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Ted L. Funk
Extension Specialist, Agricultural Engineering
Department of Agricultural
and Biological Engineering
Manure Management Marathon: Winners Plan For The Long Run
Nutrient management in livestock production is not new. For centuries farmers have recognized the benefits of manure as fertilizer. What is new is that environmental pressures have forced the agriculture community to look more closely at possible ties between over-fertilization and water quality impairment. Phosphorus and nitrogen, two necessary plant nutrients that are components of manure, are under special scrutiny on a national scope. Manure application must be implemented carefully, on a long term plan that matches manure nutrients to crop uptake and that respects high-risk practices and cropland.
Manure nutrient management is not just a good idea, it's the law in Illinois. Many larger farms are required to have written manure management plans, addressing how the manure is handled and stored as well as the nutrient application rates on crops. There is some urgency in manure nutrient planning, not only because of the existing law, but also because a farm's cropland nutrient imbalance may be significant and expensive to mitigate. Phosphorus is the biggest issue, as it is in the national spotlight and also because it accumulates in the soil; accumulations can't be “hidden” from soil testing. We have plenty of cropland in Illinois to use manure phosphorus. If manure was the only source of phosphorus for the Illinois corn crop, Illinois animals could only supply enough phosphorus for about 12 percent of the crop. The message: manure doesn't have to be over-applied, there is plenty of crop acreage if you can get the manure to it.
Here is some long range planning advice. Source control (animal dietary management) should be livestock farmers' first priority. Don't over-feed nitrogen or phosphorus. Test animal diets and the manures that result, and make sure your manure testing protocol is thorough and accurate. Use sensible crop rotations and realistic yield goals to match manure nutrients. You need to balance phosphorus inputs (feed) coming into your farm with phosphorus “exports”; milk, meat, eggs, manure and crops must be used to move excess phosphorus off your farmland. Familiarize yourself with computer software that makes the nutrient management calculations easier. Work to get more cropland committed to manure, if you are short of acreage. Market manure to your crop-producing neighbors.
Use phosphorus storage to your advantage. Lagoons store phosphorus in the sludge - know how much sludge is accumulating, the phosphorus levels in that sludge, and where you will spread the sludge when the lagoon is dredged. Use fields with low P tests to advantage in your planning. Be sure to calibrate spreading equipment so you know your nutrient application rates accurately. Large farms should consider using commercial manure haulers, to be efficient and environmentconscious. Nurse tankers and professionally-managed umbilical cord “towed-hose” systems are faster, more efficient, and safer for long hauls than using tractor-towed tankers over the road.
Another regulation that is currently under review by EPA is the CAFO rule. A recent court decision has put the scope of the regulation in question, but if it is upheld the CAFO rule will have far-reaching implications on manure management. Regardless of the outcome, though, manure nutrient management is here to stay. Livestock farmers must learn the ropes, and crop producing neighbors of livestock operations can reap the benefits in fertilizer savings by working closely with those farms.