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Grazing Management Effects on Stream Pollutants

Surface water quality is important for the proper function of aquatic ecosystems, as well as human needs and recreation.

Pasturelands have been found to be major sources of sediment, phosphorus and pathogens in Midwest surface water resources. While poor grazing management may lead to contaminated surface water, little is known about the specific amount of pollution in pasture streams that can be attributed to grazing cattle.

Scientists in the Departments of Animal Science, Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine, and Veterinary Microbiology at Iowa State University and the USDA-ARS National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment have studied the effects of grazing management practices on sediment, phosphorus, and pathogen deposits into pasture streams. Results of the study are published in the July/August 2011 issue of the Journal of Environmental Quality.

There were no differences in the amounts of sediment, phosphorus or pathogen deposits in the pasture stream between the different types of stream access given to the cattle. Most of the phosphorus and sediment introduced to the stream was the result of stream bank erosion.

The levels of pathogens cattle deposited into pasture streams were infrequent, and found to be dependent on the distribution of grazing cattle.The amount of pollutants in pasture streams were estimated from six 30-acre pastures in central Iowa for two years. The cattle were given different types of access to the pasture streams. Pollutants transported in precipitation runoff was quantified, and fecal samples were collected and analyzed for their levels of harmful bacteria.

Kirk Schwarte, the graduate student who conducted the study, explains, “While cattle can certainly contribute to the pollution of the streams, implementing simple and practical grazing management practices have the potential to greatly reduce these contributions while continuing to allow the cattle to have controlled access to graze on pasture stream banks.”

Research on the relationship between grazing cattle and the pollution contributed by the cattle of pasture streams is ongoing at Iowa State University. Further research of grazing management techniques includes the evaluation of specific management practices to maintain water quality in pasture streams.

This research was funded with grants from the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service National Integrated Water Program and National Research Initiative.

The full article is available for no charge for 30 days following the date of this summary. View the abstract at

The Journal of Environmental Quality is a peer-reviewed, international journal of environmental quality in natural and agricultural ecosystems published six times a year by the American Society of Agronomy (ASA), Crop Science Society of America (CSSA), and the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA). The Journal of Environmental Quality covers various aspects of anthropogenic impacts on the environment, including terrestrial, atmospheric, and aquatic systems.

The American Society of Agronomy (ASA), is a scientific society helping its 8,000+ members advance the disciplines and practices of agronomy by supporting professional growth and science policy initiatives, and by providing quality, research-based publications and a variety of member services.

The Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) is a progressive, international scientific society that fosters the transfer of knowledge and practices to sustain global soils. Based in Madison, WI, SSSA is the professional home for 6,000+ members dedicated to advancing the field of soil science. It provides information about soils in relation to crop production, environmental quality, ecosystem sustainability, bioremediation, waste management, recycling, and wise land use.

SSSA supports its members by providing quality research-based publications, educational programs, certifications, and science policy initiatives via a Washington, DC, office. Founded in 1936, SSSA celebrates its 75th Anniversary this year (2011). For more information, visit or follow @SSSA_soils on Twitter.

The Crop Science Society of America (CSSA), founded in 1955, is an international scientific society comprised of 6,000+ members with its headquarters in Madison, WI. Members advance the discipline of crop science by acquiring and disseminating information about crop breeding and genetics; crop physiology; crop ecology, management, and quality; seed physiology, production, and technology; turfgrass science; forage and grazinglands; genomics, molecular genetics, and biotechnology; and biomedical and enhanced plants.

CSSA fosters the transfer of knowledge through an array of programs and services, including publications, meetings, career services, and science policy initiatives. For more information, visit

Sara Uttech | Newswise Science News
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