Water quality, nitrogen use efficiency, and soil health: The shovel-ready projects of the UW-Discovery Farms

PI: Matt Ruark


Ruark is an associate professor of soil science and extension specialist at UW–Madison. He has program affiliations with UW Discovery Farms, the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, USDA Sustainable Dairy Project, Wisconsin-Agribusiness Association and the Wisconsin Crop Management Conference.

The UW–Discovery Farms program was established in 2001 to conduct edge-of-field water quality monitoring on farms in Wisconsin. Since then, it has expanded into on-farm assessment of nitrogen use efficiency and soil health. However, data has been collected at a pace that far exceeds the ability to analyze it. The datasets built through Discovery Farm’s activities are unique in terms of quantity and quality. This research will fund a postdoctoral researcher to aid in analysis of datasets, with the goal of developing best management practices for reducing impacts on water quality, increasing efficient Nitrogen use, and improving soil health on dairy farms. There are three objectives of this project: First, use data sets to determine effects of manure management, soil management, weather and soil conditions on phosphorus runoff; Second, benchmark nitrogen use efficiency on a regional basis for corn grain and corn silage production in Wisconsin; and finally, identify which biological indicators of soil health should be promoted in Wisconsin. The goal of this research is scientific-based recommendations for manure, fertilizer and soil management on dairy farms. This research connects to Wisconsin Dairy Task Force 2.0 recommendation #47: “Need for regulatory certainty and consistency” and will be conducted with collaboration with Anita Thompson from the Department of Biological Systems Engineering.

Publication in Agricultural & Environmental Letters – November 2022

Anita Thompson