology." Michigan Sociological Review 29:48-74
  • Eaton, Weston M. 2016. “What's the Problem? How ‘Industrial Culture’ Shapes Community Responses to Proposed Bioenergy Development in Northern Michigan, USA.” Journal of Rural Studies 45:76-87
Contributors to this Research Summary Authors
  • /*-->*/

    Dr. Weston M. Eaton, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education, The Pennsylvania State University

Peer Reviewer
  • Dr. Theodore Alter, Professor of Agricultural, Environmental and Regional Economics; Co-Director, Center for Economic and Community Development, The Pennsylvania State University
  • Dr. Wynne Wright, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Michigan State University

The Northeast Woody/Warm-season Biomass Consortium - NEWBio is supported by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. This material is based upon work that is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award number 2012-68005-19703.

Led by Penn State University, NEWBio includes partners from Cornell University, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, West Virginia University, Delaware State University, Ohio State University, Rutgers University, USDA’s Eastern Regional Research Center, and DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Idaho National Laboratory.

Using Augmented Reality to Enhance Presentations, Publications, and Virtua Tours

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 19:34
Proceedings Home W2W Home  Purpose

This mini-workshop will highlight tools and techniques for revving up posters, publications, or demonstrations through augmented reality (AR). AR is different from virtual reality in that it is not immersive, but rather, adds a layer to the physical world. We will explore how to create interactive print (posters, publications), enhance web publications (3D), and look at possibilities for virtual tours (Introduce an app and some examples, including Extension-produced ones).

Finally, we will walk through the steps to add AR to a print publication. Prior to this workshop, if possible, download the free Aurasma app and follow the LPELC channel (all uppercase - important).

Some apps highlighted in this workshop:

  • Aurasma - there is a free version, not as full-featured as Layar
  • Guidigo - virtual tours, can create tours that function without Internet, educators can create 2 free but they have worked with educators to do more
  • Sketchfab - 3D, universal
  • Google Translate/Word Lens
  • Layar - interactive print, most popular, pay per page created

More apps to explore:

  • Blippar
  • Unity
  • 3D Flashcards
  • Augment - 3D

Jill Heemstra, University of Nebraska

Additional Information

Apple's New Big Thing https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-03-20/apple-s-next-big-thing

[Recorded Webinar] Augmented Reality: A New Tool for Extension https://learn.extension.org/events/2816 (also includes links to 4 blog posts about AR)

[Recorded Webinar] 3-D Virtual Reality Infographic Production https://learn.extension.org/events/2892


Michele Kroll, University of Missouri and Allan Dennis, Oregon State University for some of the examples presented in this workshop.

The authors are solely responsible for the content of these proceedings. The technical information does not necessarily reflect the official position of the sponsoring agencies or institutions represented by planning committee members, and inclusion and distribution herein does not constitute an endorsement of views expressed by the same. Printed materials included herein are not refereed publications. Citations should appear as follows. EXAMPLE: Authors. 2017. Title of presentation. Waste to Worth: Spreading Science and Solutions. Cary, NC. April 18-21, 2017. URL of this page. Accessed on: today’s date.


June 2017 Newsletter Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Center

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 14:55

<==Subscribe to the newsletter or browse past issues

Webcast Series Looking Ahead to June: Runoff Risk Advisory Tools for Water Quality Protection 

This webinar will present four different runoff advisory tools: the Runoff Risk Advisory Forecast (WI), Application Risk Management System (WA), Fertilizer Forecaster (PA), and the Saturated Area Forecast Tool (VA). Join us to learn more about how these tools were developed and how they are used to advise farm manure spreading decisions. June 16, 2017 at 1:30 pm CDT (2:30 pm eastern; 12:30 pm mountain; 11:30 am pacific) More...

Add to Calendar: iCal (Outlook) | Google calendar

More on Webcasts...

Animal Agriculture In the U.S. Trends in Production and Manure Management What's Going On In the LPELC?

Water Quality Module. In cooperation with US EPA and all the major animal ag organizations, a new module on animal agriculture and water quality has been published. This six-part module includes virtual tours of different types of animal ag farms, looks at trends in manure management, water quality, stewardship efforts, the Clean Water Act and more. Links to a wide array of resources that go further in-depth on individual topics have been carefully curated throughout the module. Visit the module...

Antibiotic Resistance. A new online fact sheet has been published on "Manure Land Application Strategies to Mitigate Antibiotics and Antibiotics Resistance Genes In the Agricultural Environment". Read the fact sheet... | Related: Check out the "Manure Pathogens and Microbial By-Products" section of the LPELC website.

Waste to Worth.  The recordings are nearly complete. Almost all of the proceedings papers have a video of the presentation embedded. Find the recordings two ways: by conference agenda or by topic

Around the Horns

Water Quality. The latest Chesapeake Bay report card indicates that efforts to improve water quality are working. The Bay received a "C" grade overall with the fisheries grade improving to an "A". Efforts to better manage manure nutrients from animal agriculture are among the actions being taken in the Bay. Read more...

Manure Expo. Today (June 15) is the last day to dust off your crappy puns and submit them to the "top 10 rejected Manure Expo slogans" T-shirt contest. Past entries have included gems such as "the future of what's left behind" and "nobody sticks their nose in our business". Join "the movement" and submit yours! Read more...

Policy and Regulation. Regulation of animals (and plants) that have been genetically altered has been lagging substantially behind the available technology, especially in the area of gene editing. In early 2017, FDA released draft guidance for the animal industry to address this new area of research. Public comments are due June 19, 2017. Read more... | Related: Article on the differences between USDA and FDA in their proposed approaches to genetically altered plants and animals.

Grazing Management. The protein levels of forage in native grasslands appear to be declining. The exact reasons are not known, but if the trend continues it will have implications for carrying capacity, supplemental feed costs, and/or animal performance.  More...

Nutrient Use Efficiency. A recent study evaluated different nitrogen fertilizer sources in a dairy forage rotation on nitrous oxide emissions. Fall and spring-applied manure, compost, urea, and an enhanced urea (with urease and nitrification inhibitors) were evaluated. They found that the timing of manure application did not affect nitrous oxide emissions but the enhanced fertilizer reduced them. Read more... | Abstract...

Nutrient Management

  • The Chesapeake Bay program has released a report on "Manure Treatment Technologies" in which an expert panel looked at different technologies through the lens of water quality goals for the Bay. Read the report... | Related: Waste to Worth presentations on this report and other efforts in the Chesapeake Bay on BMP Effectiveness | Manure Treatment Report | Injection & Incorporation
  • Increasing the distance that manure can be economically transported for land application has potential to improve distribution of nutrients. One way that farmers and manure haulers are doing this is by using frac tanks. Read more...
  • An Iowa project modeled the effect of cover crops on fall manure application. Overall, the use of cover crops as simulated by the model was likely to reduce soil nitrate losses. Read more...

Organic Production. USDA has released a second proposed rule on organic livestock and poultry production. The Final Rule amends the organic livestock and poultry production requirements in the USDA organic regulations. This Final Rule was originally set to take effect on March 20, 2017, and is now being extended to November 14, 2017. Comments will be accepted until June 9, 2017. Read more...

Manure Application. This presentation by a commercial manure applicator provides insight into the amount of planning and effort it takes to do a professional job in applying manure. Read more... | Related: Panel discussion working with commercial manure haulers from Waste to Worth 2017.

Farm Demonstrations. One of the most effective learning opportunities for farmers is the on-farm field day. The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) project has published a "Farmer Field Day Toolkit" to assist educators in planning and holding field days and demonstrations.

Farmer Stewardship

  • Penn State Extension Specialist Ginny Ishler provides a list of stewardship-related practices dairy farmers can use to protect air and water quality. The list includes practices that have extensive research behind them and she includes an explanation of how each makes sense from a financial or business perspective for farmers as well as an environmental one. Read more...
  • One Wisconsin dairy farm discusses their composting operation and how it helps them get along with neighbors. The farm is located in an area where they have become completely surrounded by businesses, schools, and other neighbors. Read more...
Manure Tweet of the Week

Wisconsin Hosts the 2017 North American #Manure Expo: August 22 & 23 - https://t.co/sW5d3U7uhf

— WCM newsletter (@WisCropMan) June 8, 2017 Events & Announcements

ASAS-CSAS.The American Society of Animal Science and Canadian Society of Animal Science are holding their annual meeting and trade show July 8-12, 2017 in Baltimore, MD. More...

Manure Expo. The next Manure Expo will be held in Arlington, WI on August 22-23, 2017. More...

SARE Conference. The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program is hosting a once-every-decade conference "Our Farms Our Future: The Next 30 Years of Sustainable Agriculture". April 3-5, 2018 in St. Louis, Missouri. More...

News Droppings

A look at animal agriculture, stewardship, and manure in the news: serious, funny or controversial. We don't endorse this stuff, we just think you should know about it.

Lower natural gas prices are likely to affect farms that operate manure digesters as their power purchase agreements expire. Different programs are looking at ways to incentivize biogas and encourage continued use and development of digesters. Read more...

If you have any questions about this newsletter, please contact Jill Heemstra jheemstra@unl.edu

Overview of the Laws Governing Child Nutrition Programs

Wed, 06/14/2017 - 18:46

Federal child nutrition programs provide nutritious foods to children across the nation. While this may seem like a simple task, complex laws, policies and regulations are in place to guide program operations. The Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act authorizes all federal child nutrition programs to include:

  • School Breakfast Program (SBP)
  • National School Lunch Program (NSLP)
  • Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP)
  • Special Milk Program (SMP)
  • Summer Food Service Program (SFSP)
  • Afterschool Snack Program (ASP)
  • Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)
  • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
  • WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program

What laws currently govern child nutrition programs?

The current law governing child nutrition programs is the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act. This law was signed in 2010. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the federal agency responsible for implementing the law. The USDA provides guidance and policies to states and states work with school food authorities (SFA) on implementation. States provide training, monitoring and guidance to local SFAs.

How are the laws governing child nutrition programs reviewed?

Reauthorization is the process through which Congress reviews and updates the current laws governing these programs. Reauthorization occurs every five years. The Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry is responsible for drafting the Senate’s version of the bill while the Education and Workforce Committee is responsible for drafting the House’s version. Each bill must be passed by their respective legislative body in order to move forward. Once the bill is passed, a small group of legislators known as the Conference Committee merges both versions of the bill into one. The final version is brought before both the Senate and The House of Representatives. Once approved, the final bill is sent to the President for signature. If signed, the bill becomes a law and is implemented nationwide. If vetoed, the bill returns to Congress for either revision or override of the veto.

Why are the laws governing child nutrition programs reviewed?

Updating the laws provides an opportunity to improve and strengthen programs. This process allows for changes based on the most current nutrition research. When the laws were updated in 2010, the nutrition standards for school meals were aligned with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The Dietary Guidelines are updated every five years based on the most current research and provide recommendations for Americans on healthful eating. Implementing nutrition policy nationwide is challenging, and reauthorization provides the opportunity to assess implementation and revise policy as needed.     

When will the current laws be updated?

Congress was scheduled to reauthorize the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act in 2016. The Senate and House each proposed reauthorization bills in 2016, but neither of these became law. The current administration is busy working on health care and tax reform, and as a result, it is unlikely that reauthorization of child nutrition programs will occur soon. In the meantime, program will still operate under the current law, the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act.

Federal child nutrition programs provide millions of meals every year to children. It is important these laws are reviewed and updated to ensure policies align with the most current nutrition research and meet the needs of program operators. To have your voice heard in the process, contact your U.S. senators and congressional representatives.  


Abigail Galyon, Cornell University  

Amanda Mercer, Colorado Department of Education Office of School Nutrition 


Colorado Department of Education - Child Nutrition Reauthorization

FRAC Child Nutrition Reauthorization

The Path to a New Child Nutrition Act

Contact Federal Elected Officials

“A girl eating an apple on the Procuring Local Foods for Child Nutrition Programs poster” by U.S. Department of Agriculture is licensed under CC BY 2.0


Video: Scouting Vegetable Crops: An Introduction for Farmers

Tue, 06/13/2017 - 16:06

eOrganic author:

Carmen Blubaugh, Washington State University

This eOrganic video on scouting vegetable crops was created by members of a project of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (NIFA OREI) entitled Biodiversity and Natural Pest Suppression (BAN-PestS). 

Video Transcript Introduction

What was the last crop you lost to a pest? When did you realize you had a problem? Many times we don’t know there is a problem until we are up close and personal with a crop. All too often that is at harvest.

Scouting is the routine monitoring of pest pressure in a crop. A scouting routine can help you identify problems in your field before they get out of control. In this video we will scout for cabbage aphid in brassica crops in the Pacific Northwest. However, the scouting principles and tips can apply to any crop or region.

What is Scouting?

Scouting is a systematic way to assess the health of your crop and threat of pest outbreaks without examining every plant. Scouting relies on sampling a subset of the field to collect data you can use to make informed management decisions. Scouting can reduce your inputs and crop losses, saving you money.

There are various tools used in scouting. The tool you will use depends on the crop and pest. Many pests must be trapped to monitor while others, such as cabbage aphid, can be observed on the crop without trapping. In this video we focus on visual observation, but many of the principles of scouting we cover will apply regardless of the scouting tool used.

To begin a scouting routine, start by researching the pests you are likely to observe and the corresponding beneficial insects. This information will help you identify which scouting tools are appropriate and when to begin scouting. Numerous extension resources are available that describe the community of pests associated with a particular crop in your area.

Scouting 101: Before Entering the Field

When you arrive at the field, commit your attention to scouting. Focus is required to capture signs of pests. First, make observations about the entire field. Look for areas that appear stunted or have a color variation. Notice any unique geographic features, such as a depression. These areas may have higher pest pressure. You will want to visit these areas.

Select a path through the field that will allow you to collect a random yet representative sample. One method is to travel through the field in a "w" pattern, selecting plants to sample randomly along that path. Adjust your path through the field to ensure you visit areas you have identified to be at higher risk for pest infestations. Record your path through the field so that on your next visit you can scout a different route. Each scouting trip, you will select a different random sample. On each scouting trip you may want to visit areas you suspect to have growing pest populations in addition to your random sample.

In the Field

When you reach your first sample, assess the plant overall and then start looking at the individual leaves. Look at both young and old leaves, and don’t forget to search both sides of the leaf. You will want to remove a few leaves for closer observation. Now look at any buds, flowers, or fruit. Depending on the potential pest, you may even use your harvest knife to cut open the stalk or unearth the plant so you can see the roots.

Record your observations and a numeric assessment of the pest. For example, a numeric assessment of cabbage aphid pressure is the average number of aphids per leaf. Select three leaves from different parts of the plant and record the number of aphids and aphid predators per leaf. Repeat for ten plants.

You will follow the same procedure each time you scout, but vary your path through the field and which plants you sample. Standardizing your collection method is necessary to accurately track pest pressure over time.

Calculate the average number of aphids and predators per leaf. Reviewing these averages from visit to visit allows you to determine whether or not the pest pressure is increasing, or if beneficial insects are effectively managing the pest. This information will allow you to determine if and when you need to take action to control the pest, in other words, your action threshold.

Your action threshold is the point at which you’ll experience economic loss if control measures are not pursued. Your action threshold depends on the cost of controlling the pest, the effectiveness of your control measure, the value of your particular crop, and the potential for the pest to cause damage that will impact your ability to sell the crop. These factors vary for different crops. For instance, tolerance for aphids may be higher on kale than broccoli since aphids can get into broccoli heads where they are protected from insecticide applications.

Action thresholds also change over time, as markets fluctuate. Ask your local extension educator for help identifying a recently published action threshold for your region and crop. Keep in mind that action thresholds are usually calculated without considering biological control by beneficial insects, and you may want to adjust your action threshold if you observe high rates of natural pest suppression.

Developing your Scouting Routine

Farming is a demanding occupation. To make sure scouting gets done, it is best to make scouting a habit. Tip: For best results, scout twice a week. For instance, you could dedicate lunchtime Tuesday to scouting a few fields. Keeping a bucket of scouting tools easily accessible can help facilitate regular scouting. Must-have scouting tools include a pencil, paper, clipboard, tally counter, and camera.

Pest emergence and growth are each temperature-dependent, and vary with each crop. Check local extension resources to determine approximately when pests in your crop system emerge, and initiate your scouting routine accordingly.

Scouting is an important practice to do on your farm that will definitely pay off. Check out the Pacific Northwest Insect Management Handbook for up-to-date information on crop specific pests. There, you’ll find examples of action thresholds, local emergence times and other resources to help you prepare for and avoid pest outbreaks on your farm.

This is an eOrganic article and was reviewed for compliance with National Organic Program regulations by members of the eOrganic community. Always check with your organic certification agency before adopting new practices or using new materials. For more information, refer to eOrganic's articles on organic certification.

eOrganic 22209

Meat Processing Equipment

Mon, 06/12/2017 - 22:19

What's on this page?

The right equipment can make a world of difference in a small meat processing facility.  On this page we have videos of several processors sharing their favorite pieces of equipment and processor-to-processor advice about equipment.

What do other processors buy? Any suggestions on what to get? 

Equipment Videos Chill Cell

Mike Satzow of North Country Smokehouse shows us their Chill Cell which cooks product and then chills it in the same unit.

Video of Chill Cell


Handcrank "Z" Linker

Richard Huettman of Acre Station Meat Farm shows us their Handcrank Z Linker which automatically cuts individual sausage links. Read more about Acre Station here.

Video of Handcrank Z Linker


Dip Tank for Heat-Shrinkable Vacuum Bags

Richard Huettman of Acre Station Meat Farm shows us their packaging equipment.  Read more about Acre Station here.

Video of &quot;Pingpong&quot; Packaging Equipment


Digi-Auto Wrap

Jim Mays of Mays Meats shows us their Digi-Auto Wrap machine, which automatically wraps trays and applies labels.  This machine is great for small plants with a retail outlet.

Video of Digi-Auto Wrap   Brine Injector

Uli Bennewitz of Weeping Radish Brewery and Butcher Shop shows us his brine injector.  This piece of equipment is used to inject brine and spices into cooked and smoked products.

Video of Brine Injector


Vacuum Tumbler

Richard Huettman of Acre Station Meat Farm shows us their 500 lb. vacuum tumbler.  The tumbler speeds up the brining process from several days to several hours.  Read more about Acre Station here.

Video of Vacuum Tumbler


Ergonomic Carcass Cutting- aka "The Beast" 

This machine, called "The Beast," holds and rotates carcasses giving processors an ergonomic way to cut primals off the carcass. It also lets you bone out a carcass without splitting it. 


Video of Ergonomic Carcass Cutting


Processor-to-Processor Equipment Advice

Our listserv is a great resource for answering your equipment questions.  Below are a few equipment-related conversations from the listserv: 

Table of Contents


Water Activity Meter

Fat Analyzer

Sanitation Swabs

Rollstock Machines

POS System

Steam Boiler

Label Machines/ Inventory Management


Rail Height





Question: We use 2 Jarvis Wellsaw 404's, which are good, but they keep breaking their gear drives, very annoying.  Does anyone have suggestions for a good alternative?  The Jarvis 444's are the obvious choice, but they are expensive and over twice the weight.  We also have a few sawzalls, but the cutting is not as precise and they aren't made for wet environments, and short out with regularity.

Answer: I would suggest you call Don at Equipment Distributing of America (402-592-9360).  We have his equipment (EFA brand saws) and have used it hard for the last 5 years and it has held up well.  If you tell him what you are using the saws for he will get you set up with the right equipment.  A tool balancer is a good way to offset the weight of the heavier saws.  They will cost you more than a well saw but a cheap saw that does not work isn’t much help.



Question: We are doing some work on our retail establishment program and are wondering about firms that use water activity meters in-house.  Is anyone using one, what kind, and are they expensive to purchase or operate?  

Answer #1: Check out www.aqualab.com.  They are a leader in water activity measuring devices and provide lots of outreach to customers.  They are not cheap but I have only found one other company that offers a meter-- can't remember name right off hand.  I have been to some of Aqualab training it was very useful.

They have bench top meters and a portable handheld device too. 

Answer #2: Decagon Devices/Aqualab (same company) makes a portable one that costs $1500.00-$2,000.00, I think.  Get it. Anyone who manufactures a shelf stable meat product should have this as standard equipment because it is a very valuable instrument in the data it provides.  Average test time is about 5 minutes and it needs to be calibrated every day that it is used.  We use one all the time and have thought about upgrading but the portable model is reliable and easy to use anywhere in the plant.  In my opinion it is a very wise purchase/investment.



Question: Just wanting to check in with everyone about fat analyzers for ground beef. Who has experience with these for a smaller scale operation (a couple hundred lbs. of grind a day) and what brands do you prefer and why? Any specific models to stay away from or potential calibration issues? Below is a list of a few units I have researched a little, but feel free to offer up suggestions on these or any other units:

  • CEM ProFat Meat Analyzer
  • Univex FA-73 Fat Analyzer
  • DSC HFT 1000F

Answer #1: We use the Univex. We use it every week. Works fine for our needs. No major complaints. Simple operation and not overly expensive to purchase. Here's a post I did for our customers. Shows pics of the unit in action. http://johnscustommeats.blogspot.com/2012/01/fat-fun.html

Answer #2: We use the Univex.  Super easy and simple.  Well built and durable.

Answer #3:  I use the Univex FA-73. Sent it back to the company once for repair but no problems since. Very affordable and easy to work and read.

Answer #4: I hate to be the voice of dissent in this conversation but if accuracy is what you are looking for I would not recommend the Univex.

I did a fair amount of research on this a year ago and decided to go with the DSC instead.  It cost more but is more accurate in that it actually gives a digital read out of the fat content and is not subject to interpretation like the Univex.  I’ve used the Univex already and while it is durable it did not have the accuracy that we were looking for. 

The DSC is what we decided to go with and it works well but I’ll be honest that it bugs me that cooking a sample and measuring the grease run off is the popular way to measure fat content.

Plain and simple it is dumb, but until I find a biomedical expert to help me research my idea for a tester, we’ll have to settle for what we have.  I know that there are other options like Near Infrared technology but those options are expensive and appear to require a lot of calibration to remain accurate.

Answer #5: We use the Univex FA-73.  Works well for our needs.  We do 600 lbs. of ground a week.  No problems easy to use.

Answer #6: Accuracy point well taken, my biggest issue with these small samplers is just that  - small sample size, because:

  • If you only have a 1-2 ounce sample for 500+ lbs. of meat, how representative is that 1-2 oz.? It depends on how homogenous your grind is. So regular sampling is important throughout a run.
  • If you can only sample finished ground, and not trim, you’re already at your end product stage. It’s hard to add fat back in, and impossible to take it out (without grinding more).

After using a DSC HTF 2000 for a number of years, we found a used Anyl Ray fat sampler for a couple grand. It measures 13 lbs. of trim at a time, non-destructively. We grind 10,000 lbs. in a day, so this was a must for us.

Still, all this said, it is worth keeping things in perspective and not getting too over-the-top on accuracy, especially for very small plants: you can be 20% over on your fat, and be legally compliant with your label. So 90% lean/ 10% fat can really be up to 12% fat, and 85% lean/15% fat can really have up 18% fat, per 9 CFR 317.309(h)(5).  And you can be under on your fat as much as you want with no regulatory consequence.



Question: We are considering purchasing a quick swab test kit for spot checking tabletops, work surfaces, machines, etc. as part of our SSOP program.  Some read presence of glucose, others read presence of proteins.  I would love some feedback - Do you find these kits effective? Useful?  Is there one kit type/manufacturer/source that you would recommend?  We are flying blind here - would love some input, either positive or negative.

Answer: A lot of people use Charm swabs.  Easy to learn, easy to use. http://www.charm.com/en/products/atp-hygiene-swabs.html



Question: Any of you use a rollstock machine for small batches if you process for multiple farmers? Say you are making sausage for 5 farmers, ~100-200 lbs for each of them, and can run them through the rollstock one after another.

Another way to ask is what’s the minimum batch size for using rollstock, and can you easily segregate product from different farmers?

Everyone likes how rollstock packaging looks, but can a small plant really afford to have/use one?

Also, are there any decision trees or guides out there to help a processor choose the right packaging equipment for a given size/type of business?

Answer #1: Yes we use a rollstock for packaging small batches and multiple farmers.  The question of easy segregation is going to depend on the competency of the crew running it.

We use our rollstock every day and every product that we run on it would be considered a small batch.  The trick is good communication and some sort of break between batches.  We typically leave a whole advance cycle in between the different batches and the tags for each batch are passed down to the end and lined up as the product exits the machine.  The multiple options for regulating the machine speed also help to facilitate the smaller batches but for some products it also helps to stage it before it gets to the machine. 

I would suspect that most small processors that are running small batches aren’t going to have much in the way of real estate to put most Rollstock machines and the RA-200 from Rollstock, Inc (one of the smaller ones on the market) would be sufficient for the average processor’s needs.

Answer #2: There is no problem doing what you want to do with small batches, all you have to do is take a black marker and make a mark on the edge of last package and then start with the next order.  We have had a roll stock for a couple of years now and wouldn’t be without it. You won’t believe the time it saves. We don’t even start to package until we have 6-8 hogs cut because the machine is so fast. It does take some getting used to as you have to adjust your cutting a little and watch for sharp bones but you have to do that with vacuum pouches too.

Answer #3: With us it depends on the whole day production. If we only have 200 lbs. of bulk product (5-6 lbs.) we won't bother since on our machine being so large we would waste more film then what is required to the packaging. We do a fair amount of slicing bacon for farmers and we just leave a empty package to separate between each.

Answer #4: I liked the answers that have been posted so far, and found them helpful, as we ask ourselves this same question regularly.  The answers so far have looked at the question from an operational perspective.

The plant also needs to look at it from a financial perspective.  Here is a quick scenario:

Assume the dealer will finance the machine.  Say it cost $80,000, no money down, 4 year term, 5% interest then the monthly carry is $1,842.  Anyone can download a free amortization schedule and very easily play with this - change price, term, interest rate.  But the above is not far-fetched. (It does assume no money down, which may be unlikely!)

Your standard processing fee is what it is, and is unlikely to cover the additional carry.  But say you charge $.50/lb to process that sausage.  at 200 lbs/week/customer, with 5 customers doing it, that is 5 * 200 * $.5 = $500/week, or $2000 per month.  That is enough to pay the monthly carry for the machine.  However, some of those charges are needed to cover labor, spices, and rollstock plastic.  But you can do other things with the machine, such as pack a number of other cuts (Provided you have the necessary plates).  Is the extra speed and packaging quality worth the extra monthly costs?  Only if you have enough volume to support it.  The packaging quality will definitely attract customers to you, IF there is a robust packing economy in your area.  A big if in many parts of the country.

You need to run these scenarios before you pay.  Remember, the easiest person to lie to is yourself!


POS (Point of Sale) SYSTEM

Question: Hello, I'm looking for a PoS system for a retail meat market with a deli component. Anybody have ones they like or that I should avoid?

Answer #1: I've had a really bad experience with CounterPoint SQL  But I believe it is because of the support (or lack of) from the authorized agent.   So beware - it may be a great product but you have to buy it from a good source.

Answer #2: We just dropped a great deal of money on an all bells and whistles  Radiant system with CounterPoint SQL.  Have to be honest, at this stage - I am not sure it was worth it.  I think the way square are going (Starbucks just adopted them!!) and the apps you can get for modern tablets and phones... that is a very economical way of getting started. Despite our fancy computer, we all still navigate to paper records and orders and inventories - so, I'd suggest caution.

Answer #3: There is a company in Burnsville, MN called LPA Retail Systems check them out, I have not used it but know plants that do and like it.

Answer #4: The biggest key to a POS system is knowing what  you want from it and communicating that to the vendor. You need to be able to tell them what you want it to be able to do, but not in generalities. I have been using CounterPoint SQL for 5 or so years now. I used CounterPoint V7 before that. I will be the first to tell you it is not cheap, but what a good POS can do for  you is worth it. But as I said you must be able to communicate with the vendor your exact needs/desires and don't accept anything short of it. CounterPoint is my third POS system and I have had my trials with it also, but it has been the one that has served my needs the best.

There are many systems out there, but I had a difficult time finding one that would read & generate random weight barcodes. I have a fresh retail meat case so everything is random weight.

Another one to look at is Quickbooks PoS. If you don't have many items and do not need random weight barcodes this may be an option. I do know of another processor using Quickbooks PoS and they found a third party that was able to tweak it to read random weight barcodes.

Biggest thing is don't be in a hurry to buy the first thing that comes along. Do your homework and research on them, and especially the service end. That's where it gets VERY expensive is the support on the back end. Good luck!

Answer #5: Related to this question, NMPAN did do a webinar on "Orders and Inventory Management" a couple of years ago.

Three systems are discussed by users, one of which is at its core a PoS system.




Question: I'm thinking I'm going to need a steam boiler for the small slaughter / processing plant I'm building in west Texas. Does anyone have any wisdom or experience with these things that they would be willing to share? I would like to buy one unit that I can use for cleaning and steam injection into my smokers. Is that possible or even desirable? Can you inject the same steam that you use for cleaning into the smokers?

The plant will be approx. 5,000 sq.ft. with a remote inedible room and I plan to eventually have two single truck smokers. I don't have any idea what size unit I'll need.

Will it be practical to run a hose from the plant out to the inedible room… maybe 50 - 75 ft.?

Do you have to add chemicals to the water?

How much trouble are these things to operate and maintain?

Is it better to buy electric or gas?

Answer #1: We bought a small electric boiler to run our sausage peeler- it is a Reimers Electric Boiler. I looked long and hard to find this brand. It was the right price and works very well. 

There are some advantages to having a boiler for hot water and for your smokehouses but it is not needed. We have been running a 10,000 sq. foot plant that does about 175 head of beef/bison and makes about 15,000 lbs sausage a week and have never had a boiler.  Make sure you check your insurance and workers comp.- live steam can affect your ratings.

Answer #2: From the mechanical stand point you will need to know what your "load" is, i.e. how much steam you need for the task.

For the cleaning side you may want to start with a pressure washer that has a steam cleaner option. They typically use fuel oil in a reservoir that has a burner to make steam.  Stay portable so you can use it for multiple tasks.

Steam is "clean" just by its nature (too hot to grow anything), but the delivery system most likely will need to be stainless for food grade. The commercial kitchen manufacturers make steam generators or "boilers" that run kettles, boasters and the like. Hey, may be the avenue to start for your smokers! Gas is always cheaper to buy, maintain and operate than electric.

Answer #3: A good heating guy can size your unit.  Electric boilers are great for point of use but I'd do some energy calculations to determine what to put in for hot water. Steam production is going to end up being natural gas at today's prices except for point of use.  About $7 per million btus compared to $30 for electric. Propane was just as high a few months ago but is down closer to $14 per million now. Geothermal electric can be cheaper than gas long term in some situations.  especially in a non-demand situation.  We get 4.8 cents a kilowatt before demand charges on rural member co-op power.   Staying off the demand produces a million btus for about $4.  The downfall on geo's are the upper limit on temps are too low that you still have to finish with gas. 

Personally, I'd heat exchange potable water for smoke house steam just because I wouldn't want the water heating chemicals on my product.

Just a wild guess not knowing at all what you mean by "small" you'll want at least a 10-15 hp boiler.   And personally I'd consider the options carefully. Boilers give up 10-20% over the high efficiency gas hot water heaters. More when you count storage losses compared to a tankless or tankless hybrid like the Eternal.  

Answer #4: I installed a gas-fired smoker a few years back and learned a bit from it that may help you. It was an Alkar smoker which held 12 trucks if I remember correctly. It was purchased used and I moved it to another location and installed it.

The main heat source was natural gas and a separate steam system was used to control the humidity during the various stages of the smoke process. I used a small electric steam spa boiler for the steam side to add steam to the cabinet when the recipe called for it. I liked it because it had a small footprint (about the size of a sewing machine) and it only fired off when the smoker called for humidity. I wouldn't think you need a boiler at all for single truck smokers. I imagine there is more natural gas in west Texas than should be legal so I would use that or tie it into one of those wind turbines out behind the barn. :-) 

Bottom line in my opinion is I would contact a smoker manufacturer(s) and tell them what you want to do. I say Alkar only because that was what showed up on the lowboy. They were very helpful when I needed tech help, etc.  We had another new two truck unit made by an outfit in Oregon which was very nice but the name slips my mind right now, but Google is your friend.

Answer #5: We process roughly 20/40'ish beef (or equivalent) per week depending on time of year, not including wild game seasons, and run three smoke ovens nearly continuously. We use a tankless gas on demand water heater. I love it. I can set my desired temperature and carry on without a hitch.  Our gas bill runs under $900 per year.  After cleaning, I crank off the tank for sanitizing.  More than serves our needs.

Answer #6: We don't use steam in our smoke house.  We don't do ready to eat and even if we did I'm not sure we'd produce a product that required steam under appendix a.  We built our smoke house.  Old fashion poured masonry, insulated, and lined it with stainless steel.  We actually heat our smoke house with hickory logs. I don’t do humidity control.  I tied the combustion fans into the thermostat so it gravity drafts when the temp is ok and kicks the fire up when it's calling for heat. 

There was a time when you were required to have 180 degrees for slaughter.  I've not been in the industry long enough to ever see steam be required for cleaning.   I'm still convinced its better than all the chemical interventions because of the variables that must be adhered to with bleach, quat, etc.

I think the common cleaning now days is hot enough water to remove the fat and blood and then sanitizers.  That's what we do.



Question: Our local meat processor is able to place the name of the producer,  the cut name, weight, etc. on each label.  However, the processor says they have no method of reporting the total quantity of each type of cut from each steer so that the producer can have an accurate inventory of what a particular animal yielded.  When one of the producers called the label machine manufacturer, he was told there is no labeling machine in existence that can give a cumulative inventory of what it labeled. In other words, for a producer to determine the output of an animal, he/she must handle each package individually and manually create an inventory. It would seem there should be a more efficient, less "hands-on" way of doing this.  What do you think?

Answer:  You should do the following:

  1. Find out what type of label system or brand the company works with- i.e. Hobart, Case, Mettler Toledo, Berkel, etc.
  2. Find the model number of the scale and call the company the services the scale.   Try to get a hold of a service technician that works with your processor, as opposed to the sales dept.
  3. Get the owners manual.  Find  in the owners manual where it describes how to get the "run totals" for item numbers or PLU's for the cuts of meats you are interested in.  Scales are basically little computers.  Computers do what?  They collect information.
  4. Once you have confirmed that the scale is capable of creating this information, offer to pay the service technician to come in and train the processor on how to get the information.

For example, I work with Mettler Toledo Scales.   I started out with only the 8461 Deli Scale in my plant.  It is capable of providing the information you are seeking.  I now use an auto weigh label system, also by Mettler Toledo (the 8361/706 system).  This also provides the same information.  These are older systems.  Unless your processor is using scales from the 1970's or earlier they should be able to do this.  If not, you just might need to ask them to create a hand written report.  Offer them $0.05/lb. more to do it.  For a 700 lb. carcass that would be $35.00 dollars, which would help cover the processor's cost of creating the inventory by hand and ensure that the customer gets the information they want. 



Question: We are looking for a one-truck pass-through smoker.  We are looking at:

  • Enviro-Pak: CVU-650E
  • Friedrich: FMP1000E
  • Vortron: 3800-PG
  • MPBS Industries, FlavorCook Model STH-1000E

Which would you recommend?  Does anyone have experience with these brands and would recommend one over the other?  Any bad experiences?  Any sources for used pass-through smokers?

Answer #1: We just bought 3 two truck pass–through houses from Scott and are very happy with them.  I would look at Pro Smoker before I did a Vortron and would look at a pellet generator if you are planning on using natural wood smoke.  With the new Scott houses we went from a 4 hour smoke/cook cycle to a 1 ½ hour cycle and a much more consistent finished product.

Lad Rudik is the owner of Scott, and you can reach him at lad[at]scottpec.com.  Their web address is scottpec.com.  I didn’t do much research, I saw them at a trade show and started asking questions. One day, Lad called me and asked if he could stop by, as he would be in the area installing a smokehouse at a small plant in WI.  I told him I didn’t have any questions but would like to come with to the install to see how they set up the smokehouse and how smooth the install went. He checked with the plant owner and then invited me to watch the set-up.

It went so well I was sold. The Scott brand would be the next smokehouses we would own. Years ago, I started with a block gravity house. The first micro-processor house we had was a Smith, then an EnviroPak and then a Vortron.  I would not say any of them were bad, In fact I have two Vortron 1,000 lb. houses for sale.  For us it was the right decision, the speed and consistency of the Scott house is just what we needed.

Answer #2: Donovan Daws is also Scott dealer. 970-692-3905. 

Answer #3: I'd just like to add my 2 cents worth on the endorsement of Scott smokehouses.  We added a Scott 1,000 lb. single truck smokehouse to our operation about a year ago and are extremely happy with it.  The smoke production is fantastic.  It puts out product in much less time and produces a superior product.  We also run an Alkar 750.  The Alkar is a good smokehouse but it doesn't compare to the Scott.



Question: We are putting meat rails in our processing facility -- we do not do any slaughter. We receive 1/4 steer, 1/2 hog, and whole lamb & goats.  We have found USDA guidelines for slaughter facilities saying that the top of the rail must be 9' away from the highest point on the ground for headless hog.  This seems quite high for our cut & wrap facility.

Answer #1: You should keep the carcass at least 1 ft. from the floor.  So measure the carcass you are processing then determine what hook size you are going to use, do the math and you will know how high the top of rail will need to be. We do full sides of beef and our top of rail is 11 ft.  Here are two companies that design and make rail systems that can help you: Hantover and Bowlin Manufacturing.
Answer #2: In my plant inside the cooler the top of my rails are at 7.5 ft.  I wouldn't go any lower than that.  7.5 ft to 8 ft should work fine for what your doing.  It is exactly how I have carcasses hanging in my plant.  At 7.5 ft., bigger hogs or longer hogs become an issue with touching the ground.  Over 8 ft and generally nobody is going to be able to grab the hooks off the rail once you have broken down the carcass that your working on. 

Answer #3: 9 feet sounds right. Once you hang the hog from it's back legs and it spreads down it will be 7 feet plus.
Answer #4: I believe what you have read are what you stated..."guidelines". USDA won't tell you how it HAS to be, just as long as you can prevent contamination of the product. 

Answer #5: I wouldn't go under 9'. Just my advice. If you go lower and you end up with hogs with any size on them, you'll be creeping a little too close for comfort on the floor. Our rails are 11.5' but we hang full sides. I have a few hogs in here now that are easily pushing 6' long hanging and that doesn't include the roller or hook. I'd plan for worse case scenario. Measure rollers, hooks, gambrels, etc.. add to 12" safety zone from floor, factor in high end length of carcasses, and you'll have your needed height.



Question: What type of printing scale would work well for a custom, retail use?  What software is compatible with the whole system?

Answer #1: I've been researching this same issue. Found several software products that have lots of capabilities but are very pricey.  $20 to $30k.   Seems that if you are able and willing to do some of your own programming you can save considerable dollars.  But that takes time so we each have to make a business decision on how much value the software adds to the bottom line.  I think most printers can be customized for whatever labels you need. 

Answer #2: I attended a really good workshop at the 2013 New England Meat Conference where scales, inventory reports and invoicing were being discussed.   Several people seemed to be working on some solutions.   After the workshop I spoke with a really helpful processor who recommended the Torrey LSQ-40L scale for printing out labels that had the correct sized font for USDA recommendations.

In August, my backup scale for my poultry processing facility failed and I bought a Torrey LSQ-40L.  I really wish I could find the woman who recommended it so she could help me with it.   I have finally found the right labels, I think, but I have yet to be successful with printing them.   The next step is to tackle transferring the info on the scale into a database.   I think that will be a big learning curve and I think I even need to buy something that is an intermediate piece of technology between the scale and the computer.   I’m not sure.

Answer #3: I use Mettler Toledo scales in my plant.  They have a very reasonable price software program that you can pick up as well and can network all the scales to your desk for price changes, etc.  There are many great options out there.  If your on a budget like most of us this is great option.  I would describe the system as 80% of what I really would like to have at my plant.  It isn't perfect but it is well below the cost of many of the systems that are out there.  

Answer #4: We have Ishidas. They work much better than the CAS machines we had. Just like people have recommended to buy refrigeration through someone that will work with you, I'd recommend the same thing for a label machine. Those hours in the office on the network computer with the IT person trying to communicate with label machines to get labels printed so you can load a truck are very frustrating. And we process two shifts and ours always seemed to fail at a time the service tech wouldn't answer his phone. And remember, USDA takes labeling issues very serious. It's the largest reason for recalls. 

Answer #5: We use a CAS CL5000 and it comes with a pc based program “CLworks” to keep prices updated.  It provides barcoding for POS and I can keep multiple customer’s price lists stored in it.  We purchased it without the Ethernet option which I would rethink if I were to purchase again but the rs232 connection is sufficient for our needs.  Overall it is a reliable scale and the ability to connect with a computer makes a worthwhile investment.

I haven’t looked into printing inspection information on it since we only use it for weight and pricing purposes, the USDA required information is printed using Labelview software.  Labelview doesn’t have the capabilities to connect with a scale but I know that the upgraded version of the software “Codesoft” is able to do it and based on my knowledge of Labelview it is something we may look into down the road.

Editor's note: the mention of the Labelview software generated a side conversation on whether or not the program could connect with a scale...

Labelview Comment #1: LabelView does have ability to connect with a scale. I'm setting up a printing station right this very minute with LabelView. You have to use the COMwatch function to listen to the COM port for the RS232 output. This is from a scale indicator like the CAS x320 or the Doran 7000XL. The printing is then through LabelView to a separate printer, in my case a Zebra ZM400. This said, this is probably a more complicated and expensive solution than is needed for a small custom retail shop, as the original posting asked. But just wanted to respond to your post.

Labelview Comment #2: What version of Labelview are you running? We have Labelview12 and in conversations with tech support, they told me that it was not possible with v12. I am familiar with this process in Labelview8 and older as I had worked with the COMwatch function but I haven’t found that capability yet in v12.

Labelview Comment #3:  Yep, you are right, Mike.  LabelView 2012 is a bad deal. No COM watch… We have been using LabelView 8. And that works with the scales. I'm now trying to return LabelView 2012 and purchase a used copy of LabelView 8.

Labelview Comment #4: I wouldn't say that 2012 is a bad deal as it has revolutionized the way we print labels.  The fact that it doesn't work with comwatch isn't good but the overall abilities of the program is a far cry from v8.  There is still improvements that can be made as with any software but it works for us.

Answer #6: Can you describe the Labelview/COMwatch/ZebraZM400 system more?  Is it a computer with scale input and a zebra printer?

Answer #7:  Scale with indicator and RS232 output goes to computer, through Labelview, then goes to Zebra printer.

The computer is a regular PC running windows 7. All this is on 3-shelf square cart with Monitor, keyboard and mouse. Top shelf is cantilevered for easy access to the scale on the middle shelf.

Most of our label printing is done using VistaTrac with the same hardware set up. We just use Labelview for some special projects.

Answer #8: Has anyone used this software? http://www.aggsoft.com/asdl-log-scales-weight-excel.htm



Question: Anyone have a good recommendation for slicers? Something above a retail stacker slicer but below the high speed automation of a Weber type slicer.
We are looking into brands like Biro, Grote, and Treif and would appreciate any recommendations regarding what works and what doesn’t.
Answer #1: We too are looking for a bacon slicer beyond our current Berkel 180. So far we haven't had problems but I've heard parts are starting to become an issue for the Berkel 180's. Has anyone heard that?  I've heard the old Anco's will really crank out bacon.  I've also heard the Biro horizontal slicer (109) is not built as durable as the European models such as a Treif. 

Answer #2:  I have always been fascinated with all of the moving parts on the Berkel 180s and from that perspective it is an impressive machine, until you have to clean it.  Cleaning those buggers is no fun job and I usually ended up with scraped knuckles and it still wasn’t clean enough for Dad.

The Bizerba A400s are nice and while they are easier to clean/use, it is still basically the same design/concept as the 180.  At 30-55 strokes per minute, the A400 is great if you only have a few bacons to slice and all day to do it.  Due to our level of production, we need something a little bit faster but 1600 strokes per minute is over kill for our needs and the faster they go the bigger the footprint seems to be.  We have a Toby that we tried for awhile but it was just too big for the space it was assigned to and we decided to put it back in storage. The horizontal slicers like the Treif Puma, or Biro 109, are the right speed but they do not stack or shingle very well and getting the product feed grippers to securely hold the product is difficult.

It sounds like we cannot be pleased but there doesn’t seem to be a good middle of the road option for slicing with stacking/shingling.  There is either really slow or really fast/big. 

We’ve come across the Grote 613 multislicer and the Treif divider 400 but I can’t find anyone that uses or has used either and I was hoping to get some feedback before making an expensive purchase.  Both are vertical feed slicers and the concept makes sense but reviews to the positive or negative are non-existent so far.

Our service issues with Bizerba are that we are geographically close to their factory support and their techs push out the local service companies by not working with them and our only option is the high priced support that Bizerba provides.  The local techs are good and it isn’t an issue of competence but rather a big company with the ability to control and withhold tech support to the smaller/local service companies.  When our equipment breaks down I don’t have the money or patience to play games with big company politics.

Answer #3: I Have an Anco slicer can't say enough good about it. I've had it for about 4 years no problems so far. It does take up a lot of room. Easy clean up from the 180 we use to have. Very fast - about 15 sec on a slab bacon. 


Plant Design and Construction

Mon, 06/12/2017 - 22:12
                  What's on this page? 

Building a meat plant is no easy job.  Even commercial contractors may not be familiar with the ins and outs of building a food processing plant that needs to be constantly washed down, contains rooms held at -20˚F, and has 1,000+ lb. carcasses hanging from rails throughout the plant.  Much information concerning building meat plants is proprietary.  Here are the best resources we know about that are publicly available.

Remember: check with your food safety inspection agency and local building authorities before beginning any construction.

Q: Are there any plant designs I can see? How much does it cost to build a meat processing plant? 

A: The million dollar question!  What is costs to build a plant will vary greatly from place to place and plant to plant: a very general rule of thumb is about $300/sq ft.  Take a look at the feasibility studies below: there might be one for your region which will give you a more locally relevant number. 

Q: What about waste?  How will I deal with wastewater and solid waste? 

Q: I think I want to use a mobile slaughter unit: where can I find out more about MSUs?

Plant Design Guide

This guide from Iowa State University, Guide to Designing a Small Red Meat Plant with Two Sizes of Model Designs, will help you construct, expand, or upgrade a locker-type red meat plant. These plans can help you avoid some headaches, including deciding if you really need to expand. Sometimes you can ease bottlenecks by upgrading or moving equipment without adding more space, by changing how you schedule your processes, increasing batch size, or changing product flow. The designs in this guide are not intended to be directly built from but to get you started in the right direction.

Meat Processing Feasibility Studies

Different groups around the country have conducted feasibility studies to learn what kind of processing solution makes the most sense for their area and circumstances. Our summaries of selected studies tell you how the studies were done and what they learned. We give contact info for the authors and links to the full reports.

Meat Processing Equipment

In addition to the physical layout and design of the meat processing facility, you'll need to think about what kind of equipment is required for the processing services you plan on offering.  Check out our Equipment page for videos, advice and more.

Water Quantity and Quality for Meat Processing Facilities

If you're building a new plant or expanding an existing plant, you need to know how much water you'll use and how to manage the wastewater.

This downloadable pair of tables (pdf) offers water quantity data from seven real processors of varying sizes and species and water quality data from three of those.

  • Quantity data are in gallons per animal.
  • Quality data include BOD, TSS, EC, TDS, TN, TKN, Cl, and Coliforms.

Thanks to Kennedy/Jenks Consultants for sharing the data, some of which they got from the Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network  listserve

Wastewater Management for Small Meat Processors

One of the most daunting questions for any new meat processing facility is, “how will we deal with our wastewater?”  Depending on the requirements of your state, county, and/or local authorities, wastewater can be treated in various ways.  On this page, we explain the basic treatment options. 


Alternatives to Rendering: Butcher Waste Composting Date: December 1, 2009 Duration: 1 hour

Disposal of offal and butcher waste is often increasingly difficult and expensive, as renderers close down or raise prices. Composting this waste has been demonstrated as a viable, safe alternative. An expert in butcher waste composting explains how it's done, and a small meat processor in Oregon describes his composting operation, including regulations and permitting process.

For more on composting animal waste, check out "Composting Animal Mortalities" from the Cornell Waste Management Institute.  Click here to download the document. 

Mobile Slaughter Units

For more information on Mobile Slaughter Units (MSUs), check our our MSU page here.  This page includes information about MSU operations, financials, regulations and more.  We also have MSU Case Studies, links to companies that build MSUs, blueprints for building your own and NMPAN webinars on MSUs.  

Invasive and Pest Ant Conference

Mon, 06/12/2017 - 16:41
2018 Invasive and Pest Ant Conference (formerly the Annual Imported Fire Ant and other Invasive Ants Conference)

In 2018, the Annual Invasive and Pest Ant Conference will be held in conjunction with National Conference on Urban Entomology on 20-23 May in Cary, NC.


Past Meeting Information History

The first Annual Imported Fire Ant Conference was held in 1963.  Now known as the Invasive and Pest Ant Conference (IPAC), the conference is attended by researchers, teachers, extension agents and specialists, industry personnel, and regulatory personnel.  The conferences provide the opportunity to exchange of knowledge about invasive pest ants... >> Read more

2017 Meeting Program Proceedings

Proceedings have been issued annually since 1984. The link below contains copies of Proceedings from 1984 through 2015.

The citations from the Proceedings from 1984-2001 are provided in a bibliography developed under the direction of Dr. S. Bradleigh Vinson. An index to the numbered citations is also provided to allow users to search for papers on specific topics.

  1. Bibliography of Imported Fire Ant Conference Proceedings (1984-2001)
  2. Subject Area Index for Imported Fire Ant Conference Proceedings (1984-2001)
  • Program covers (through 2017)
  • T-shirts (through 2012)
  • Quilt (years 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013)

History of the Invasive and Pest Ant Conference

Mon, 06/12/2017 - 16:10

This conference is attended by researchers, teachers, extension agents and specialists, industry personnel, and regulatory personnel.  The purpose of the conference is to exchange information on the biology and management of imported fire ants, other invasive, and pest ant species.  The first Imported Fire Ant Conference was held in 1963 (Lofgren 1987).   Proceedings of the conference are available for most of the conferences held since 1984.  The conference venue traditionally rotated among states in the imported fire ant infested area.  In 2016 the Conference began to be held jointly in alternate years with the National Conference on Urban Entomology.  In May 2017 the name of the conference was changed to the Invasive and Pest Ant Conference.

Table 1.  Dates and Locations of the Invasive and Pest Ant (formerly the Imported Fire Ant) Conferences.






Gulfport, MS



Gulfport, MS



Starkville, MS



Biloxi, MS



Biloxi, MS



New Orleans, LA



Gainesville, FL



Gulfport, MS



Athens, GA



New Orleans, LA



Brownsville, TX



Gainesville, FL



Gulfport, MS



College Station, TX



Raleigh, NC



Baton Rouge, LA



Gainesville, FL



Biloxi, MS



Austin, TX



Starkville, MS


March 27-28

Gainesville, FL



Puerto Rico


April 3-4

Austin, TX


April 15-16

Baton Rouge, LA


May 4-5

Athens, GA


April 18-19

Biloxi, MS


April 2-3

College Station, TX


March 19-20

Atlanta, GA


April 20-24

San Juan, PR


June 15-18

Charleston, SC


May 9-11

Mobile, AL


May 2-4

San Antonio, TX


April 16-18

New Orleans, LA


April 14-16

Gainesville, FL


April 6-8

Hot Springs, AR


March 3-5

Charleston, SC


April 5-7

Chattanooga, TN


Feb. 28-March 2

San Antonio, TX


March 24-26

Athens, GA


March 30-April 1

Palm Springs, CA


March 21-23

Baton Rouge, LA


March 22-24

Gulfport, MS


March 28-30

Mobile, AL


April 23-25

Gainesville, FL


March 24-26

Charleston, SC


April 6-9

Oklahoma City, OK


April 19-22

Little Rock, AR


April 4-7

Galveston, TX


April 16-18

Nashville, TN


April 8-11

Virginia Beach, VA


May 5-8

Palm Springs, CA


April 6-8

New Orleans, LA


May 22-25

Albuquerque, NM (with NCUE)


May 16-18

Mobile, AL


May 20-23

Cary, NC (with NCUE)


References Cited:

Lofgren, C. S.  1987.  A quarter century of imported fire ant research meetings, pp. 1-6 in M. E. Mispagel (Ed.), Proceedings of the 1987 Annual Imported Fire Ant Conference, Baton Rouge, LA.

Spice it up! Putting Together a Low-Sodium Flavor Station in the School Cafeteria

Mon, 06/12/2017 - 13:49

This presentation is designed to provide attendees with practical, easy tips for putting together a low-sodium flavor station in the school cafeteria. Extension members, food service professionals, and other program leaders can play an important role in educating children about healthy low-sodium food choices by creating innovative flavor stations that feature fun and tasty low-sodium spiced foods. Join Shirley Vouris, RD, LDN, of the Chicago Partnership for Health Promotion to learn how to use behavioral economic strategies to promote lower sodium options in schools. Put your creativity glasses on and learn about adding a flavor station in the cafeteria that gives kids a choice to enhance the taste of their foods with less sodium.

Participants will learn: 

  • Why people crave salty foods
  • Where to find new and relevant info on ways to reduce sodium with minimal change to students' food experience or choices
  • How to identify  resources for starting a low-sodium promotion in your school

For more information to please contact: Shirley Vouris svouris@uic.edu 


PDF of Slides 

A bit of creativity can go a long way for making your own flavor station! There are also some companies that offer customizable stations for purchase such as  Flavor Stations products offered for purchase by The Kent Precision Food Group.



Northeast Ag Safety and Health Directory

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 19:35


State Website and Contact Information Program Areas Delaware   Ron Jester – ronjester@comcast.net     Maryland University of Maryland Extension – Farm Safety Christine Johnston – cjohnstn@umd.edu (410)758-0166 - Office   American Society of Safety Engineers – Food & Ag Branch Mike Wolf
  • Ag Emergencies/Rescue Training
  • General Farm Safety
  • National Safe Tractor & Machinery Operation Program*
Maine University of Maine – Farm Safety Richard Kersbergen Richard.kersbergen@maine.edu (207) 342-5971   Jason Lilley jason.lilley@maine.edu (207) 781-6099
  • National Safe Tractor & Machinery Operation Program*
  • On-farm Safety Services
  • Pesticide Safety
Massachusetts   New Jersey

Rutgers University

Ray Samulis - samulis@njaes.rutgers.edu


  • Pesticide safety
  • General Farm Hazards
New Hampshire University of New Hampshire George Hamilton – George.Hamilton@unh.edu (603) 641-6060
  Michal Lunak – Michal.Lunak@unh.edu (603) 787-6944 New York New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health   Karen Anderson - karen.anderson@bassett.org   Jim Carrabba –jim.carrabba@bassett.org (800) 343-7527   Anna Meyerhoff - anna.meyerhoff@bassett.org   John Vanderwerken - john.vanderwerken@bassett.org   Pennsylvania Penn State University Ag Safety and Health   Dennis Murphy – djm13@psu.edu (814) 865-7157 (Ag Safety Program Leader)  

Linda Fetzer – lmf8@psu.edu (814) 865-4582 (eXtension, WPS, AgrAbility and SAY Project)

Stephen Brown – shb5060@psu.edu (814) 865-7158 (ag rescue and demonstrations)   Peggy Newel – png1@psu.edu (814) 865-7685 (NSTMOP)   Doug Schaufler – dhs106@psu.edu (814) 865-4433 (biomass)   Jana Davidson Progressive Ag Foundation jdavidson@progressiveag.org (814) 768-7391 Vermont University of Vermont Extension George Cook –George.cook@uvm.edu (802) 888-4982 (Ext. 401)   Betty Getty bhgetty@gmail.com (518) 281-0146
  • Ag Emergencies/Rescue Training
  • AgrAbility
  • AgriSafe Ag Medicine Training
  • Farm Health & Safety Coalition
  • New & Beginning Farm Programs
  • National Safe Tractor & Machinery Operation Program*
  • On-farm Safety Services
  • ROPS Retrofit Program
  • Women in Ag Safety
  • Youth Farm Safety


Cayuga County Manure Digester Virtual Tour

Mon, 06/05/2017 - 19:52

Anaerobic digestion is a manure treatment system that produces biogas. There are many benefits of digestion such as reductions in: odor, pathogens, and greenhouse gases (climate change). Producing biogas from manure yields useful by-products.  The economics of digestion are dependent on state energy policies and co-digestion of off-farm wastes to generate revenue.

Cayuga County Regional Digester (New York)

This virtual tour highlights the Cayuga County Soil & Water Conservation District regional digester. This facility receives manure from multiple dairy farms. The regional digester model allows smaller farms (not large enough to build their own digester) or large farms unwilling to take on the complex management of a digester to participate.

For more information: Cornell case study (technical details) | NRCS Newsletter (construction photos and funding information)

  • Type of digester: Pressure differential (hydraulic mix)
  • Facility began operation: March, 2012
  • Feedstocks: dairy manure, food wastes, brown fat
How Does This Anaerobic Digester Work?

The hydraulic mix or pressure differential digester type is common in Europe, but is unique in the United States. The video below explains how the material moves through the digester.

Step By Step Through The Facility

Even though we refer to this facility as an "anaerobic digester" there are actually many pieces required to make this system work. The digester is one part. The presentation below works through the entire facility.


Virtual Tour Cayuga County Anaerobic Digester on Prezi

The digester tank (photo above: left) has a capacity of one million gallons. It is estimated that 40-43,000 gallons will be added to the digester per day when it reaches full production capacity. The trucks carrying raw (undigested) manure from the farms enter on the right side of the building (photo above:right) and the manure is pumped into a holding tank (not visible in photo) and mixed with food waste.

To see the captions in the slideshow, select "full screen" (lower right side of the slide) and then click on show info (upper right corner). You can also visit this photo set at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/manure/sets/72157629690139615/

In the News

This digester has been in the news as the price of power has dropped and the financial side of the operation less viable.

  • Digester is shut down to re-evaluate business plan (Jan. 2015) More...
  • California company to take over Cayuga digester (June, 2015) More...
Recommended Reading on Anaerobic Digestion Acknowledgements:

Author: Jill Heemstra, University of Nebraska Extension
Reviewers: Thomas Bass, Montana State University, David Schmidt, University of Minnesota and Liz Whitefield, Washington State University

A big thank you goes to the Cornell University dairy manure management team for organizing the 2012 "Got Manure?" conference that included a real life tour on which we were able to obtain the media for this virtual tour.

This virtual tour was created by the LPELC Beginning Farmer team through funding from the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development program under award #2009-49400-05871

Planning for Stewardship

Mon, 06/05/2017 - 16:23
Home | Trends | Manure ManagementNutrients | Water Quality | Clean Water Act | Stewardship (You are here)

Managing manure as a beneficial resource involves:

Building on the previous sections in this module, this section focuses on tools and resources for managing manure-related risks and highlights strategies for good stewardship. It highlights assessing risk, siting, planning for emergencies, getting along with neighbors, and keeping records.

“It’s all about sustainability. The more we know, the more we can plan, and the better job we can do. There’s always new information, new knowledge and new technology.”

Marie Audet, Blue Spruce Farm; U.S. Innovation Center for Dairy 2015 Sustainability Award Winner

Recommended Resources on Planning for Stewardship

This module focuses on water quality, but stewardship also includes attention to air quality, odor and nuisance concerns, and aesthetics (appearance).

Location! Location! Location!

Selecting an appropriate site for manure storage, feed storage, open lots, barns, stockpiles, and land application is a critical first step when looking at building new structures or expanding existing ones. Assessments of existing farm sites should identify risk areas to be avoided or where improvements are needed to protect water resources.

Below are potential pollution sources and some of the factors that should be considered when assessing the risks to environmentally sensitive features when siting and designing operations. These lists are not comprehensive but provide some common areas for consideration.

Potential Pollution Sources

  • Manure storage
  • Animal lots and barns
  • Feed storage
  • Dead animal burial, composting, or pickup site
  • Open lots or corrals
  • Land application
  • Field stockpiles of manure
  • Pesticide, chemical, fuel storage

Factors Influencing Pollution Potential

  • Distance
  • Soil type
  • Slope
  • Presence of tiles and other drains, pipes, ditches, culverts or other conveyances
  • Cross-connections in water supply and/or waste systems
  • Vegetative cover

Environmental Features of Special Concern

  • Wells and wellhead protection areas (groundwater)
  • Rivers, streams, ponds, lakes, wetlands and other water
  • Sinkholes, karst topography
  • Neighbors, public spaces
  • Threatened or endangered species or habitats

Assessing risk is a very site-specific exercise. In one situation, 100 feet between a potential pollutant and a stream may be perfectly acceptable, such as when the buffer has extensive vegetation and little slope. In other situations, even a 100-foot buffer might be inadequate, such as when the buffer is subject to channelized flow due to erosion. There are a variety of tools to help producers assess the risk of particular siting decisions, such as Farm*A*Syst. Figure 1 provides an example of the type of questions asked in such tools to guide producers the best siting choice.

Figure 1. Sample Farm*A*Syst style risk assessment worksheet. This one is from Utah State University extension.

Photo 1. (Above) An example of poor siting that was later corrected. The area roughly outlined in orange was originally an animal pen at this feedlot. The run-on of stormwater from the crop field was not diverted around the pen nor was the subsequent runoff from the pen contained. A combination of water quality concerns and poor cattle performance resulted in the farm owner evaluating different options. They chose to relocate the pen to the other side of the feedlot (not shown; right side of photo). The new pen has no run-on and the manure and runoff are completely contained.

In many cases, specific regulatory requirements prescribe how to assess and address site-specific risk. As a general rule, regulatory standards should be thought of as a starting point for good nutrient management while recognizing that site-specific conditions may require additional controls to adequately protect sensitive features.

Recommended Resources for Site Selection or Assessing Risks Related to Animal Feeding and Manure Management

Do a search for "Farm A Syst" + your state name to find worksheets created to assess water quality risks around farms utilizing state-specific recommendations and considerations. If you cannot locate Farm*A*Syst materials this way, contact your local or state extension service to find out if that or a similar resource exists in your state. These worksheets cover a broad range of topics, including animal lots and manure but also chemicals, fuel, septic systems and more.

Emergency Response Planning

Regular monitoring and timely maintenance of manure storage and handling equipment is one of the best ways to prevent accidental spills and releases. Most releases or discharges causing water quality problems are preventable with appropriate management. However, occasionally accidents or emergencies due to unforeseen conditions or events do occur. Having a plan for when things go wrong is essential. A crisis is no time to wonder who to call, look up phone numbers, or figure out the location of needed supplies. Planning for events like catastrophic animal mortalities, an unresponsive person in or around a manure pit, or a manure spill saves time, possibly lives, and can lessen the environmental impact.

Manure spills can occur around the farm site (collection or storage), during transport to fields for land application, or during land application. Emergency plans should consider what to do in each of these scenarios. 

An emergency response plan for a manure spill should include several steps:

  1. Stop the leak. Eliminate further spillage. Does everyone know how to shut off the pumps and close valves (or where these items are located)? Notify emergency responders as needed for human safety, traffic control, or other safety matters. Always prioritize matters of human safety first!
  2. Contain the spill. Do you have equipment to build a temporary earthen berm? If not, who does? Are hay bales, stakes, sheets of plastic and plywood or similar items readily available for blocking culverts, tile drains, or ditches?
  3. Assess the spill. How much spilled? How far did the spill flow or spread?
  4. Notify the appropriate agency. There is no national database on the number of manure spills that occur each year. Most spills are reported to state authorities.
  5. Clean up the spill. The equipment needed will depend on whether the spill is solid or liquid/slurry manure. Procedures will also vary depending on if or how much manure reached waterways.  See the "Responding to a Manure Spill" section below for case studies.
  6. Make repairs and restore the site. Fix any faulty equipment, hoses, valves, pumps, etc. Ensure roadways are clean, and spilled manure is either land applied appropriately or transferred to a different storage structure. Remove temporary berms and blockages. Reseed the site if necessary.
  7. Train employees and family. Practice the plan. The plan should be reviewed, updated as necessary, and everyone on the farm trained on an annual basis.
Responding To a Manure Spill: Case Studies, Templates and Other Resources

Always check with your state extension service to see if they have templates and resources for spill response and other emergency situations. Templates may be pre-populated with important phone numbers or requirements for notification, and some Extension systems even maintain a list of contractors to assist with cleanup.

The video below presents two case studies of excellent manure spill response efforts. It is excerpted from Kevin Erb's (University of Wisconsin) presentation in the webinar "Manure Spills and Emergency Planning". That link will also take you to videos and links for the steps for a spill response, solid manure considerations, and steps/technologies to prevent manure spills.

Photos 2-4 below include critiques of a manure spill response from 2005. These are intended as a learning exercise and should not discourage efforts to clean up manure spills. A less-than-perfect spill response is much better than no response at all. All three photos are courtesy of Kevin Erb, University of Wisconsin.

Photo 2. (Above) Using bales to stop future erosion from the site is a good temporary measure for low grade slopes and unchannelized flow. However, these bales should be staked into the ground to be effective. If sod is disturbed, the area should be reseeded and covered with straw or mulch to suppress weeds.

Photo 3. (Above) Spilled manure was removed from the ditch; however, sod was removed along with the manure. This increases the potential for erosion. It also removes the plants that could use the manure nutrients. The sod removal was done above buried utility lines. This is discouraged, and probably illegal in most locations.

Photo 4. (Above) The areas above and below the culvert were cleaned up post-spill. However, the culvert was not flushed out. Not only did this create a "stinky mess" but could potentially flow downslope with the next rain.

Record Keeping

One common problem encountered when a complaint is made about a farm or an emergency situation is examined, is missing or incomplete records. The most important thing to remember about records is "If you don't document it, you did not do it!" If there are no records of manure spreader calibration or manure nutrient analysis, the entire nutrient plan can be undermined. While a farmer knows to inspect and maintain equipment, he or she needs to be able to prove that inspection or maintenance in the event of a spill, an inspection or a complaint.

A common way to organize records is by how often they need to be accessed. Some records are permanent, such as farm maps and design schematics of the manure storage. These are not accessed every day and can be filed securely. Records that need to be filled out daily, such as rainfall records, should be in a handy location like a clipboard or a smartphone. One Nebraska farmer bought mailboxes and installed them in several locations where inspections and observations needed to be made often including the manure storage and weather station. Electronic technologies, apps, GPS, and computer software can be used and new features are being introduced regularly in public and privately-developed programs.

Records need to be backed up regularly and protected in case of situations like fire, flood, or electrical surges. Have a plan for backing up important records.

In the following video Christine Blanton with North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources discusses why records are important and how they can be useful in making management decisions. While the emphasis is on records for permitted operations, the information is relevant to all animal feeding operations.

Recommended Resources for Record Keeping

Do an Internet search for "animal feeding operation record keeping templates" + your state name to see if there are checklists and forms already developed for your area. These can always be modified.

Getting Along With Neighbors

"I provide a business card with my number to all of the neighbors and ask them to call me anytime with questions or concerns, allowing them to also give me advance notice if they have a get together or event that our crews should be aware of. I say to call anytime they have a question or concern. I stop by once per year, even to the neighbors who don't like me."

Wisconsin dairy farmer - on the topic of neighbor relations

Animal feeding operations can be the source of odors, flies, traffic and other nuisance issues for neighbors. Doing as much as possible to minimize nuisances, listen to neighbor concerns, and maintain positive relationships within the community is important not only for animal agriculture, but any business.

A very helpful exercise to define a farm's stewardship ethic, and be able to communicate it to those outside the farm, is to create an environmental policy statement (EPS). An EPS is a short paragraph that describes the farm and commits to stewardship, regulatory compliance and continual improvement. The policy statement can be used on a farm website, on brochures, posted on the office wall, and should be among the first things given to new employees. It provides a framework for talking about what is important to a farm when talking with neighbors and others in the community.

Recommended Resources on Neighbor Relations Review, Reassess, and Improve

One common characteristic shared by farms that plan for stewardship is a desire to continually improve upon current efforts. This mindset is very comparable to an environmental management system (EMS) process in which a plan is developed, implemented, monitored, and then reviewed for improvements. The new plan is implemented, and so on. Taking an honest look at mistakes and learning from them is part of continual improvement.

“We cannot stand idle. If we do, the industry will pass us by, and we’ll be out of business.  This philosophy of continuous improvement has led the family toward updates that contribute to the operation’s sustainability."

Lee Bateman of Bateman's Mosida Farms; Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy 2016 Sustainability Award Winner

Case Studies and Examples

See part three of this module for recommended resources on nutrient management.

Several national producer associations recognize outstanding members with environmental stewardship awards including the Pork Board, Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, U.S. Poultry & Egg, and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

<= Previous: Regulatory Requirements | Next: Return to the Home Page of the Module => Acknowledgements

These materials were developed by the Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Center (LPELC) with funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and with input from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Milk Producers Federation, National Pork Board, United Egg Producers, and U.S. Poultry and Egg Association.

For questions on these materials, contact Jill Heemstra, jheemstra@unl.edu. All images in this module, unless indicated otherwise, were provided by Jill.

Reviewers: Tetra Tech, Inc.; Joe Harrison, Washington State University; and Tom Hebert, Bayard Ridge Group

Water Quality Issues Associated with Manure

Mon, 06/05/2017 - 15:33
Home | Trends | Manure ManagementNutrients | Water Quality (You are here) | Clean Water Act | Stewardship

Many of the images and scenarios on this page may be permit violations or may contribute to exceedances of water quality standards; however, additional information beyond what is provided on this educational page is required to make determinations of that nature. The next topic in this module provides additional information on Clean Water Act requirements.

Challenges In Managing Manure Nutrients

Nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) are essential for plant growth. When nutrients are applied in excess of what crops need or when they are applied at a risky time, more nutrients can end up in water than might otherwise have been the case. This holds true regardless of the source of nutrients. This module focuses on manure and some of the challenges in managing manure nutrients.

Economics. Manure contains more than nutrients. Organic matter contributes to soil health and crop growth. Manure also contains water. "Dry" solid manure can be 20-40% water and manure pumped from a liquid or slurry storage is about 90% water. Nutrients in manure are less concentrated than in commercial fertilizers. Relatively speaking, that makes manure expensive to haul long distances. As animal agriculture sectors have consolidated, resulting in larger farms, more manure is produced in smaller areas. Because of the transport expense, manure tends to be applied close to where it is produced.

In areas with many livestock or poultry farms exporting manure, it can be challenging to find fields within a reasonable distance for application. Farmers are beginning to do more manure marketing and some are looking at technologies that can add value to manure. These can offset the costs of transporting manure or can transform manure nutrients into a form that is economical to transport. Related: USDA Economic Research Service "Effects of structural change: manure and excess nutrients" (dairy). The referenced chapter is part of a larger report.

Nitrogen:Phosphorus Ratio. Another important point regarding manure is that it contains more P than N relative to what crops need. If manure is applied at rates to meet the crop N needs, more P than the crop can use in a single year is applied. Over time, P in the soil can build up to levels that present a significant risk for transport to water. Managing this, at least in part, includes a process known as nutrient management planning.

Another way to manage this risk is through the use of the phosphorus index (P-index). The P-index is a risk assessment that factors in several inputs to determine if N-based rates of manure can be used or if application needs to be reduced to a P-based rate. In some cases, the index may show a high enough risk to discontinue P application (manure or otherwise) altogether. To learn more about the P-index, do an Internet search with your state name + phosphorus index. Recommended Resource: SERA-17 publications.(a multistate information exchange group focused on P.)

Variable Nutrient Content. Manure is not a standard product. It varies greatly among animal species and even within species due to varying farm management practices. The most accurate estimate of a farm's manure nutrient content comes from sampling and manure testing. Recommended Viewing: Iowa Learning Farms videos on liquid manure and solid manure sampling procedures.

Nitrogen Availability. Much of the nitrogen in manure is in organic form. This type of nitrogen is not plant-available (more below) and is slowly mineralized by soil microbes into plant-available forms over several years. The rate at which this mineralization happens is dependent on temperature, moisture, and soil microbial activity, all of which cannot be predicted exactly. Extensive research has led to state-specific recommendations for estimating the amount of nitrogen that will be available to plants each year from manure and other organic sources. Most state Extension services have publications available on this topic.

Recommended Reading: Nitrogen Management on U.S. Corn Acres 2001-10 (USDA Economic Research Service). See Table 3 "Share of treated corn acres that did not meet rate, timing, and method criteria by N source" for data illustrating the challenges of nutrient management and manure.

What Happens When Manure Nutrients Reach Surface Water?

Nutrients, including N and P, are necessary for plant and animal life in streams, lakes, and other surface water bodies; however, a large influx of N, P, or both moves the system out of balance. This enrichment is known as eutrophication.

Photo 1. (Above) Algae is beginning to grow in earnest as the water warms up in late spring.

Aquatic plants and algae grow rapidly under eutrophic conditions (Photo 1).  When the algae or plants die, the decomposition process depletes oxygen dissolved in the water,  a condition known as hypoxia. Without adequate oxygen, fish, shellfish, and other aquatic life die or move to non-hypoxic areas. Another concern is that certain types of algae release toxins that can be harmful to people, pets, or livestock. Excessive algae growth, toxic or not, is referred to as a harmful algal bloom.

Hypoxic zones are an environmental problem, as well as an economic one, as large areas may become unsuitable for commercial fishing, shrimping, and similar activities. The sources responsible for nutrient releases into water vary for each watershed, but usually include agriculture as well as municipal wastewater treatment, urban stormwater, residential areas, and others.

Manure Nutrients in Groundwater

Groundwater is the primary source of drinking water in many parts of the country. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set 10 parts per million (ppm) of nitrate (NO3-) as the maximum level considered safe for drinking water.

High nitrates occur in surface water as well as groundwater, but are most often discussed as a risk for groundwater because of the large number of private, rural groundwater wells used for drinking water. Municipalities that use surface or ground water for drinking are required to test for nitrates and take corrective action if levels are above allowable limits.

How Do Nutrients Reach Water?

Nutrients are mobile. They cycle and transform in the environment. Even perfectly managed manure handling systems cannot expect to contain 100% of the N and P. Losses can be held to acceptable levels through management and conservation practices. Nutrients from crop fields reach water sources in one of two ways, runoff or leaching. Nutrient runoff occurs when nutrients dissolve in water that flows over the soil surface or when water carries particles of soil containing nutrients to a stream, river, lake, ocean or other surface water. Nutrient leaching occurs when nutrients dissolve in water that is flowing downward through the soil profile.


Manure N is mostly in organic form with a lesser amount of inorganic ammonia. The amount of each varies greatly depending on the animal species and manure collection and storage practices. Once applied to a crop field, a complex network of chemical and biological processes, referred to as the nitrogen cycle, takes over. Organic N from sources like manure or crop residue is mineralized to ammonium (NH4+) and eventually nitrate (NO3-).

Organic N and NH4+ are more likely to be associated with soil particles or soil aggregates and may be carried with eroded soil in runoff to surface water bodies. High ammonia levels in surface water are detrimental to aquatic organisms.

Nitrate is soluble and can be carried with runoff or leach downward through the soil profile. When NO3- is carried down below the root zone, it can no longer be captured by plants and used for crop or grass growth. This puts groundwater resources at risk for contamination. Ammonium (NH4+) or organic N are not generally viewed as a risk for leaching.


Phosphorus also cycles through organic and inorganic forms and all, or nearly all, P applied through manure is considered available to plants. Unlike NO3-, P binds tightly to soil particles. Rain events capable of eroding soil particles are likely to carry P along with the runoff. To a much lesser extent, P can be soluble (dissolved in water) and carried in runoff, especially when soil P builds up to very high levels. Most P is carried to surface water bodies along with soil.

Phosphorus is not generally a significant leaching risk because of its tight bond to soil particles. There are a few situations, such as soils that are saturated with P or where subsurface (tile) drainage is used, where the risk of P leaching may be substantial.

Recommended Reading: Manure Chemistry: Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Organic Matter (U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service).

What Are the Risks Associated with Manure and Water Quality?

When it comes to manure nutrients and land application, proper management is critical.

Farm Site Risks

Around the farm site, manure collection and storage as well as uncontained runoff from open lots are the primary risk areas for manure releases or discharges to water (Photos 2 and 4, below).  Many states have rules that require minimum distances between manure storage structures and water, wells, sinkholes, or other environmentally sensitive areas. These distances are called setbacks. The closer that manure is stored near these features, the greater the risk of contamination.

Photo 2. (Above) Uncontrolled feedlot runoff is a risk to water quality. Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA NRCS). Containment systems like those shown in Photos 3 and 5 (below) should be used.

Photo 3. (Above) An example of an open lot feeding operation that not only contains runoff in sediment basins and holding ponds, but also installed a diversion to prevent clean water from entering the feedlot. Photo courtesy of USDA NRCS.

Photo 4. (Above) Water is draining uncontrolled from this lot into the adjacent natural drainage area. Runoff should be managed with appropriate best management practices such as clean water diversions, settling basins, or holding ponds like those shown in Photo 3 (above) or Photo 5 (below).

Photo 5. (Above) This open lot includes a settling basin (or sediment basin) in the foreground. The animal pens are behind the photographer. When solids have settled out, the liquid is allowed to flow through the pipe into the liquid manure storage in the background. The settling basin is designed for easy access for regular removal of the solids. This two-part system increases the storage life of the manure storage structure in the background by preventing a large portion of solids from entering the structure.

Manure storage structures require careful attention to engineering, construction, operation, and maintenance. If any of these aspects are deficient (Photo 6, below), the structure is at risk for failure. Most problems can be prevented by regular inspection and maintenance. Iowa State University analyzed 58 manure incidents in 2007 and "human error" was identified as the most common cause (13 incidents). They cited things like "leaving pumps unattended" and "failure to close valves" as the type of human errors that occur.

Photo 6. (Above) An overflowing manure storage. Photo courtesy of USDA NRCS. Regular inspections and timely removal of manure for land application could have prevented this situation. In some areas, covered manure storage structure structures are recommended to prevent rainfall and snowmelt from contacting the manure.

Photo 7. (Above) A poultry litter storage facility that is covered. The roof keeps the litter dry and helps prevent the problem seen in Photo 6. The structure is nearing full capacity and the photo was taken on the day it was emptied and the litter hauled to fields for land application.  Photo courtesy of Josh Payne, Oklahoma State University.

In addition to manure storage structure failures, manure discharges or spills can be caused by the failure of pumps, hoses or pipes, valves and other handling equipment. The area where manure is loaded into spreaders or tankers is a common area for spills to occur. These spills should be cleaned up quickly to avoid the potential for runoff and to keep the farm site neat.

Transportation Risks for Manure Spills

Moving manure from the farm to the field on public roadways includes the inherent risks that come with traffic. Collisions and overturned tankers or spreaders can result in manure being released onto roads and into ditches.

Photo 8. (Above) An overturned manure tanker on a public roadway. Photo courtesy Kevin Erb, University of Wisconsin.

Land Application Manure Loss Risks

During manure application, the risks for manure/nutrient losses include:

  • Overapplication
  • Not observing setbacks
  • Poor timing (weather)

Overapplication. Applying too much manure can be the result of incorrect calculations, incorrect settings on the application equipment, or improperly calibrated equipment. Equipment failures can also lead to too much manure being applied to a field or small area of a field. Overapplication also occurs when there is too little available land for the manure that must be applied.

Setbacks. Many states have setbacks that require minimum distances between land application and water, wells, sinkholes, or other environmentally sensitive areas. The closer that manure is applied near these features, the greater the risk of contamination. This is especially true in locations with karst topography. Sinkholes or fractured bedrock provide a direct path for manure to reach groundwater.

Timing. Weather is an especially important factor in application risk. Applying manure to saturated soils or when drainage tile is flowing increases the risk for both surface-applied and injected manure. Field operations under those conditions also leads to soil compaction which is bad for crop yields and can increase the future risk of runoff.

Frozen or snow covered soils prevent manure from contacting the soil or infiltrating into the soil and also limit or prevent incorporation which is necessary to help stabilize applied manure as part of the soil structure thereby reducing runoff potential. As plants are generally not growing in frozen or snow-covered soils, no agronomic uptake of manure nutrients is occurring either. Applying on frozen or snow covered ground is not advisable and, in many cases, not allowed according to state requirements. 

Manure application should be avoided if significant rain is predicted, especially for surface-applied manure that will not be incorporated, and should not begin until soil conditions are favorable.

Photo 9. (Above) Manure application immediately preceding a significant rain event is a high pollution risk and should be avoided. Spreading on this field occurred on the same day as a rainfall and manure was carried by runoff to the base of this field. This photo was taken after another rain event approximately two weeks later, showing more runoff with the potential to further carry manure and nutrients offsite. Making a high-risk application was the first mistake. The second mistake was in not cleaning up the solids as soon as field conditions allowed and re-spreading them when rainfall was not expected. 

Photo 10. (Above) This was taken the same day as Photo 9 on a field three miles away. The biggest difference is that the manure application (also solid beef feedlot manure) to this field occurred under dry conditions and the manure was lightly incorporated. In the photo, runoff from the rainfall that occurred two weeks after manure application does not appear to be carrying manure from the field; this shows how well the manure was integrated into the soil structure. The manure nutrient runoff risks from this field are much lower than the field in Photo 9.

Photo 11. (Above) Manure application to frozen or snow-covered soil should be avoided. Some states prohibit manure application during winter months. Managing manure storage levels so that adequate capacity is available to retain manure during extended periods of high-risk conditions (such as winter) is an important management practice.

Other Potential Water Quality Concerns

This page focuses on nutrients and water quality but there are additional manure-related topics of which you should be aware. The following sections very briefly introduce three of these: pathogens, pharmaceuticals, and organic matter.

Microbes and Pathogens

Microbes that are capable of causing diseases are called pathogens. While pathogens make up only a small portion of the microbial world, they get a lot of the attention. Some of the pathogens associated with animal manure include: Escherichia coli O157:H7, Campylobacter spp., Salmonella, and Listeria. The ways that manure pathogens reach water are largely the same as the way manure nutrients travel to water. Recommended: "Manure pathogens and microbial by-products" and "Best practices for pathogen control in manure management systems"

An example of a watershed impacted by waterborne pathogens, including those associated with manure, is Samish Bay in Washington. The presence of fecal coliforms at high levels in the bay have made the water unsuitable for shellfish production and recreation. Research is being done on the effects of manure treatment, especially composting and anaerobic digestion, on pathogens in manure. Recommended Viewing: Two webcast presentations "Pathogens 101" and "Microbes: From Farm to Public Risk".

Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD)

We previously discussed the ability of manure nutrients to stimulate plant growth in aquatic systems. Once the "bloom" is over and the plant material begins to decay, oxygen is rapidly removed from water and can lead to fish kills or can lead to long-term hypoxic zones. In addition to nutrients, the large amount of organic matter in manure also depletes water of dissolved oxygen if a significant amount of manure reaches the water body. Runoff from silage or feed piles on livestock farms is another waste stream that has a high BOD and should be contained or controlled just like runoff from manure storage or open lots. Recommended reading: Oklahoma State University developed a comprehensive explanation on organic matter in manure and other wastewater and how it interacts with the environment.

Recommended Resources

The video below was produced by the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association in cooperation with the Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Center and U.S. EPA. It covers several water quality topics as well as some air quality concerns. Even though the video references poultry production, it is applicable to other species.

Extension Publications U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Publications U.S. Geological Survey Publications

The video below was developed by the University of Wisconsin as part of a series of materials for ag educators related to manure nutrient management.

Acknowledgements <= Previous: Manure Nutrients and Land Application | Next: Regulatory Requirements =>

These materials were developed by the Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Center (LPELC) with funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and with input from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Milk Producers Federation, National Pork Board, United Egg Producers, and U.S. Poultry and Egg Association.

For questions on these materials, contact Jill Heemstra, jheemstra@unl.edu. All images in this module, unless indicated otherwise, were provided by Jill.

Reviewers: Tetra Tech, Inc.; Joe Harrison, Washington State University; Tom Hebert, Bayard Ridge Group; and Mark Risse, University of Georgia