Environmental Science Extension and Outreach

Environmental Science programs include the development of materials and training of agricultural and urban nutrient management planners, training related to waste by-product management, reduced tillage systems to conserve soil and sequester potentially water-impairing nutrients, restoration of disturbed lands, management of water resources influenced by land disturbance, and development of nutrient criteria for the Commonwealth of Virginia. We have three signature areas in Environmental Science.

Nutrient Management:  

Liquid manures, such as dairy manure, have traditionally been surface applied to no-till and forage systems. Although this is the most convenient method, surface application of manures leads to substantial losses of ammonia and increases the risk of nutrient losses in runoff. The loss of ammonia represents an economic loss of valuable nitrogen for farmers, while the increased losses of nutrients can damage water quality and the Chesapeake Bay. However, new technologies have recently come on the market that allow direct injection of liquid manures below the soil surface in no-till and forage systems. To encourage utilization of this new technology, we established several field sites to evaluate the effectiveness of manure injection on yields and nutrient losses in runoff.

All large animal feeding operations in Virginia, biosolids applicators, and many farms that receive cost-share funds, are required to have nutrient management plans. Nutrient management plans are designed to assist landowners and operators in the management of land application of fertilizers, biosolids, animal manures, and other nutrient sources for agronomic benefits, and for the protection of the Commonwealth’s ground and surface waters.  Twice a year we conduct a two day science-based training on soils and crop production that certified nutrient management planners undergo before taking the nutrient management exam. This year we trained a total of 41 new nutrient management planners. These planners and those certified in previous years wrote over 200,000 acres of nutrient management plans for permitted farms this year.

Virginia Cooperative Extension personnel have served in advisory capacities on numerous local, state and regional Chesapeake Bay Watershed committees in the development of new strategies in turfgrass nutrition designed to protect water quality. Significant changes to date that have been (or will be) implemented include the removal of phosphorus from lawn maintenance fertilizers for sale, the removal of all nitrogen and phosphorus sources for ice melt products, the promotion of slowly-available N sources for turfgrass fertilization, a certification program for commercial fertilizer applicators, and lower recommended levels of soluble N sources for turf maintenance applications. Another area driven by the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative is the collaborative efforts of the CSES Extension Team, colleagues from other CALS departments, and the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation towards turf and landscape nutrient management training, certification, and the expansion of turf and landscape acreage under nutrient management plans. A Turf and Landscape Nutrient Management training and certification program was created in 2009. Since 2009, 102 individuals have become certified in Turf and Landscape Nutrient Management plan writing and through their activities 39,400 acres of turf and landscape systems are under nutrient management plans.

Waste by-product management:   This program has enabled scores of composters to prepare for and pass compost operators certification examinations and has greatly increased the amounts of organic waste by-products composted rather than landfilled or incinerated. Such changes in waste handling has reduced greenhouse gas generation by eliminating materials from landfills and substituting compost for energy intensive synthetic fertilizers, reduced air pollution, and improved soil and water quality. Due to our work there has been an increased amount of waste composted and finished product being used to amend soils in the mid-Atlantic region. The waste by-product management and utilization program has developed recommendations for recycling biosolids onto land to substitute essential plant nutrients for intensive industrial-generated synthetic fertilizers that contribute to energy consumption, and air and water impairment. State and federal agencies are using the results of our research demonstrated via workshops and field days to tailor regulations to permit biosolids to be used in their most beneficial manner.

Land Reclamation:   Soils disturbed by construction and mining exist in rural and urban locales. Such soils are readily subject to sediment and nutrient loss that reduces soil health and can impair surface water quality. The land reclamation group has developed and implemented urban nutrient planning certification training, demonstrated the value of organic amendments and soil improvement practices for restoring the quality of such soils, and promoted appropriate re-vegetation practices to ensure that disturbed landscapes would return to provide their nearly former ecosystem services. The Powell River Project (PRP) Research and Education Center is an 1100 acre facility owned by Penn Virginia Resource Partners and managed by Virginia Tech since 1980 for research and education activities involving coal mined land reclamation and environmental protection. The PRP land reclamation program, led from CSES since 1997, has promoted implementation of mined land reforestation technologies via field tours, outreach and research publications, and personal contacts. This has resulted in ~1900 acres of mined land reclaimed to forest in 2010.

Faculty contributing to Environmental Science extension and outreachAbaye, Daniels, Evanylo, Goatley, Maguire, Reiter, Thomason, Zipper