Manure Manager

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Manure Manager editiorial: March April 2013

They say waste; I say resource

Stop me if you’ve heard this rant before.

I have a pet peeve – it bothers me when people refer to manure as a “waste” rather than what it really is – a “resource.”

I’m sure some of you will think I’m splitting hairs or tilting at windmills. I worry I’m fighting a losing battle. It’s difficult toget people to twist their mind around a different idea or approach, to think of something in a different way. It’s particularly difficult if that shift involves making a negative – such as waste – into a positive – such as resource.

Just examine the definitions of the two words and you’ll see the chasm of understanding that has to be traversed.

Waste – defined as (verb) 1. use to no purpose or for inadequate result or extravagantly 2. fail to use 3. give, utter without effect; fail to be appreciated or used properly 4. wear gradually away, make or become weak, wither 5. devastate 6. treat as wasted or valueless 7. be expended without useful effect 8. beat up, kill or murder. (noun) 1. the act or an instance of wasting; extravagant or ineffectual use of an asset 2. waste material or food, refuse, useless remains or by-products, excrement 3. waste region, desert 4. the state of being used up 5. damage to an estate caused by neglect.

Resource – defined as (noun) 1. the means available to achieve an end; fulfill a function; stock or supply that can be drawn on; available assets 2. a material or condition occurring in nature and capable of economic exploitation 3. a country’s collective wealth or means of defense 4. a book, videotape or other material which supplies information on a particular topic 5. an expedient or device 6. skill in devising expedients; practical ingenuity; quick wit 7. the possibility of aid.

To the average individual, manure might be considered a waste; after all, it is excrement or waste material, useless remains or by-products. But to many involved in agriculture, it is anything but useless. It’s a resource, a natural material capable of economic exploitation, be it through providing crop nutrients, supplying energy or providing compost to urban flower gardens.

And yet, even with the understanding of manure’s importance, there are still some involved in agriculture who refer to it as a waste.

Case in point – I was recently in Green Bay, Wisc., attending the 2013 Midwest Manure Summit, a two-day conference focusing on the handling and processing of manure. Numerous presentations discussed the resource qualities of manure – as part of the energy mix in an anaerobic digester, as a source of nitrogen and phosphorus, as a source of bedding for dairy operations and as a compost material.

It was during a presentation on manure storage design that I realized not everyone considers manure a resource. As the latest design developments were described, the presenter mentioned that the state of Wisconsin had recently changed its design standards for manure storage facilities and other aspects of manure handling, including something referred to as “waste transfer.”

“It’s not called manure transfer anymore,” the presenter said. “It’s called waste transfer.”

That little piece of information made my ears ring. Why would engineers and state officials revising standards change something involving “manure” to instead involve “waste?” By changing that one word, the meaning has been shifted. The use of the word manure basically described what is being transferred – manure. But by changing the word to waste, the meaning shifted from describing what is being transferred – manure – to instead reflecting how the engineers and officials feel about that manure being transferred – it’s a waste.

This same issue came up later in the conference when John Ramsden, a conservation engineer with Wisconsin’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) – an organization with “resource” in its name – gave a presentation entitled: Resource Concerns and Dairy Manure Management – a presentation with “resource” in its name. Throughout his talk, there was no discussion of manure. Instead, it was called waste.

Perhaps it wasn’t intentional. But it is this kind of disconnect I had hoped to change with Manure Manager magazine. It would appear there is still more work to be done.