Years ago, it was tradition for farmers to grow a variety of crops on their farm. There was limited food distribution to large grocery stores, and most of the food was grown locally. So, a farmer could be cropping cotton and sweet potatoes in one area of their farm. On another area, graze beef cattle, dairy, or chickens on forage crops like annual clovers, perennial tall fescue, wheat pasture, and native rangeland.
Pastures and hayland were rotated with crops so that the same enterprise was not on the same field year after year. Diversity of enterprises on each farm helped create stability in the production system.
With the advent of large farming equipment and commercial fertilizers following World War II, it became more efficient from a labor standpoint to grow the same types of crop year after year.
After investing in equipment to handle a particular crop like corn, farmers often became more specialized. This led to monoculture cropping, which can have positive effects on yields and efficiency. But, monoculture has some drawbacks, including environmental and social concerns.
The need for greater nutrient inputs with monoculture can lead to poor water quality underground or from run-off. Confined operations have the issue of disposing of large volumes of manure.
Interest in re-integrating farms to take advantage of the synergies between crops and livestock has increased in the past few decades. Our lab has embarked on researching such integrated systems as a way to improve agricultural sustainability.
Crop-pasture rotations are part of an integrated system. Farmers can match the energy and nutrient flows of different enterprises (i.e. types of livestock and types of crops) to meet the desired outcomes.
Ruminant livestock consume forages, often on pasture by themselves during much of the year. Animal manures are deposited directly on the land where they graze. Alternatively, they can be confined in areas during parts of the year with conserved forages, e.g. hay or silage.
Manures can also be collected from confinement areas and applied to cropland. This recycles and effectively utilizes nutrients throughout the entire system and can substantially reduce chemical fertilizer needs for cropping.
Forage grasses used for grazing often have extensive, fibrous root systems. These roots hold soil particles together. All plants take carbon dioxide from the air and convert it into simple sugars during photosynthesis.
Compared with annual crops, forage grasses form a thick mat over the soil, and can enrich the amount of carbon in soil more than annual crops. Forage legumes are capable of converting nitrogen from the atmosphere and add nitrogen to the soil as well.
The large gain in soil organic carbon under perennial pastures is a key benefit of integrated crop-livestock systems.
Pasturing is also an important adaptation strategy to overcome drought. Pastures can partially control flooding by improving water infiltration and soil health. Forage and grazing lands have historically provided a sustainable and resilient land cover. Grazing lands are rooted by a variety of grasses and forbs that serve to provide essential ecosystem services:
- Water cycling
- Nutrient cycling
- Gas exchange with the atmosphere
- Erosion control and landscape stabilizing
- Climate moderation
- Food and feed production, and,
- Aesthetic experience
Integrated agricultural systems have the potential to adapt to weather extremes. This can make them more climate-resilient than monoculture systems. For example, integrated crop-livestock systems rely on forages as part of a diversity of crop choices. These forages provide a large benefit for positive balance of carbon stored in soil. Crops grown in rotation with forages can be more profitable, since yields are often enhanced and costly fertilizer inputs can be lower. The presence of forages can reduce nutrient runoff and reduce nitrous oxide emissions.1
The diversity of farming operations in integrated crop-livestock systems reduces the overall risk of failure. By having several different crops on a farm, the risk of any one component failing is reduced.
This diversity also offers resilience of the farming system against extreme weather events and potential climate change. Greater integration of crops and livestock using modern technologies could broadly transform agriculture to enhance productivity.
Integrated crop-livestock systems can also reduce environmental damage, protect and enhance biological diversity, and reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
Integrated systems likely provide healthier potentially more diverse foods and increase economic and cultural opportunities in many different regions of the world.
Diverse agricultural systems that include livestock, perennial grasses and legumes, and a wide variety of annual forages offer enhanced agro-ecosystem resilience in the face of uncertain climate and market conditions.
Indeed, there are many good reasons why a diversity of crops and livestock should be produced on the same farm and even the same field within a farm.
Odor management rules are among the many regulations defining how animal farmers handle never ending piles of manure or the way it is spread on fields for fertilizer.
The spread of manure by Pennsylvania farmers is regulated to keep pollutants from seeping into the air and waterways.
A bill moving quickly through the state Legislature would remove an advisory panel with input on those regulations, the Nutrient Management Advisory Board, and replace it with a new panel, the Farm Animal Advisory Board, broadening the scope of oversight and changing the make-up of the members to mostly large farmers. The move minimizes the role of environmentalists, critics say. | READ MORE
The Runoff Risk Advisory Forecast tool uses past and predicted National Weather Service weather data like precipitation, temperature, and snow melt. It predicts the likelihood that applied manure will run off fields in daily, next day, and 72-hour increments.
Farmers and commercial applicators use an interactive map to locate their field and find the forecasted risk.
Users can also sign up for email or text messages for their county that alert them to a severe runoff risk for that day.
"By providing this information, we hope to give our farmers and commercial manure applicators the tools they need to make well-informed decisions," said Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson. "By being able to better predict times of high runoff risk, we can decrease the potential loss of manure to our waterways and increase farm productivity by saving nutrients on the land. It is a win-win situation based on an easy-to-use tool."
When someone goes to the interactive map, the runoff risk is displayed in one of four categories: no runoff expected, low, moderate, and severe. When the risk is moderate or severe, it is recommended that the applicator evaluate the situation to determine if there are other locations or later dates when the manure application could take place.
The forecasting tool can also be used by others looking for climate information including two-inch soil depth temperatures which are useful at planting time, and six-inch soil depth temperatures which are helpful when determining fall fertilizer application in appropriate areas.
The Minnesota Runoff Risk Advisory Forecast is part of a larger federal project. The National Weather Service has provided data and guidance to states to create similar tools in Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. State funding for the project was provided by the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment.
Pen-pack manure contains the macro nutrients nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash along with a host of micronutrients.
The nutrient content can vary depending on species, feed products fed, and the amounts of straw or sawdust used for bedding.
The farm's manure handling and storage practices also impact the nutrient content of manure. Manure stored under roof will usually maintain a higher nutrient value than manure exposed to rainfall. | READ MORE
"Make sure you're staying out of the areas you need to," said David Ginder, environmental protection specialist for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. "The key question should be if there are areas were livestock manure can run off this field." | READ MORE
The Iowa Administrative Code only allows a maximum of 100 pounds N per acre manure application on ground to be planted to soybean. However, it does allow fields that had liquid manure applied at rates intended for growing corn to be switched to soybean on or after June 1 with no penalty of over-application of manure nitrogen. Thus if a field planned for corn has not been planted and will be switched to soybean, this can be done. Producers should document the changes in crop rotation, application methods and other changes in their annual manure management plans.
Given it has been a wet spring in some areas, nutrient management and specifically, nitrogen loss may be top of mind. Livestock producers with Iowa Department of Natural Resources [DNR] manure management plans are reminded if they have already applied the maximum nitrogen rate to the field, they can’t apply additional sources of nitrogen unless the need is confirmed by the use of a Late Spring Nitrate Test. This test measures nitrate-N concentration at the 0 to 12-inch depth.
Results can be interpreted by the ISU Extension and Outreach publication “Use of the Late-Spring Soil Nitrate Test in Iowa Corn Production” (CROP 3140), which considers both the original fertilizer source and the amount of rain that occurred in May (excessive is more than five inches in May). When adding extra nitrogen, be sure to document soil sample results and reference the publication to interpret the test results in management plans.
While fall provided favorable application conditions, and periods in March were favorable, producers should plan ahead if not as much manure as normal is applied in the spring. Having a plan in place will help prevent potential issues from turning into problems. Keep an eye on storage, and have a plan for needed action.
This project is part of Smithfield Renewables, the company's new platform dedicated to unifying and accelerating its carbon reduction and renewable energy efforts.
The project reuses organic matter found in hog manure to create a commercial-grade fertilizer that is higher in nutrient concentration than the original organic materials.
Farmers are able to better manage nutrient ratios while using less fertilizer by applying precisely what they need for optimal plant growth.
Because Anuvia's products contain organic matter, nutrient release is more controlled, resulting in reduced greenhouse gas emissions and a smaller environmental footprint.
Anuvia will utilize remnant solids from Smithfield that accumulate over time at the bottom of the anaerobic lagoons, basins designed and certified to treat and store the manure on hog farms.
Anuvia, which specializes in the transformation of organic materials into enhanced efficiency fertilizer products, will manufacture and sell these commercial-grade fertilizer products to farmers nationwide.
"Through Smithfield Renewables, we are aggressively pursuing opportunities to reduce our
environmental footprint while creating value," said Kraig Westerbeek, senior director of Smithfield Renewables. "Along with projects that transform biogas into renewable natural gas, this is another example of how we are tackling this goal on our hog farms."
"This is the beginning of a partnership based on a shared vision that will positively impact livestock and crop production," says Amy Yoder, Anuvia Plant Nutrients CEO. "Our proprietary manufacturing process which converts organic waste into novel bio-based plant nutrients is both environmentally friendly and sustainable. Our products reduce leaching and put organic matter back in the soil. Our process is a prototype for a circular economy as we reclaim organic waste, convert and reuse on cropland. This relationship provides a new sustainable way for Smithfield to return its remnant solids back to the land for use on the crops grown to feed the hogs. The impact of this is extremely significant for hog production and the livestock industry. We look forward to helping achieve both Smithfield's and Anuvia's environmental goals."
Company-owned and contract hog farms in North Carolina will participate in this project.
Smithfield will collect and begin the process by de-watering the waste solids before providing the remnants to Anuvia. Once acquired, Anuvia will pick-up and transport the material to their processing plant to create the fertilizer.
However, FYM is only as valuable as the chemical fertiliser that can be saved by using it. According to Teagasc, if farmers are importing organic fertiliser without making adjustments in chemical fertiliser applications, then the organic fertiliser will not be saving any money.
Volatile chemical fertiliser prices in recent years have resulted in equally volatile organic fertiliser value. This can complicate decisions of whether or not to import organic fertilisers onto the farm. | READ MORE
Farmers who are able to properly use the manure produced on their farms save money in fertilizer costs. Szemborski said injecting the manure into soil allows for reduced runoff and loss of nutrients, while also reducing odor from the manure due to the ammonia that causes the smell being locked into the soil during injection. | READ MORE
Ohio farm organizations and their partners will work with farmers to expand the number of individuals who have Nutrient Management Plans. In addition, the project will increase the use of soil testing to achieve improved nutrient management.
A series of workshops will provide farmers with individualized Nutrient Management Plans. Ahead of the workshops, farmers will be advised on obtaining soil tests from which the Nutrient Management Plan will be written. The plans will be completed using a program developed by the Ohio Department of Agriculture. | For the full story, CLICK HERE.
Bioreactors, which are woodchip-filled ditches and trenches, are often used near crop fields to filter the water running off of them. The woodchips enhance a natural process called denitrification that prevents too much nitrogen from getting into other bodies of water like rivers and streams.
"This process is a natural part of the nitrogen cycle that is done by bacteria in soil all around the world," explains Laura Christianson. Christianson is an assistant professor at the University of Illinois. "In a bioreactor, we give these natural bacteria extra food—the carbon in the woodchips—to do their job. These bacteria clean the nitrate from the water."
Because it is the bacteria that do this water-cleaning process, it's called a biological process, hence the name bioreactor. By giving them extra food (the woodchips have much more carbon than the surrounding soil), they are "super-powering" this natural process.
"Nitrate in ag drainage is often 100 percent pinned on fertilizer, but it's actually much more complicated," Christianson adds. "In short, nitrate in drainage comes from both fertilizer and manure applications and also importantly from natural nitrogen that exists in the soil."
Christianson studies how well different types of bioreactors take nitrogen out of the water. Her team's work has shown they are effective in the Midwest. Next, they wanted to test them in the Mid-Atlantic region, particularly the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
"Bioreactors are a farmer-friendly practice that has gotten a lot of interest in the Midwest, and so it made sense to see if bioreactors could also work for ag ditch drainage in the Mid-Atlantic," she says. "Why did we need to retest them? The key scientific question had to do with the different environment. Differences in the landscape between the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions required further testing."
The researchers tested three different kinds of bioreactors in the Chesapeake Bay area. They all treated water that was either headed to a drainage ditch or already flowing through a drainage ditch.
One was a bioreactor placed in a ditch. Another was a bioreactor next to a ditch. The last type was a sawdust wall that treated groundwater flowing very slowly under the ground to the ditch.
The group's findings showed that all three types worked in reducing the amount of nitrogen headed from the field into nearby water.
This is good news for watersheds. Too much nitrogen throws off the balance of nitrogen in bodies of water and can set off a process that results in the death of the water's plants and fish. For this current research, the goal was to limit the nitrogen getting from the Mid-Atlantic into the Chesapeake Bay.
The next step in this research, Christianson says, is to further test bioreactors in this area and others so they are better constructed and more effective.
"This is a relatively easy idea that cleans up water without taking much of farmers' time or land," she says. "We need practical solutions like this so farmers can continue to produce food and fiber, while also protecting natural resources. I like that it's a natural process; we're just enhancing it. There's a nice simplicity to it."
Learn more about this work in Agricultural & Environmental Letters. Christianson's research is also highlighted at https://www.agronomy.org/about-agronomy/at-work/laura-christianson. The research was funded by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Conservation Innovation Grant.
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