Wisconsin Extension Part of Innovative Public-Private Partnership

There are many examples of public-private partnerships involving Extension. After all, Extension’s mission is to impact peoples’ lives positively, both in personal and professional contexts.

When you find an example where this partnership raises the bar for an emerging industry, it really makes a person take notice.

Such is the Professional Nutrient Applicators Association of Wisconsin or PNAAW, which was founded in 2001. PNAAW includes more than 50% of the custom manure applicators throughout the state of Wisconsin, a few from Iowa and Minnesota, and works closely on professional development with several UW-extension agents and conservation agencies, including the Department of Agriculture, Department of Natural Resources, Conservation Districts, and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Why go to all this trouble for a job as simple as spreading manure?

Because it is not so simple.

solid manure being spread on a demonstration site at the Manure Expo - a project started by the Wisconsin extension and commerical applicatorsApplying manure is a demanding profession. Some of the issues for custom applicators are the need for expensive and specialized equipment as well as the ability to  interpret complex nutrient management plans. Applicators need to be familiar with biosecurity protocols, setbacks, and other requirements that vary county by county and even from one farm to the next. Add in the fact that the general public sometimes sees manure as a nasty waste instead of a valuable fertilizer, and you quickly recognize the high degree of professionalism and precision required.

“The new ideas that came from this industry in the last fifteen years are incredible” notes University of Wisconsin Extension Specialist Kevin Erb. “Innovations such as manure agitation boats, automatic shutdowns when a leak occurs, and remote monitoring of application by drone or smartphone app have greatly decreased spills and increased efficiency—and they’ve all started at the farm level.”

To further elaborate on impacts of this partnership, Extension develops and delivers basic and advanced training to the applicators and their employees. This has resulted in an expectation by farmers that their nutrient management plans will be followed, and that the risk of a problem is much less if they hire a trained applicator. That risk reduction is recognized by the insurance industry, whose underwriters routinely approve 10%-38% discounts in liability and pollution risk insurance for trained and certified applicators; a savings of hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Similar organizations have or are developing in several states, including Ohio, Iowa, North Dakota, and others. To learn more about this project, visit the PNAAW website.