The targeted area currently being considered is comprised of 15 eastern Wisconsin counties. They include: Brown, Calumet, Dodge, Door, Fond du Lac, Kenosha, Kewaunee, Manitowoc, Milwaukee, Outagamie, Ozaukee, Racine, Walworth, Washington and Waukesha. READ MORE
Methods of applying manure into the ground without significantly disturbing the soil were presented to area farmers at the recent summer field day sponsored by the Waupaca County Forage Council.
During the morning presentations, speakers noted that a large portion of nitrogen, about half in typical liquid dairy manure, is in ammonium or urea form and can potentially be lost to the air as ammonia if the manure is not incorporated into the soil promptly.
Historically, tillage has been the most common method of incorporation, but tillage and, to a lesser extent, standard injection reduce crop residue cover, leaving the field more susceptible to erosion.
A common goal among producers is to find new methods for applying liquid dairy manure to maximize manure N availability while maintaining crop residue cover for erosion control.One of the field-day presenters, Dan Brick, of Brickstead Dairy near Greenleaf in Brown County, has become an active conservation leader, who's committed to finding solutions that maintain environmental quality while improving soil fertility.
Through the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQUIP), Brick invested in an additional 2.9-million-gallon concrete manure structure to contain manure and milk house waste through the winter until it can be spread safely as fertilizer in the spring on his 900 acres of crop and hay ground. READ MORE
Many hay fields are not pure alfalfa. The acidic soils of the southern and eastern parts of the state make it difficult to maintain an alfalfa or clover stand so a mixed stand of grass and alfalfa/clover is common. Stands in older fields are often just mostly grass. A grass hay crop will remove just as many nutrients per ton as an alfalfa crop. The big difference is that the annual yields from grass hay fields are usually about 1.3 tons per acre lower than alfalfa fields.
Livestock manure can be used as a fertilizer source to replace nutrients removed through hay harvest. Pen pack beef manure will contain approximately 7.9 pounds of nitrogen (mostly in the organic form), 4.4 pounds of phosphorus (P2O5) and 6.6 pounds of potash (K20) per ton according to OSU Extension bulletin 604. Note that these are older book values and your actual farm manure nutrient levels can vary depending upon the animal's ration, the amount and type of bedding material used and how manure is stored and handled. The recommendation is to sample and test manure at least on a yearly basis. This will provide a more reliable indication of the actual nutrient content of the manure on your farm. For more information about how and when to sample manure, Penn State Extension has a good publication available on-line at http://extension.psu.edu/plants/nutrient-management/educational/manure-storage-and-handling/manure-sampling-for-nutrient-management-planning.
Let's assume a livestock producer wants to use pen pack beef manure to replenish the nutrients in a hay field where he harvested three tons per acre of hay. Since alfalfa and grass hay both remove similar amounts of nutrients per ton, we can assume the three tons of hay removed per acre contained 39 pounds of P2O5 and 150 pounds of K2O. If pen pack beef manure was used to replenish these nutrients, 8.8 tons per acre would be sufficient to replace the phosphorus. However, a rate of 22.7 tons per acre would be needed to replace the potash. The 22.7 ton per acre manure application rate would result in almost 100 pounds of P2O5 being applied per acre, far more than was removed in the three tons of hay.
A farmer would need to be cautious about using this practice repeatedly and growing the soil phosphorus level. It takes about 20 pounds of phosphorus applied to a field to raise the soil test level one pound per acre or two parts per million. So if the soil test level is low, the additional phosphorus from the manure would not raise the soil phosphorus level much in a single year.
The key to using livestock manure to replace the nutrients removed through hay harvest is to get even distribution of the manure across the entire field. Having mowed hay fields as a teenager, where bedded pack manure was applied, I would strongly urge an even distribution pattern across the field. Avoid large clumps that will plug the mower or interfere with regrowth.
If you are unsure how many tons per acre your solid manure spreader applies there is a simple way to make a determination. Make a heavy plastic piece that is 56 inches by 56 inches. Fasten it to the ground with weights on the corners and apply manure across the plastic. Fold up the plastic and weigh the manure captured. Many people use a bathroom scales for this. One pound of manure captured on the plastic is equivalent to one ton of manure applied per acre. Thus, if you captured 10 pounds of manure the application rate was 10 tons per acre.
It is common for county extension offices to have farmers ask; "Can manure be applied between cuttings"? The answer is "yes". Farmers commonly use liquid swine and liquid dairy manure between cuttings to replace soil nutrients and "boost" regrowth of the forage crop in northwest Ohio. There is the potential to damage the crowns of the forage plants but most farmers seem to like the results of the manure application. Solid manure could also be applied between cuttings instead of waiting until fall to apply the manure. The manure application should take place as some as the hay is baled.
Liquid beef manure is also being used to replace nutrients in hay fields. Liquid beef manure we have sampled has contained 40 pounds nitrogen (about half in the organic form and half in the ammonium form), 35 pounds of phosphorus (P2O5) and 30 pounds of potash (K20) per 1000 gallons of product. Applied with a drag hose, this can be an excellent fertilizer for a forage.
A final cautionary note regarding manure application to forage fields: If manure is coming from a herd with animals infected by Johne's disease, that disease can be transmitted by manure to healthy cattle. According to a publication from the US Dairy Forage Research Center at Madison Wisconsin and authored by Michael Russelle and Bill Jokela, the Johne's bacterium can survive on hay. Therefore, those authors' recommendation is that in herds with Johne's, manure should not be applied as a topdressing on fields that will be harvested as dry hay.
Phosphorus is obviously of particular concern to crop farmers.
“The harmful algae blooms occurring in Lake Erie appear to be from increasing amounts of dissolved phosphorus reaching the lake,” says Glen Arnold, associate professor and field specialist in Manure Nutrient Management Systems at Ohio State University Extension. “The phosphorus in livestock manure is less likely to reach surface waters than the phosphorus in commercial fertilizer, as the phosphorus in livestock manure is slower to become soluble once applied to fields.”
However, Arnold notes that the over-application of livestock manure can raise soil phosphorus to very high levels and result in the element being lost through both surface runoff and through subsurface drainage tiles.
Arnold believes finding new ways of applying manure to growing crops and incorporating the manure more effectively could better assure the phosphorus stays put. His research on the application of manure to growing crops first started with topdressing wheat plots in Putnam County, Ohio, in 2004.
“We wanted to capture value from the nitrogen in manure and open up new windows of application for farmers, instead of them usually applying large amounts of manure in the fall after harvest,” he explains.
Arnold and his team approached swine farmers with finishing buildings for the wheat plot experiments, as swine manure has more nitrogen per gallon than dairy or beef manure. The Putnam County Extension Office and Soil & Water Conservation District collaborated on planning, flagging the replicated plots, field application and harvesting, with plots either receiving urea fertilizer or swine manure. When the results were analyzed, wheat yields under the manure treatments were equal to or greater than the urea treatment most of the time.
By 2009, Arnold, his colleagues and county extension educators in nearby counties were using swine manure to side dress corn plots.
“We removed the flotation wheels from a manure tanker and replaced them with narrow wheels so the manure tanker could follow the tractor down the cornrows,” he says. “The yield results were very positive as the manure treatments were similar to the commercial fertilizer treatments. During unusually dry growing seasons, the manure treatments out-yielded the commercial manure treatments. The same occurred during unusually wet growing seasons as well.”
In addition to the swine-finishing manure side dress plots, during the past year the team tried liquid beef manure and liquid dairy manure, enhanced with commercial nitrogen, to side dress corn plots.
“We used a manure tanker and Dietrich toolbar,” Arnold says. “The beef manure plots performed as well as the swine manure plots. The dairy manure plots also preformed very well, which opens many possibilities for dairy producers to sidedress corn in the years ahead.”
At this point, the team has also completed a third year of side dressing emerged corn with swine manure in Darke County, Ohio, using a drag hose. The drag hose was pulled across the emerged corn through the V3 stage of growth, and the manure incorporated during application using a seven-row VIT unit. Over three years, the corn side dressed with manure averaged 13 bushels per acre more than corn side dressed with urea ammonium nitrate.
In terms of cost differences between urea and manure, Arnold notes that farmers have to eventually land-apply the manure regardless of whether it’s applied to a growing crop or not.
“Capturing the nitrogen value pays for the cost of applying the manure,” he says.
He also believes a drag hose is faster, more efficient and alleviates soil compaction concerns compared to using a manure tanker. Drag hoses also provide flexibility in that the manure can be applied anytime from the day the crop is planted through the V3 stage of corn growth, a six-week window in Ohio if the corn is planted in late April.
In these experiments on application of manure during the growing season, Arnold and his colleagues never measured phosphorus runoff, but he says that if manure is applied in the fall, more than 50 percent of the nitrogen is generally lost, and the tillage to incorporate the manure at that time causes more soil erosion than application during crop growth.
Farmers do have to watch over-application of manure to growing wheat as it will lead to the wheat field blowing flat in June in Ohio. On corn, Arnold says there is nothing to stop a person from over-applying but the extra nitrogen would be wasted.
All-in-all, Arnold believes the application of manure to growing crops works very well. He says the farmers who have participated in the on-farm plots have been pleasantly surprised at how well livestock manure has worked as a sidedress nitrogen source for corn and as a top dress to wheat.
“In addition to providing nitrogen for the corn crop, the manure can also provide the phosphorus and potash needed for a two-year corn-soybean rotation without applying excess nutrients,” he says.
In order to convince as many livestock producers as possible of the economic and environmental advantages of applying more manure to growing crops and applying less manure after the fall harvest season, Arnold and his team will allow farmers to see results first-hand. Because he’s found that farmers who participated in the sidedress plots using a manure tanker are very interested in using a drag hose, Arnold has obtained funds from several companies to build two 12-row drag hose sidedress toolbars. He expects to have them available for loan during the 2017 growing season.
“The plan is to loan the toolbars to both livestock producers and commercial applicators,” he says. “We hope to loan them out to more than a dozen participants this summer.”
In recent years, biochar has been hailed by some as an alternative to manure or compost, but biochar is expensive and poor quality biochar can increase the soil's acidity, damaging crops. READ MORE
The new public, private partnership will allow farmers to more effectively apply manure by injecting it directly into the ground, reducing the amount of nutrients that run off into local waterways.
“By using this equipment, farmers will be able to cut down on soil erosion, reduce odors, and decrease the amount of phosphorus leaving their fields,” said Parisi. “Our partnership reflects a unified effort between local leaders and businesses to ensure the Yahara Watershed stays clean and healthy, while providing farmers with the innovative tools they need to succeed in an environmentally friendly way.”
In the agreement, Dane County and the Yahara Watershed Improvement Network (Yahara WINS) will each allocate up to $60,000 to purchase a manure tanker and Low Disturbance Manure Injection (LDMI) toolbar. Yahara Pride Farms will rent a tractor from Carl F. Statz and Sons Inc., a farm implement dealer based in Waunakee, to haul the tanker and LDMI bar across each participant’s property. Yahara WINS is led by the Madison Metropolitan Sewage District and will use funds from the Clean Lakes Alliance to finance its share of the endeavor.
“Yahara WINS is pleased to partner with the Yahara Pride Farm Group, Dane County and the Clean Lakes Alliance to provide opportunities for farmers to gain experience with low disturbance manure injection –an approach that will improve water quality by reducing the amount of phosphorus reaching our streams, rivers and lakes,” said Dave Taylor, consulting director for Yahara WINS.
Yahara Pride Farms is a farmer-led, nonprofit organization and was the first to bring this minimal soil disturbance technology for manure to Wisconsin farmers. To date, the program has covered over 3,600 acres of land and reduced 5,500 pounds of phosphorus on the Yahara Watershed using this manure technique. In 2016 alone, Yahara Pride Farms’ low disturbance manure injection resulted in an estimated 1,100 pounds of phosphorus savings from more than 1,200 acres of land.
“Farmers are leading progress toward collective water quality goals in the Yahara Watershed,” said Jeff Endres, chairman of Yahara Pride Farms. “Managing how nutrient-rich manure is applied to farm fields is a key component to achieving these goals.”
Last year, Dane County implemented and tracked more than 313 conservation practices and systems, resulting in 18,392 pounds of phosphorus being reduced in the Yahara Watershed. Under this new partnership, the manure injector is projected to reduce 1.5 pounds of phosphorus per acre of land each year.
Participants of the program will be charged a fee to cover operator costs, tractor rental, repair and maintenance, scheduling and insurance. To reduce participant expenses, Dane County developed a cost share program for individual farmers and custom haulers to purchase the LDMI toolbar. Currently, two cost share agreements totaling $46,495.50 have been approved to purchase the toolbar equipment.
The Yahara WINS executive committee approved the grant request to fund 50 percent of the costs for a tanker and LDMI toolbar with funds from the Clean Lakes Alliance in June. The Dane County board of supervisors is currently reviewing a resolution committing up to $60,000 in county dollars to match the committee’s funds.
Yahara Pride Farms will provide an annual report to the Dane County Land Conservation Division and Yahara WINS detailing treated field locations, number of acres covered, and pounds of phosphorus reduced. Previously, Yahara Pride Farms partnered with a local equipment dealer to provide a tanker and LDMI toolbar for individual farmers to use and gain experience with the technology.
March 29, 2017, Manitowoc, WI – At a recent forum on soil health and custom crops, two custom manure applicators who serve farms in east central Wisconsin described some of the practices designed to limit soil disturbance during the process.
Jesse Dvorachek, based near Forest Junction in Calumet County, reported that each of his two crews, using a total of 10 to 20 trucks, apply about 200 million gallons of liquid manure per year on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) farms. READ MORE
March 23. 2017, Springfield, IL – Pork producers continue to be industry leaders on environmental sustainability issues by using manure as a natural fertilizer to offset the use of commercial fertilizers.
Dr. Ted Funk, agricultural engineering consultant for the Illinois Pork Producers Association, has been charged with developing an Illinois Manure Calculator to help producers efficiently calculate their manure usage.
“The Illinois Manure Calculator is built for the Illinois-specific manure plan rules, enabling a livestock producer to quickly balance manure applications with field crop nutrient needs,” explains Dr. Funk. “The user enters manure storages with the respective manure sample data, information for fields that will receive manure, and the general type of manure application equipment being used.”
The app automates the nutrient management planning worksheet that Illinois livestock producers are already required to understand in their Certified Livestock Manager Training workshops coordinated by University of Illinois Extension.
“Calculating the right manure application rate has always been a time-consuming exercise for producers, because they have to gather data from several places before they can compute the answer,” explains Dr. Richard Gates with University of Illinois Extension. “This mobile app puts everything right at their fingertips. I can see how it could become one of the most-used apps on the smartphone during the manure hauling season.”
The app calculates a manure application rate, based on the choice of nitrogen or phosphorus limits, and the N, P, and K that will be applied to the field. It also allows the user to enter a trial application rate, to see the effect on the nutrient balance. Completed calculations can be emailed directly to the user for entry into the farm’s main manure nutrient management plan.
“Producers are always looking for ways to improve their current manure management and application practices,” says Jennifer Tirey, executive director of the Illinois Pork Producers Association. “This free manure rate calculator will give producers another tool in the tool box for carefully developing their manure management plans while utilizing best management practices.”
The mobile app is available for iPhone and Android users. To download the free app visit the app store and search for “Illinois Manure Calculator.”
Liquid manure application in the Midwest typically happens in spring and fall each year. The majority of liquid manure application takes place using a tank or a dragline applicator, providing additional nutrients to crops.
Tank applicators transport manure from the livestock facility to agricultural fields and apply manure using a tank-mounted tool-bar. For fields that are close-by, manure can be pumped directly to the dragline-mounted tool-bar. In either case, a pre-determined application rate is used to pump manure through a manifold, which distributes manure to the application points across the tool-bar.
“Environmental regulations require producers to make sure manure is being applied to agricultural fields in accordance with their manure management plans,” said Dan Andersen, assistant professor and extension agricultural engineering specialist with Iowa State University.
Variations in tank capacities, manure densities and the presence of foam can cause the application rate to be different from the target number, as can variations in drive speed. Application rate should be verified, and both tank and dragline applicators need to be calibrated to ensure accurate application.
Both distribution of manure and calibrating the applicators are covered in a pair of new ISU Extension and Outreach publications – “Distribution of Liquid Manure Application” (AE 3600) and “Calibrating Liquid Tank Manure Applicators” (AE 3601A). Both are available through the Extension Store. A “Calibration Worksheet for Liquid Manure Tank Applicators” (AE 3601B) is also available.
Calibration of the application rate, in terms of gallons per acre applied, can be achieved using an area volume method. For applicators without automated controls, the volume of manure applied in a given pass should be determined. Knowing the density of the manure and the area covered in the pass, the application rate can be determined. Instructions for determining density and coverage area are included in publication AE 3601A.
There are manure applicators that use tractor-mounted automated flow controls to achieve accurate application rates. In these cases, flow controllers use a flow meter with an actuator to govern the flow rate and, subsequently the application rate.
“The majority of flow meters are set at the factory for their rated measurements, which can potentially be different when used for manure application,” said Kapil Arora, agricultural engineering specialist with ISU Extension and Outreach. “The flow meters should be verified to ensure they are providing correct flow rate readouts to the flow controls.”
Achieving calibration of the target application rates only provides an average amount applied on a per acre basis. This application rate is delivered to the manifold mounted on the tool-bar, which then distributes the manure to the application points. This distribution of the manure across the tool-bar swath should be uniform so the variability among application points is minimal. This distribution should be verified only after the calibration for the application rate has been completed.
Split manure application, manure application to soybeans, high total nitrogen testing manures, and use of the Maximum Return to Nitrogen Rate Calculator can all cause the manure application rates to be lower than what was previously being used.
“Distribution across the toolbar points can be verified by capturing the discharge from each point for a known time,” Arora said. “Care should be taken to set up the equipment as close to the field conditions as possible. Aim for as low a variation as possible in the captured discharge so that better distribution is achieved across the toolbar swath.”
Kapil Arora is an agricultural and biosystems engineering specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Daniel Andersen is an agricultural and biosystems engineer, also with ISU Extension.
January 18, 2017 – The Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Center has partnered with the Manure & Soil Health team to present four roundtables aimed at improving knowledge and understanding about the role of manure in soil health.
The four, hour-long roundtables will consist of a panel discussion with two to three experts who will be asked to summarize their current understanding of each roundtable topic. Each panel will also include a practitioner who will share perspective on critical information needs of farmers and advisors and field experiences relative to use of manure. Panels will be moderated to encourage interaction with audience. Roundtable participants will be invited to ask questions of panelists and share expertise and experience through polling pods and a chat box.
All of the roundtables start at 11 a.m. CT (noon ET) and in the following order:
- Feb. 9, 2017 – Manure & soil health testing (Dr. Bianca Moebius-Clune, Donna Brandt, Russell Dresbach, Geoff Ruth)
- Feb. 16, 2017 – Manure & soil biology (Rhae Drijber, Michele Soupir, Dr. Jonathan Lundgren)
- Feb.23, 2017 – Manure & soil erosion, runoff, and losses (Nathan Nelson, John Gilley, Mike Kucera, Andy Scholting)
- March 9, 2017 – Manure & cover crops (Tim Harrigan, Barry Fischer, Heidi Johnson, Sarah Carlson)
Attendees are asked to register for the dates that correspond to the topics they are interested in. After registering, a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting will be sent.
If a microphone and speakers are available on the computer being used, phone line participation is not needed. For those new to Zoom, three short videos may prove helpful:
January 18, 2017, Lincoln, NB – This easy-to-use record keeping calendar for livestock operations that keeps track of manure related records is available to all livestock producers.
The calendar can be used by all sizes of livestock operations and includes all records required for operations permitted for the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). It has been approved by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) and recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a valuable resource for livestock producers.
“It’s a simple and organized way to keep monthly records in one place,” says Derek Schreiter, NDEQ inspector.
To view an electronic sample of the calendar, go to http://extensionpublications.unl.edu/assets/pdf/ec136.pdf .
One example of the kinds of records the calendar can help you maintain is found here: http://go.unl.edu/3cg2
Records of rainfall, storage depth gauge levels, and storage and equipment inspections are an important aspect of required manure and runoff storage records for a NDEQ permit. These and other records will help you gain value from manure nutrients and document your stewardship of the environment.
Farmers facing tight markets can impact their profitability by understanding the top five criteria in manure management decisions, according to experts at the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers (CSIF) recent manure management workshop.
More than 60 farmers attended the event to learn how to better manage their fertilizer source on and off the farm.
“The first thing you’ve got to do is determine how much manure you need and where it should be applied,” noted Abe Sandquist, founder of Natural Fertilizer Services. Addressing manure needs is a game of building organic matter and maintaining soil fertility. This balance can be achieved by comparing yield history, manure sampling and soil testing.
“Soil testing is kind of like figuring the odds of your fertility,” said Sandquist. “When you’re fertilizing in a low soil test field, you’ve got a higher chance of getting a yield response that’s profitable.”
Secondly, Sandquist said farmers must determine what equipment they will use based on holding capacity, density of their manure source and the range it can be hauled economically.
Dan Andersen, an agricultural and biosystems engineering assistant professor of Iowa State University, noted that manure management decisions should make manure “logistically cheaper to move and more nutrient rich.”
Although solid manure is easier to transport, liquid manure generally retains more nitrogen, especially if it is stored in a deep pit rather than a lagoon. According to Andersen, manure storage systems of the future will likely be designed to retain even higher nutrient levels.
Another component of manure management includes precision application. Thanks to advancements in GPS technology, manure application tools have allowed farmers to better target their acres using variable rate control and yield analyses. The trick to benefiting from these advanced tools also involves optimum timing of application.
“Immediate injection or incorporation will reduce ammonia volatilization and retain 95 to 100 percent of the nitrogen content in the soil,” said Dr. Jim Friedericks, outreach and education advisor at AgSource Laboratories. “Broadcasting or surface application will reduce retention from 70 to 90 percent.”
Lastly, alternative options such as selling manure or composting give livestock farmers flexibility in managing their fertilizer source. However, depending on the size of the farm, certain rules and regulations must be followed to ensure land and water resources are safeguarded. Farmers who have questions about these guidelines can contact the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers for a free and confidential consultation.
CSIF is a non-profit organization that assists livestock farmers who want help interpreting rules and regulations, guidance on good site locations for barns, counsel on enhancing neighbor relations and tips on how to protect the environment at no cost. It was created as a joint partnership involving the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Egg Council, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Turkey Federation and Midwest Dairy Association.
Haley Banwart is an assistant field specialist with the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers.
January 2, 2017, Columbus, OH — The Ohio State University Extension has four nutrient management plan writers who will be on hand on select days this winter to work with farmers to prepare a free nutrient management plan.
The writers will work with any grain/vegetable/crop producers and/or non-CAFO livestock producers who can provide information including soil tests, implement details, crop rotation and yield goals and farm maps. READ MORE
December 20, 2016, Lincoln, NE – Eight Nebraska Extension offices across the state will offer workshops in January and February providing livestock and crop farmers with information on how to turn manure nutrients into better crop yields while protecting the environment.
Livestock producers with livestock waste control facility permits received or renewed since April 1998 must be certified. READ MORE
December 9, 2016, Carroll, IA — Abe Sandquist deals with manure for a living. Sandquist, who operates Natural Fertilizer Services in Woodbine, says manure is a valuable resource that must be handled properly.
It must be handled with care both because it provides important nutrients that shouldn’t be wasted and also because there are risks to the public and to the farmer if it is not handled the right way.
December 8, 2016, Rossburg, OH – When Ohio farmer Tom Harrod first heard about sidedressing hog manure, he was skeptical.
He went to a county extension program after talking to some farmers about their use of hog manure on growing corn, then he decided to give it a try. After achieving good yields without using commercial fertilizer, he became sold on the practice. Now, Harrod says, it’s driving profits in his operation. READ MORE
Each year, more than 14 million tons of chicken litter is generated in the U.S. Studies have shown that using poultry litter to fertilize crops can be as effective as using synthetic fertilizers.
In a new study, researchers at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service have calculated how much chicken litter farmers need to apply to cotton crops to maximize profits.
“Most research focuses on the amount of poultry litter needed to maximize crop yields,” says Haile Tewolde, lead author of the study. “We wanted to know if aiming for maximum yield always makes economic sense for farmers.”
Tewolde and his colleagues found that it doesn’t. Using less chicken litter than what was needed to maximize crop yields actually increased profits for farmers. Profits increased even though crop yields were lower.
It might appear that higher crop yields would lead to higher profits. But using more fertilizer also increases costs for farmers. The researchers predicted that once an optimal amount of fertilizer had been applied to crops, any more would raise costs more than profits.
The study was conducted in two farms in Mississippi. Researchers applied varying amounts of chicken litter as fertilizer on replicated plots then compared yield and profitability. They also compared the use of synthetic fertilizers and chicken litter.
They found that chicken litter applications over a certain level did not result in net economic gains. Instead, it led to economic losses even though yields were somewhat higher.
Maximum cotton yields were achieved by applying between 9,000 to 12,000 pounds of chicken litter per acre. In contrast, applying about 7,000 pounds of chicken litter per acre each year was enough to maximize profits.
The researchers also confirmed studies that showed chicken litter to be as effective – sometimes more so – than synthetic fertilizers.
If farmers can use less poultry litter and still maximize profits, pollution can be managed more effectively.
Poultry producers in Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and other areas of the United States and Canada are dealing with added nutrient management regulations on a continuous basis. Insight into best practices in stockpiling and application is critical.
Dr. Peter Tomlinson and agronomy graduate student Barrett Smith are now two years into a large research project evaluating improved storage sites for stockpiling of poultry litter for application to crop land. Dr. Tomlinson has been an assistant professor and extension specialist for environmental quality at Kansas State University since 2011 and his interest in studying manure and nutrient management began during his undergraduate years at the University of Connecticut.
“Poultry producers in Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma continue to face nutrient management regulations,” Dr. Tomlinson notes. “Kansas row crop producers in the southeast corner of the state are looking for cost-effective sources of N, P, and K and have found that poultry litter can cost effective way to meet their P, K and a portion of their N requirements. However, before the litter is applied it must be stored, and stored properly. The keys to a good storage site are that it’s accessible in all-weather conditions, is at least 300 feet away from water, has the ability to exclude extraneous drainage, and has an adequate buffer area before the runoff reaches water.”
This is exactly what Dr. Tomlinson has been studying, and he uses the word “encouraging” to describe his and Smith’s preliminary research findings from the last two years.
“Our initial look at the data is encouraging based on flow-weighted mean concentrations of run-off nutrients,” he explains. “We are in the process of calculating total load losses from the pad and buffer, which will allow us to determine if we are retaining the nutrients lost from the pad in the buffer area.”
From previous research and experience in small feedlot design, a chicken litter storage site evaluation sheet [agronomy.k-state.edu/extension/environmental-quality/poultry_litter/index.html] and improved storage site specifications have been developed by Herschel George – Kansas State Research and Extension watershed specialist – and Dr. Tomlinson, with input from state agency personnel, the Kansas Farm Bureau and local watershed restoration and protection strategy groups. Dr. Tomlinson says the evaluation tool can be used to identify suitable locations for developing an improved storage site as well locating suitable locations for short-term in field storage of poultry litter. The lowest score possible (lowest risk possible of detrimental runoff) is desirable.
The general guidelines for litter storage sites include:
- Elevated earthen pad to eliminate ponding of water at the storage site
- Extraneous drainage diverted around the storage site
- From four- to six-inches of agricultural lime or equivalent added to provide an elevated level pad to store poultry litter
Year-round access to the storage site is also critical, says Dr. Tomlinson.
“In conversations with poultry litter brokers/transporters, they have indicated that they really like good all-weather access of the service entrances. What we mean by ‘all-weather’ access is access from a gravel road whereby a semi-truck with a 40-foot trailer can access the pad, even when weather conditions are rainy and or soil conditions are wet and might cause the semi to get stuck.”
Dr. Tomlinson notes that when the popularity of poultry litter increased in southeastern Kansas because fertilizer prices went up, one of the major issues was fear of getting stuck. He explains that drivers would only back the trailer into the field. By the time they finished off-loading the litter, the end of the pile was near or in the road ditch, and/or the trailer had left ruts where runoff was funneled directly into the ditch.
Dr. Tomlinson adds that producers have found the agricultural lime base of the storage pad is helpful when they are loading the manure for spreading because it gives a visual indicator that they have reach the bottom of the pile.
Farmers also need to exclude extraneous drainage from their poultry litter storage sites by limiting water from a higher landscape position from entering the site, obviously because adding water to the runoff that’s already being filtered through the buffer is not desirable.
“This typically involves constructing an earthen berm, during the pad construction building phase, that directs water that would normally run onto the pad away from, and around, the pad,” Dr. Tomlinson explains. “The other option is to find storage locations sites that are at the top/crest of a landscape position such as the top of a hill. The key here is minimizing the water that has to be treated through the buffer to just that which is coming from the storage pad.”
In terms of best practices in creating a sufficient buffer between the storage area and natural bodies of surface water such as streams, Dr. Tomlinson says the storage site location should be at least 300 feet away. The distance from the pad to the edges of occasionally or frequently-flooded soil should be factored in as well (on the storage site evaluation sheet, the greater the distance, the lower the score).
“We have also given different buffer types different values on the evaluation sheet,” explains Dr. Tomlinson. “Dense grass is a more efficient buffer than crop ground, for example. However, this is coupled with the buffer size calculation. So if you have crop ground present, you can reduce the score (risk) by increasing the buffer size. If the area is limited in size, then establishing a grass buffer would reduce your score.”
The project will be continuing for two more years. Although Dr. Tomlinson has only studied storage of broiler chicken litter, he anticipates that the principles and best management practices would be the same for turkey litter.
Kansas State University Soil Science Professor Dan Sweeney and colleagues have compared the application of fertilizer and turkey litter to sorghum grown in clay pan soils (common in Kansas) and found that application of litter is a viable option. At the eight-leaf stage, there were no significant differences between fertilizer and/or turkey litter treatments.
“I haven’t done any price comparisons,” Dr. Sweeney says. “Pricing can certainly be important to producers, but with swings in fertilizer pricing and maybe litter pricing too, it can vary whether it is a cost savings to use poultry litter or commercial fertilizer.”
However, Dr. Sweeney says applying turkey litter annually to clay pan soils must be done carefully.
“Poultry manure has a greater ratio of P to N in comparison to other manures, so if poultry litter application is based on the crop’s N needs instead of its P needs, P can be greatly over-applied.”
Dr. Sweeney and colleagues have also studied nutrient run-off from application of turkey litter versus fertilizer. He found that run-off rates from fertilizer were usually lower than from N-based, and similar to P-based, turkey litter applications.
“Incorporation of the litter reduced the nutrient losses in runoff, but it didn’t always make any significant difference,” he explains. “Applying a lot of litter will build up soil P levels, and annual P runoff losses can accelerate when soil P values are very high.”
The chicken litter storage site evaluation sheet is available here:
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Farm Science Review 2017Tue Sep 19, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
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