Last Revised 7/02/01

Agricultural Practices (A) Development (D) On-site Wastewater Systems (O) Stormwater Runoff  (SR) Wastewater   Treatment (WW)
Drinking Water (DW) Tourism and Other Economic Development (T) Water Quality Standards (WQS)
Water Quality (WQ) Exotic species (ES) Fertilizers and Pesticides (F) Heavy metals (H) Phosphorus and Nutrient Loading (N) Organic compounds (OC) Pathogens (P) Sediment (S)
Comprehensive Planning (C) Education (E) Economic Revitalization & Sustainability (ER) Infrastructure (I)

Agricultural Practices


Agriculture is a dominant land use in the Cayuga Lake watershed. As reported in the Preliminary Watershed Characterization Report, approximately one-third of the direct drainage is in active agricultural production. Dairy farming is a major industry; about 57% of the agricultural lands in the watershed are dedicated to livestock and products, and 42% are in field crop production. The largest dairy farms are located in Cayuga County. As measured in sales, field crop production is concentrated in Seneca and Cayuga Counties.

Agriculture is an important economic and land use partner in the watershed. The highly valued open space and beautiful vistas in the watershed are a direct result of agriculture shaping the landscape. However, county census data reveal that a diminishing percentage of the work force is directly involved in agricultural production. This decrease reflects the dramatic trend away from the small farm and towards increased size and mechanization of farming operations. At the same time, increasing numbers of watershed residents are choosing to live outside of the more densely populated areas, resulting in rural residents who are unfamiliar with the realities of farming operations and less tolerant of inevitable odors or inconvenience.

The economic and technological trends promoting larger farming operations can increase the challenges associated with careful management of soil and water resources. Even the most environmentally conscious producers are faced with handling an excess of nitrogen and phosphorus; that is, more nutrients enter from feed, fertilizers and (for nitrogen) legume fixation than leave via milk, meat, or crops. The excess increases with the number of cows per acre.

The primary pollutants of concern in the Watershed are nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen), sediment, pathogens, organic material, and pesticides. As discussed in the Preliminary Watershed Characterization, and the Chapter II, these substances may originate from many sources including residential lands and urban stormwater. Nutrients, sediment, pathogens, organic material, and pesticides can migrate from agricultural lands to surface and ground water through processes including surface runoff, erosion, infiltration, and aerial drift.

Monitoring data confirm that agricultural pollutants reach the surface waters (both the tributary streams and the lake) and groundwater of the Watershed. Phosphorus and sediment can degrade the quality of surface water resources. Nitrate-nitrogen, due to its high solubility, is a contaminant of special concern in groundwater. Monitoring data confirm the loss of pesticides to streams and their presence in lake waters. Left unchecked, migration of nutrients, sediment, pathogens, organic material, and pesticides threatens the long-term health of the lake and watershed.


Existing Measures

Soil conservation and land stewardship are important values of the watershed’s agricultural community. A network of technical assistance and financial support for agriculture has been in place for decades. Agencies including County Soil and Water Conservation Districts, the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Farm Services Agency, Cornell Cooperative Extension, and others actively promote measures to reduce the potential adverse impacts of agriculture on the environment. For the most part, producers have adopted measures that are protective of Cayuga Lake and the watershed. Many of these measures are voluntary, although state and federal regulation of farming practices has increased in recent years. Some important programs are listed below, with examples of how they are implemented in the watershed.


Number 4 Recommendations Related Issue(s) Potential Responsible Organization(s) Measure/ Target Approximate Cost
A Through the framework of the Agricultural Environmental Management (AEM)   program, implement whole farm planning (the focus is on individual producers). Critical issues such as water quality and habitat protection within the farm’s watershed are central considerations in identifying pollutants and protective measures. Practices are selected based on site-specific conditions of soil type, topography, drainage, cropping practices, and livestock density.
The four most critical issues in this watershed in need of Best Management Practices (BMP) are: nutrient management, erosion control, manure management, and herbicide application.
A1 All farms in the Cayuga Lake watershed should develop a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan (CNMP) (exit this site) that meets the provisions of NRCS/New York State Standard 312 (see NYS Standard 312 in Adobe Acrobat format). The Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan should include specific recommendations tailored to individual producers and the conditions of soil type, drainage, cropping practices, and livestock density. (See also: Conservation Practice Standard Waste Management System, NRCS, in Adobe Acrobat format) A, SR, DW, WQ, N, P SWCD, NRCS, LO, CCE 100% of livestock operations by 2008 based on federal regulation $15/acre without soil testing
The overall objective of the CNMP is to balance the nutrients entering and leaving the farm. In order to reduce phosphorus losses from agriculture, off-farm inputs of phosphorus in feed and fertilizer should be balanced with outputs in products such as milk, meat, and crops. Soils should be managed to retain nutrient resources for crops.  Specific elements of the NMP may include the following (NYS Standard 590):
  • Promote nutritional management as a tool to optimize feed efficiency and ultimately reduce nutrient content of animal waste. Nutrient management (590) cost sharing may be available through EQIP or Ag Nonpoint Source programs
A, SR, DW, WQ, N, P SWCD, NRCS, LO, CCE 100% of livestock operations by 2008 based on federal regulation $25,000
  • Test soils and crops to define fertilization rate and timing
A, SR, DW, WQ, F, N, P SWCD, NRCS, LO, CCE $10/field/sample


  • Use the phosphorus (available phosphorus) index (currently in final approval stages for application to New York State watersheds) to determine the rate of manure application to specific fields.
  • Plant small grain cover crops in regions with high leaching potential where nutrients need to be controlled.
A, SR, DW, WQ, F, N, P, S SWCD, NRCS, LO $30 to $50/acre
Many of the larger dairy farms in the Cayuga Watershed have begun to develop CNMP that meet the NRCS/New York State Standard 312 (in Adobe Acobat format) as part of the permit requirements for the CAFO program. The CAFO regulations, which currently apply to larger livestock operations, provide a framework for developing and implementing parcel-specific recommendations for cultivation, cropping, and manure spreading practices designed to minimize environmental impact. Under the current implementation timetable, farms with animal herds of all sizes will be subject to the CAFO regulations by 2008.
The recommendation to develop Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans extends to crop farms as well.
A2 Erosion control
A2a A, SR, DW, WQ, S USDA, NRCS, SWCD, CCE, LO 25% of critical areas within 10 years as defined in AoC section of Chapter II and NRCS $250,000 (landowner contributes 25% of total project)
A2b A, SR, DW, WQ, S SWCD, CCE, LO 3 miles/year for 10 years $30/foot
  • Implement contour strip cropping, conservation tillage, terracing, and/or critical area planting (on-field solutions) where appropriate.
A, SR, DW, WQ, S USDA, NRCS, SWCD, CCE, LO 25% of critical areas within 10 years as defined in AoC section of Chapter II and NRCS Varies with slope, farm, and possible cost sharing
  • Implement vegetated filter strips (edge of field solutions) where appropriate.
  • Install fences to keep livestock from critical areas
A, SR, DW, WQ, S NRCS, SWCD, LO $1/running foot minimum - 2 strand tensil installed
A3 Agricultural Waste Management (including manure, barnyard runoff, silage leachate, and milkhouse waste)
A3a A, SR, DW, T, WQ, N, P NRCS, SWCD, LO, CCE, AI 100% of CAFO operations by 2004 or operations with NOI (with the exception of A3b).  A3b - 6 projects within 5 years. $25/acre
  • Consider the feasibility of technologies that reduce the mass of animal waste material to be handled.
A, SR, DW, T, WQ, N, P NRCS, SWCD, LO, CCE, AI $300,000
  • Implement BMPs for the following: silage leachate, barnyards, and milkhouse waste where appropriate; separate clean water from wastewater and  protect areas from surface runoff; and channel leachate and milkhouse waste through vegetated filter strips to reduce nutrient and organic levels.
A, SR, DW, T, WQ, N, P NRCS, SWCD, LO, CCE $50,000/farm (some are done)
A4 Pesticide management (in the Cayuga watershed, herbicides are the type of pesticides of greatest concern) includes enforcing regulatory controls on pesticide application - (exit this site) and the use of residential and commercial sources of pesticides.
  • Implement appropriate Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques (implementation of practices and reduction).
A, SR, DW, WQ, F, OC NYSDEC, SWCD, LO, CCE, AI, PC Already have 100% in some form of IPM.  5 years to develop database and use as baseline data $10/acre (varies with size of field)
  • Implement watershed-wide pickup of hazardous wastes and obsolete/canceled use pesticides using the "Agricultural Clean Sweep" model. (see also Hazardous Waste Management section)
A, SR, DW, WQ, F, OC NYSDEC, SWCD, LO, CCE 3-4 year cycle based on use $100,000
B In addition to the focus on individual producers through the AEM and CAFO programs, develop cooperative and/or regional strategies to address problems faced by producers throughout the watershed.
B1 Develop markets for agricultural byproducts.  Get baseline inventory now and inventory continuously. A, DW, WQ, N, P, ER, USDA, NRCS, SWCD, C, LO, CCE, AI 5% in 10 years $50,000
B2 Promote cooperative arrangements between dairy producers and crop farms to dispose of manure and develop a system to index the value of the resource (manure) that is equitable to both parties. A, DW, WQ, N, P, ER, CCE NRCS, SWCD, C, LO $50,000
B3 Support research and development of innovative animal waste treatment systems such as methane digesters (see Methane Generation From Livestock Wastes (exit this site)), sequencing batch reactor (SBR) (see Eco Process & Equipment (exit this site), vermiculture (see Vermiculture Systems (exit this site), resource recovery and others. A, DW, WQ, N, P USDA, NRCS, SWCD, AI, LO, CCE 6 project in watershed in 10 years $300,000
B4 Provide software and training for producers throughout the watershed to help manage the record keeping associated with recommendations related to management of nutrients, agricultural wastes (including manure), and pesticides (use for IPM data). A, DW, WQ, F, N, OC, P, E USDA, NRCS, SWCD, AI, LO, CCE 25% in 5 years (training and adopted).  NRCS software available May 2001 $1,000/farm
B5 Provide training and materials for producers throughout the watershed to develop Emergency Action Plans (part of CAFO). A, DW, WQ, F, N, OC, P, E USDA, NRCS, SWCD, LO, M, PC, NYSDEC 100% by 2008 based on federal regulations $5,000
C Develop educational materials for producers and the community at large.
C1 In cooperation with the IPM program at Geneva, develop and maintain an information repository (or database) of effective IPM techniques used in the Watershed (part of A4a and associated with data clearinghouse). A, SR, DW, WQ, OC AI, CCE, SWCD 5 years $20,000
C2 Document and disseminate locally successful strategies for nutrient management, manure handling, and erosion control using a variety of outreach media. Develop public information materials that discuss agricultural issues of concern to the entire watershed community such as the factors affecting farm size, regulatory and voluntary measures to control agricultural pollution, and the relationships between agriculture and other amenities such as open space. Consider publishing reports in trade journals for the dairy industry. A, SR, DW, WQ, N, P, S, E, ER USDA, NRCS, SWCD, AI, CCE, LO document 3 successes per year $5,000
D Counties and municipalities should consider agricultural programs that are both economically and environmentally sustainable. Specific recommendations include the following:
D1 Consider agricultural protection and preservation while addressing associated land conservation and water quality concerns though various county, state and federal programs that is consistent with Ag & Farmland Protection Plans A, D, SR, DW, T, WQ, C, ER SWCD, NRCS, C, M Consistent with Regulatory Management Section -
D2 Encourage alternative agricultural uses of land including changing zoning laws to allow additional (mixed use) business enterprises on the farm. A, T, C, ER SWCD, C, M Consistent with Regulatory Management Section -

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