The management of manure is a very important part of livestock operations in the Cadillac area. Livestock producers in our area are very proactive in identifying innovative ways to handle this resource (manure) for both environmental and financial benefits.

 

Environmental benefits of management

There are many benefits that can be gained by the proper management of manure. For example, the environment benefits of manure include:

• Improved soil quality and promotes carbon sequestration by building or maintaining soil organic matter. 

• The organic matter in manure creates an open soil structure that stabilizes nutrients and lets water in more easily, reducing runoff. By reducing runoff, surface water quality is protected because soil and fertilizers don’t leave the crop fields.

• May reduce the risk of groundwater contamination from nitrogen leaching compared to commercial fertilizers, as the nitrogen in manure is more stable and more easily utilized by crops

• Conserves energy when compared to the manufacturing, mining, processing and transporting of commercial fertilizers.

 

Financial benefits of management

Using manure can provide financial benefits to farmers. It can allow farmers to:

• Reduce or eliminate the need to purchase commercial fertilizer for crops.

• Improve crop use of nitrogen relative to commercial fertilizers — the nitrogen in manure is more stable, releasing slowly as soils warm and crops grow.

• Improve soil productivity through increased water-holding capacity and greater nutrient availability and retention.

 

New innovations

Livestock producers are always looking for the next manure management practice that will help them obtain the highest economic return from the manure and help protect the environment the most. That could be anything from how the manure is applied to the field, to growing a crop that captures nutrients from the manure once it is applied to the field.

Nitrogen is a highly mobile nutrient meaning it moves thru the environment in several ways. One form of nitrogen goes up into the air (volatilizes) another form attaches to water and is easily leached below the root zone of the crop, or moves with the water as it runs off the field. So, it is important to have a management plan that will address the best way to keep nitrogen in place where the plant can utilize it.

 

Cover crops

Planting cover crops in the fall is an excellent way of achieving keeping nitrogen in a field. Cereal rye planted in September and October will utilize some of the nutrients from the applied manure. In the spring, the cover crop is killed. The decomposing cover crop slowly releases nitrogen, which will then be available to the next crop.

There are several ways to establish a rye cover. The traditional way is to plant the rye cover after the corn crop has been harvested and after the manure has been surfaced applied. Some farmers are experimenting with inter-seeding the rye cover into growing corn approximately sixty days before harvest. They would then spread manure on the cover crop or inject the manure into the soil. By injecting the manure, the nitrogen is less likely to volatilize into the air.

 

Manure injection system

Injecting manure three to four inches into the soil leaves no manure on the soil surface. It has the added benefit of preventing the nitrogen in the manure from volatilizing. With this method, crop residues are left on the soil surface, or a growing cover crop can be left undisturbed, thereby preventing soil erosion during the winter months.

 

Manure agitation boat

Over the last couple of years, we have seen the use of manure agitation boats increase. The floating boats are designed to agitate manure stored in lagoons. They can be operated by remote control, and enter and exit the lagoon and agitate it while the operator is standing high and dry on the shore. Pumps and multiple nozzles agitate the manure and steer the boat. There is an increase in the use of the boats in our area as they are more efficient and create a much more homogenized slurry that can be spread on fields. A homogenized slurry means that the nutrients in the slurry will be the same in the first load out of the pit as the last load, which makes the management of the manure more efficient. The agitation boat replaces from two to four tractors that would otherwise have to be used to running agitators.

Jim Williams is the USDA-Natural Resources District Conservationist serving Wexford and Missaukee Counties. If you are interested in learning more about manure management, you can meet with Jim at the Wexford Conservation District / USDA-NRCS office at 7192 E. 34 Rd. in Cadillac. You can also reach him by phone at 231-775-7681, ext. 3, or by email at jim.williams@mi.usda.gov. The USDA-NRCS is an equal opportunity provider, employer, and lender.