Keeping fields green and lakes blue

Composting grant looks to identify new tools for managing manure

MADISON, Wis. — Clean Lakes Alliance has been awarded a $60,000 two-year grant from Fund for Lake Michigan to determine whether windrow manure composting could have water quality impacts in the Yahara River watershed and beyond, including potential reductions in phosphorus runoff.

“Our lakes face serious challenges from urbanization and intensification of agriculture,” said Elizabeth Katt-Reinders, Clean Lakes Alliance Deputy Director. “With its potential to manage manure, benefit soil health and protect our lakes, composting could be a big win-win.”

What is windrow manure composting?

Windrow manure composting is an innovative technique for turning dairy waste (i.e. cow manure) into valuable compost that can be used as a fertilizer and soil amendment. Direct benefits include the slow release of nutrients, reduced cost for fertilizers, 40-60% reduction in manure volume, reduced odor and the ability to be recycled as animal bedding.

“Compost promotes good soil health and helps absorb rain water. Applying manure-based compost to the farm fields could require less tillage, reduce erosion and ultimately mean less nutrients leaving the farm fields,” said Jeff Endres, Chair of farmer-led conservation group Yahara Pride Farms, also a project partner.

In 2015, three local farmers, including Endres, conducted a North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (NCR-SARE) Farmer Rancher Grant that demonstrated that windrow composting is a feasible and potentially economical manure management alternative.

How this helps our lakes

The Clean Lakes Alliance project, to be conducted in partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Soil Science and Yahara Pride Farms, will build on the previous work to determine whether windrow composting can result in quantifiable water quality improvements from the change in manure management. If successful, project findings could be applied throughout the watershed, across the state and beyond.

“As a partner in the Fund for Lake Michigan and our community’s local energy services provider, I’m pleased we’re able to contribute to this important work,” said Jeff Jaeckels, Director of Safety and Environmental Affairs at Madison Gas and Electric (MGE) and a Fund for Lake Michigan Board Member. “Keeping our lakes clean and healthy adds to the quality of life in the communities we serve. That’s important to our customers and to MGE.”

Project goals:

  • Examine nutrient management planning before and after implementation, the benefits to runoff reduction, and the integration of these results into existing models
  • Communicate benefits of manure composting and other manure-management strategies to farmers
  • If phosphorus reductions can be modeled, incorporate windrow composting into the suite of projects tracked through watershed adaptive management

At the end of this two-year project, Clean Lakes Alliance hopes to see a visible reduction of phosphorus entering our waterways in the pilot area, as well as improvements in soil health and a reduction in fertilizer application. If this pilot proves to be successful, information will be shared throughout the watershed and could be applied statewide.


About Clean Lakes Alliance

Clean Lakes Alliance is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the improvement and protection of the lakes, streams and wetlands in the Yahara watershed. Through community support, advocacy and education, we are working to restore and protect our lakes for future generations.

About the Fund for Lake Michigan

The Fund for Lake Michigan, a private foundation based in Milwaukee, was established in 2011 as part of an agreement between We Energies, Madison Gas and Electric, WPPI Energy, Clean Wisconsin and Sierra Club to safeguard the lake and improve water quality in the region.  The Fund has awarded more than $12 million over the past four years for projects ranging from the restoration of Cat Island in Green Bay to the revitalization of Simmons Beach in Kenosha.


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