Last Revised 3/14/01

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 Revitilization & 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 usage. 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 family 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. The result is that rural residents are increasingly isolated from 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.

The primary pollutants of concern in the Cayuga watershed are nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen), sediment, animal waste, and pesticides. As discussed in the Cayuga Lake Preliminary Watershed Characterization (exit this site), these pollutants of concern may originate from many sources including residential lands and urban stormwater. Nutrients, sediment, animal waste, 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 Cayuga watershed. Phosphorus and sediment are pollutants that 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 agricultural pollutants threatens the long-term health of the lake and watershed.


Subwatershed Modeling:

The Cayuga Lake watershed is large and diverse, exhibiting a mixture of geologic conditions, topography, soil types, and land use throughout its 785 square miles. As part of the Restoration & Protection Plan (RPP), these characteristics were compiled for 19 subwatersheds and simple models were applied to estimate the relative loss of nutrients and sediment. The analysis, coupled with available monitoring data, has resulted in identifying groups of subwatersheds with high, moderate, or low potential to contribute agricultural pollutants to surface and ground water.

The subwatersheds with the high potential for losses of agricultural pollutants are considered "areas of concern", specific locations where restoration and protection efforts will result in improved water quality conditions.

It is important to note that this analysis was performed at a watershed-wide scale, not a parcel-specific scale. Individual practices such as crop rotations or location and timing of manure spreading will affect nonpoint source pollution from agriculture. The analysis highlights areas where environmental conditions such as soils and slopes combined with land use pose the greatest potential for nutrient and sediment loss.

Potential for Nonpoint Source Pollution (Based on Annual Loading per Unit Area)

Subwatershed Areas

High Salmon Creek

Fall Creek

Sheldrake Creek

Great Gully

Yawger Creek (including Yawger Tributary)

Moderate Taughannock

Paines Brook

Hicks Creek

Subwatershed 68 (Interlaken)

Mack Brook

Canoga Creek

Cayuga Inlet

Trumansburg Creek

Ledyard Creek

Willow Creek

Low Gulf Creek

Renwick Brook

Glenwood Creek


Existing Measures:

Recommendations/Specific Actions :

  1. Through the framework of the Agriculture Environmental Management (AEM) program, implement whole farm planning (the focus is on individual producers). The AEM program calls for a tiered approach to implementing Best Management Practices (BMPs) on farms.
  2. The four most critical issues in this watershed in need of BMPs are: nutrient management, erosion control, manure management, and herbicide application.

    1. Support development of nutrient management plans for farms throughout the Cayuga watershed. .
    2. Each farm should develop a specific nutrient management plan under the tiered AEM program. The nutrient management plan will include specific recommendations tailored to individual producers. Nutrient management plans may include the following elements:

      1. Promote nutritional management as a tool to optimize feed efficiency and ultimately reduce nutrient content of animal waste.
      2. Test soils and crops to define fertilization rate and timing
      3. Calculate manure application rate based on P requirement of crop, supplement with inorganic N or legumes if needed.
      4. Plant small grain cover crops in regions with high leaching potential (for example, Yawger Creek and Canoga Creek subwatersheds).
      5. Consider BMPs for silage leachate and milkhouse waste.
        1. Operational and structural BMPs: isolate storage areas from precipitation.
        2. Vegetative BMPs: channel leachate and milkhouse waste through vegetated filter strips to reduce nutrient and organic levels.

      Many of these recommendations are consistent with practices currently underway on the larger dairy farms in the Cayuga watershed. The Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (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. The CAFO approach could be tailored for smaller livestock producers. Some elements of the CAFO approach could be used to make nutrient management plans for crop farms more site-specific.

    3. Erosion control
      1. Create and maintain riparian buffer zones (cost-sharing for this program may be available through the Conservation Reserve Program)
      2. Evaluate contour strip cropping, conservation tillage, terracing, critical area planting (on-field solutions)
      3. Evaluate vegetated filter strips (edge of field solutions)
      4. Install fences to keep livestock from critical areas.
      5. Restore eroding streambanks (link to listing of specific stream segments with documented bank erosion problems - exit this site)
    4. Manure handling and disposal
      1. Develop and implement detailed manure spreading plans to avoid hydrologically sensitive areas (note: CAFO regulations for larger farms require these plans).
      2. Evaluate technologies that separate bedding material from waste to reduce the mass of material to be handled.
      3. Evaluate manure composting.
      4. Isolate manure from young stock (control of pathogenic protozoa)
      5. Provide software and training to producers to facilitate record keeping.
    5. Pesticide management (in the Cayuga watershed, herbicides are the type of pesticides of greatest concern). (Link to regulatory controls on pesticide application - exit this site)
      1. Evaluate and implement appropriate IPM techniques (IPM information).
  3. In addition to the focus on individual producers through the AEM program, develop cooperative and/or regional strategies to address problems faced by producers throughout the watershed.
    1. Support development of cooperative or regional manure compost facility
      1. Identify markets
    2. Promote cooperative arrangements between dairy producers and crop farms to dispose of manure
      1. Develop a system to index the value of the resource (manure) that is equitable to both parties.
    3. Support research and development of innovative manure treatment systems such a Sequencing Batch reactor (SBR)
  4. Develop educational materials for producers and the community at large.
    1. In cooperation with the Cornell Agricultural Extension Station at Geneva, develop and maintain an information repository (or database) of effective IPM techniques used in the Cayuga watershed.
    2. Document and disseminate successful strategies for nutrient management, manure handling, and erosion control. Consider publishing reports in trade journals for the dairy industry.
    3. 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.
  1. Counties and municipalities should consider agricultural programs that are both economically and environmentally sustainable. Specific recommendations include the following:
    1. Consideration of agricultural protection and preservation while addressing associated land conservation and water quality concerns though various county, state and federal programs
    2. Encourage alternative agricultural uses of land.
    3. Changes in zoning laws to allow additional businesses enterprises on the farm.

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CLW IO 2004