Manure Manager

Study looks at turning manure into revenues

September 24, 2009  by Montana State University

manurerevenueNEWS HIGHLIGHT

Study looks at turning manure into revenues
Livestock manure isn’t often thought of as a value-added product, but
researchers at Montana State University and MSU Extension are trying to change

Sept. 24, 2009 –
Livestock manure isn’t often thought of as a value-added product, but
researchers at Montana State University and MSU Extension are trying to change

Producers may be able to
make money by composting livestock manure while at the same time improving the
quality of their soil and protecting the environment.

Tommy Bass, MSU Extension
and Julia Dafoe, Research Associate, NARC-Havre, measure compost temperature at
Amaltheia Organic Dairy in Belgrade, MT. They are part of a project to study
how livestock producers may be able to create a product that can increase
revenues by composting manure.
MSU photo, Kelly Gorham


At the end of August,
Tommy Bass, livestock environment associate specialist housed in the Department
of Animal and Range Science
at MSU; Darrin Boss, assistant research professor
at the Northern Agricultural Research Station; and Joel Schumacher, Extension
economics associate and MSU economist began the first phase of a three phase
project on compost.

The group will evaluate a
composting project at Amaltheia Organic Dairy in Belgrade, MT. The Browns have
composted goat manure for two years and sold their compost to generate
additional revenue for the dairy.

“We want to verify their
recommendations on how to properly compost animal manure in Montana’s semi-arid
environment,” said Bass. “They’ve already been successful, so we want to look
at their system and see how it works.”

Bass, Boss, and Schumacher
will also investigate beef-cattle compost produced at MSU’s Northern
Agricultural Research Center
in Havre, MT and sheep manure from Hofeldt Feedlot
and Premium Meats in Chinook, MT.

“These three locations
cover a broad spectrum of opportunities from a large scale sheep and cattle
feedlot, to a medium sized beef lot to a smaller niche organic dairy,” Bass
said. “These varied locations add to the robust nature of the trial; along with
the different manures there should be substantial variation in scheduling of
composting as well as weather conditions encountered.”

When manure is composted,
it gives off enough heat to sterilize weed seed and reduce the diseases harmful
to plants. Composted manure is safer to handle and can be used to improve soil
for landscaping and horticultural applications.

“By composting manure,
which is a nitrogen source, with other on-farm feedstuffs such as old straw,
corn stalks or other carbon sources, we optimize and potentially increase the
value of the compost. Its benefits are no, or little, viable seeds being
land-applied or it may be sold to vendors like local landscapers that use it in
horticultural beds,” said Boss.

The team will check that
the compost reaches temperatures high enough to kill pests and weeds and that
it remains moist throughout the season. They will observe whether run-off from
the compost occurs after storms to determine if it degrade soil or water
quality. Additionally, they will run an economic model to determine whether
selling bulk or bagged compost makes more sense financially. This will include
tracking labor and studying markets for the material. Frontier Lawn and
Landscaping in Havre, MT, another cooperator of the project, will also be
involved in evaluating, market development and using the compost in
horticultural projects.

Upon completion of the
study, the researchers will hold on-site composting demonstrations and allow
the public to see how the two producers at Amaltheia Organic Dairy and Hofeldt
Feedlot and Premium Meats manage their manure. MontGuide Extension publications
on composting with guidelines and the case studies will be produced.

The researchers will also
share what they learned with other agriculture educators and specialists
through papers in professional journals and conference presentations.

“Manure can be seen as a
liability by some, but the focus of this project is to turn that around and
manage manure as a resource that can enable a producer to sell a new product or
make it more valuable within their own operations, “ said Boss.


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