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.
“The first thing you’ve got to do is determine how much manure you need and where it should be applied,” said 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, 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.
Haley Banwart is Assistant Field Specialist with the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers, 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.