Friday, January 16, 2009

Manure Info, Anyone?

Animal Manure Management Finds Internet Home

The University of Georgia and its partner universities and organizations are using new media to help get the word out about solutions to a long-time issue – animal manure. They’ve combined resources and given animal manure management a home on the Internet.

The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that, nationwide, 257,000 livestock and poultry operations on 15 million acres of cropland need plans to manage their 780 million tons of animal manure.

To help deal with the manure challenge, UGA professor Mark Risse and his colleagues from universities in Washington and Nebraska created the online Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Center, now housed on eXtension’s Web site (www.extension.org).

eXtension is a nationwide clearinghouse of research-based information on topics ranging from animal manure to financial crisis to science, engineering and technology for youth. Land-grant universities across the nation, including UGA, contribute scientific information to the site.

“As we get fewer and fewer resources, we’ve got to be able to work together like this,” said Mark Risse, a UGA Cooperative Extension engineer and animal waste specialist.

The Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Center is designed for one-stop shopping on issues surrounding animal manure. Risse’s goal is to help people indirectly involved in animal manure, whether they deal with policy issues, help animal producers or deliver technical services – and whether they live in Alaska or Florida.

Currently, the site averages 10,000 to 20,000 hits a month, and 2,000 people subscribe to the monthly newsletter.

Of the 200 to 400 people who listen to their monthly webcasts, each in turn helps about 200 producers each year. That brings the Web site’s impact, through those listeners, to between 40,000 and 80,000 people annually.

The number of hits the site gets doesn’t equal success for Risse.

“I’m less concerned with numbers,” he said. “Success is that people are finding what they want on our site.”

So far, people are finding what they need, and they’re asking for more.

The Web site’s reach stretches internationally, too. That was something Risse hadn’t considered, but it isn’t what amazes him most.

“Our biggest surprise is the Environmental Protection Agency and policymakers make up 25 percent to 30 percent of the audience for our webcasts,” Risse said. “Our stakeholders find that very good, because they know and trust the information on our site.”

The EPA and others aren’t just listening in. They’re using the center to distribute information. The EPA approached the center about doing a webcast in December. That session had their “highest attendance ever,” Risse said. As the EPA discussed its new regulations for confined animal feeding options, 400 people listened.

Risse and his colleagues use both webcasts and research briefs to address issues and deliver answers to problems livestock producers may have. They pull from their own research or from expertise from the nation’s top animal specialists. They also have databases of “Frequently Asked Questions” and an “Ask the Expert” platform on the Web site.

The site prides itself on “connecting experts with those [who] need the information. Animal producers are getting information from the person in the country who knows the most about it,” Risse said.

For more information on the Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Center’s Web site, visit www.extension.org and click on the Livestock and Poultry Learning Center link.

By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia

Stephanie Schupska is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

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