Mapping communications pathways in the manure management network

September 25, 2018

injecting manure on a field with green crops

Most manure nutrient management professionals across all organization types work to educate the general public and agricultural communities, according to a study led by Assistant Professor Erin Cortus in the Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering at the University of Minnesota.

eric cortus portrait at 200 px wideAssistant Professor Erin Cortus

“This may indicate a shared feeling of responsibility across organizations for translating information both within the network and beyond,” the study stated.

An electronic survey was taken by 964 manure nutrient management professionals across the country to address workforce demographics, tasks performed, and information source relevance.

Known as the Pathways Project, “this research helps guide decisions for those working in the manure nutrient management field on what their various clientele use while working towards the common goal of responsible manure management,” Cortus said. “The approach and results may translate to other complex networks such as pest management, facilitation of organic agriculture, or climate education.”

Results of the study, published in the Journal of Extension, showed that surface water was the top environmental concern among respondents. A field or farm setting was the most relevant source of information for producers and those working in university/extension settings, regulatory and non-regulatory government agencies, and local governments, whereas consultation was the most relevant source for sales or private enterprises. The news or media was the least relevant information source across all organization types.

“However, there were only small differences across organization types regarding relevance for specific information sources. This suggests that information providers could potentially target the content of new informational material to the needs of multiple audiences in this field, rather than different formats for different audiences,” Cortus said.

As for demographics, respondents were 77 percent male between the ages of 45 and 64 years old.

“It was interesting to note that the number of females relative to males were equivalent in the 18 to 24 years of age bracket, but the number of females to males decreased with increasing age brackets. For survey respondents between 55 and 64 years of age, only 20 percent were female,” Cortus said.

Cortus added that future research can explore the reasons behind some of the results such as why one source of information is more relevant than others. Additionally, “it will be interesting to review the demographics of the manure nutrient management network in years to come and see whether the age and gender distributions shift.”

The project was funded by seed grants from the North Central Region Water Network Seed Grant and South Dakota Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education.


Attend the 2019 Waste to Worth Conference

When: April 22-26, 2019

Where: Graduate Minneapolis

Professors Erin Cortus and Kevin Janni are among those on the planning committee.

Waste to Worth brings together the nation’s best science on animal agriculture and the environment with:

  • Innovative outreach
  • Opportunities to meet and network with outstanding people
  • Mix with multidisciplinary specialists in a collaborative atmosphere

Get more details on the conference's website