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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Researchers conducting an in-depth examination of a controversial
hog farm in the Buffalo River watershed have been employing ground-penetrating radar,
grid soil-sampling and water-monitoring devices as they lay groundwork for the multi-phase,
long-term study, according to a report submitted to the governors’ office.
The Big Creek Research and Extension Team, comprised of faculty and staff from the
University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, is conducting the research
using funds from the governor’s office. The funding was approved by a legislative
subcommittee last September. Site work on the study began in October.
The first quarterly report was delivered Jan. 31 to the Arkansas Department of Environmental
Quality and the Arkansas governor’s office. The report laid out team members and their
plan of action for the study.
“The study will provide scientifically rigorous information on any potential impacts
of the farm on Big Creek, including levels of bacteria, and nutrients such as phosphorous
and nitrogen,” said Dr. Andrew Sharpley, team leader and professor at the University
of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
Sharpley is an international authority on the impacts of agriculture operations on
water quality and soil.
Major tasks in the study include:
“Understanding the soil and geologic features below the fields on this farm, and the
surrounding area, as well as how water behaves within them will be critical because
of the sub-surface complexities resulting from the karst nature of the underlying
bedrock geology that makes up the Ozark Plateau,” said Dr. Kristofor Brye, a team
member and professor of applied soil physics and pedology for the University of Arkansas.
“Differential weathering can create sub-surface cracks, channels, or even caves throughout
the areas underlying limestone, sandstone, and shale bedrock geologies that can enable
water to flow rapidly to and through underlying chert layers, in what is often referred
to as the vadose zone.”
In the first quarter, the researchers used ground-penetrating radar, or GPR, to begin
revealing a profile of the underlying geology and any potential for water movement
through the ground. The GPR results are preliminary and extensive soil coring will
be done to better understand its meaning for the fields tested. The team also conducted
detailed grid soil sampling from three representative farm fields among those with
permits allowing for manure application.
“Grid soil samples tell us how variable the soil nutrient levels are and whether there
are hot spots near the surface, and how much is already in the soil down to the bedrock
underlying these fields,” Sharpley said. “We must understand the baseline landscape
in order to monitor both surface and underground movement of nutrients in the most
reliable and rigorous manner possible.”
Weekly water samples were taken up- and down- stream from the farm and the team installed
monitoring equipment at strategic points on the farm to continuously measure flow
rates, as well as nitrogen, phosphorous, E. coli, and other dissolved or suspended
During the second quarter, the team will continue to collect water and soil samples
and will bring on-line newly installed monitoring sites and equipment.
In addition, Sharpley said steps were being taken to ensure the team’s work would
be publicly available and undergo peer review.
“A website is being developed for the project that will inform those interested of
our activities, progress, and findings,” he said. “As part of a public land-grant
university system, all of our work is transparent and science-based.”
C&H Hog Farm was granted a permit to operate by the Arkansas Department of Environmental
quality. In August, the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, Arkansas Canoe Club, National
Parks Conservation Association and Ozark Society filed a federal lawsuit against USDA
and the Small Business Administration that says, in part, that the agencies approved
the loan guarantees “without taking the requisite hard look at environmental impacts,
notifying and engaging the public” required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture and offers its programs
to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender,
age, disability, marital or veteran status, or any other legally protected status,
and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
February 7, 2014
By Mary HightowerCooperative Extension ServiceU of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture
Media Contact: Mary HightowerExtension Communications SpecialistU of A Division of AgricultureCooperative Extension Service(501) firstname.lastname@example.org