From the Editor: You know what they say about niches…
March 14, 2023 by Bree Rody
Odds are you haven’t worked a day in your life if you haven’t heard the refrain “there’s riches in niches” (a phrase which, for what it’s worth, has varying impact depending on how you pronounce “niches”). This is especially true for those who haul, handle and apply manure for a living – it’s a niche, yes, but there are bountiful residual benefits. You make an honest living and you help growers achieve a better crop.
In previous years, the March/April issue followed the theme of “whole farm management.” After all, the management and application of animal nutrients connects to the whole farm – livestock diet and housing, barn enhancements and more.
However, every few years it helps to review what you’re covering and focusing on in your magazines. And for us, adding a new, more specific theme to our line-up – soil and water health – is a way of acknowledging just how much one needs to know to excel in the niche of manure management.
After all, manure applicators are now tasked with knowing much more about soil and water health. Given the current economic pressures facing growers, manure can be invaluable as a soil amendment – not just because of its cost-effectiveness, but because of its specific benefits for the environment and yields. It can help increase organic matter levels in the soil, which bolsters earthworm activity. Overall, manure is a net positive for soil.
However, that does not mean that manure is a miracle amendment that can be applied indiscriminately with perfect results each time. According to the Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Community (LPELC), while current literature and research shows the effects of manure on soil health properties, results of these studies can still be mixed because of the variability of manure, soils and other practices. What affects soil health properties in Pennsylvania might not have the same effects in Texas. Rates, timing, amounts and other factors all must factor in to ensure not only the health of your crop but also the health of your surroundings.
Besides the manure itself, the equipment with which you apply it can also have long-term implications on the health of one’s soil. Compaction, explored on page 18, is an issue that can feel almost unavoidable for farmers. How can one spread the nutrients their crops clearly need while mitigating the damage to their land? On page 22, we explore the effects of housing vs. grazing on nutrient loss, and why the issue is not (like some cows) black and white. And on page 16, Robyn Roste takes a look at P and K fixation in soil – myths, misconceptions and more.
The thematic flip of our magazine is an acknowledgement that manure applicators are stewards of the land and true masters of their niches. •