Certified nutrient management planners Megan Satterwhite and Tanya Oldham go to work each day with a mission — to help dairymen be the best environmental stewards.

Dairymen are subject to a lot of environmental rules and regulations, and Satterwhite and Oldham, who work for IDA Consulting Services, help them understand those requirements and stay in compliance, Satterwhite said.

“We break it down as to how it affects them and help people work through regulatory issues. It takes a lot of our time,” Oldham said.

They also act as a conduit between producers and regulating agencies, facilitating conversations and good relationships.

“That’s one of the things she (Oldham) and I do really well,” Satterwhite said.

Their primary role is writing or updating nutrient management plans, required by the Idaho State Department of Agriculture for every dairy in the state.

In addition to developing and updating those plans, the two also take soil, manure and lagoon water samples.

“That’s not the most glamorous part of the job,” Satterwhite said.

It can be dirty and stinky, and a false step can land them knee-deep in cow manure.

“You make the best of it and just laugh and shake it off because that’s all you can do,” she said.

Those samples are necessary to determine nutrient concentrations to make fertilizer recommendations to producers. That allows producers to meet crop input needs and stay in compliance with nutrient management standards.

Their job often takes them to dairies, meeting with producers, doing environmental assessments and taking samples. But Satterwhite and Oldham are also involved in education and outreach, putting on producer workshops across the state.

They also attend numerous regional and local meetings on nutrient management and water quality with state agencies, county governments, organizations and advisory groups focused on those issues.

“We just try to represent the producer fairly” and relay the conversations back to producers, Oldham said.

“It’s all just trying to get a diverse group of people in the same room to have the conversation,” she said.

It also provides IDA Consulting with good ideas and opens up the conversation for everybody else, she said.

Everyone contributes to an environmental issue and it’s about working together for a solution today, Satterwhite said.

IDA Consulting has the expertise to offer the science behind some of the discussions and help producers understand the issues, she said.

With science and research backgrounds, Satterwhite and Oldham also participate in research projects with the University of Idaho and USDA Agricultural Research Service.

The university and ARS address the research needs of the industry, and IDA has a really good relationship with both institutions, Satterwhite said.

“Dairy producers are very progressive. They are always open to looking at new technology or changes in cropping rotations,” she said.

And there are a lot of advances in manure separation technology and the use of cover crops to increase yields and reduce erosion and runoff. Producers are always open to best management practices to reduce their environmental input, she said.

Oldham said she is amazed at how well dairy producers balance everything on their plate. They have so much to think about, “and the environmental stuff is just one thing,” she said.

But that “environment stuff” is complex and time-consuming, and Satterwhite and Oldham are there to help.

This story was first published March 27, 2020.

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