Research explores benefits of manure and cedar mulch

University of Nebraska-Lincoln
July 07, 2018
By University of Nebraska-Lincoln
A multi-disciplinary team of researchers at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln will conduct a project transforming manure and cedar mulch from waste to worth. The project is funded by a $132,663 grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust.

Leading the research will be Amy Millmier Schmidt, assistant professor in biological systems engineering and animal science, and Rick Koelsch, professor in biological systems engineering and animal science. The project is designed to provide natural resource benefits to Nebraska through increased utilization of livestock manure and cedar mulch among crop farmers.

"When manure is applied to cropland at agronomic rates using recommended best management practices, it provides agronomic, soil health, and environmental benefits," said Schmidt.

As the management of eastern red cedar trees has become a critical issue in many parts of the state, Schmidt and others have been studying practices that utilize the biomass created during forest management activities in ways that add value to this product.

"Combining wood chips with manure prior to land application could provide a market for the woody biomass generated during tree management activities and help offset the cost that landowners bear for tree removal," she said.

The team's on-farm research to date has demonstrated that manure-mulch mixtures improve soil characteristics without negatively impacting crop productivity. This new award will allow an expanded project team to demonstrate the practice more widely throughout the state, complete an economic analysis of the practice, and engage high school students in educational experiences related to soil health, conservation and cedar tree management. It will also introduce the students to on-farm research for evaluating a proposed practice change.

"On-farm research is at the core of extension and research programs at land-grant universities like Nebraska," said Koelsch. "Giving high school students hands-on experience evaluating a practice to understand how it impacts farm profitability is a unique way to improve science literacy, critical thinking skills, and interest in agricultural careers."

Outreach activities will focus on improving understanding among crop farmers of the benefits these amendments provide and motivating implementation of this new practice. The long-term goal of the project is to improve soil health properties for Nebraska soils, reduce nutrient losses to Nebraska water resources, and reduce eastern red cedar tree encroachment on Nebraska's pasture and grassland resources.

The project is one of the 105 projects receiving $18,301,819 in grant awards from the Nebraska Environmental Trust this year. The Nebraska Legislature created the Nebraska Environmental Trust in 1992. Using revenue from the Nebraska Lottery, the Trust has provided over $289 million in grants to over 2,000 projects across the state.

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