Equine Environmental Impact Study to Include UK Faculty Member

Jill Stowe, PhD, assistant director in the University of Kentucky Department of Agricultural Economics, will participate in a USDA education project, along with Cooperative Extension agents and university faculty across the region.

The five-year project, titled "Environmental Impacts of Equine Operations," will focus on three areas: horse and pasture interaction; nutrient management and manure management; and water, soil, and air quality in horse operations.

The regional project was proposed by Michael Westendorf, PhD, associate extension specialist for the Department of Animal Sciences, at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Westendorf proposed the project to the USDA after noticing the knowledge gaps in those areas. Little is known about the environmental impact of equine operations, so project participants will conduct research to fill in some of those gaps. Using extension and research channels, extension agents will then disseminate findings.

According to Stowe, information will be distributed through short courses, fact sheets, or online seminars toward the end of the five-year project. Research is still in the planning stages, but it will begin soon.

The effects of manure and fertilizer runoff on soil and groundwater seem like obvious choices to study, Stowe said, but even nutrition (horse's diets) and medications can impact the environment in a large-scale farm or sporting event area. Previous research suggests the excess nitrogen and phosphorus in feed, which pass through horse manure and urine, can affect marine life in both freshwater and saltwater environments; moreover, antibiotics and other medications given to horses might also cause problems for life in the soil and water.

Extension agents involved in the project will represent Connecticut, Louisiana, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Vermont Cooperative Extension. Aside from Stowe and Westendorf, other university faculty members involved are from Rutgers, South Dakota State University, the University of Minnesota, North Carolina State University, Michigan State University, and Auburn University.

Stowe became interested in the project because of her interest in the economic implications of altering an equine operation to become more environmentally friendly. Having an agricultural economist on board was not originally part of the plan, Stowe said, but she believes it is important to making the project a success.

"Many of the best management practices prescribed by university experts have implications both for the safety of the horse and for the well-being of the environment," Stowe said. "An economist can evaluate these benefits in human welfare terms, and also look at different policies and policy implications in terms of regulations or incentives or benefits transfers, and what affect those have on farm profits and efficiency."

It is anticipated that the environmental impact of equine operations is rather small relative to other livestock production operations, but still, Stowe believes, it is important for the industry to know how management practices affect the environment, in addition to understanding the benefits of improving those practices.

"It never hurts to be proactive," she said.

Natalie Voss is a UK equine communications intern and undergraduate student in equine science.

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