Handling manure in no-till gets tricky


WEST MIDDLESEX, Pa. – For dairymen attending the Tri-State Conservation Tillage Conference Jan. 28, the most interesting session wasn’t about reduced tillage or weed control. It was about manure.

Handling manure in no-till or reduced tillage cropping systems presents a problem: How do you keep runoff to a minimum when you apply manure to fields where you don’t want to disturb the soil?

A panel of three farmers presented their stories during last week’s conference, held at the Radisson Hotel in West Middlesex, Pa.

More than 225 people from across Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York attended the event.

Panelists included Columbiana County Jersey breeder Scott Lindsay of New Waterford, Ohio; Randy Campbell of Campbell Bros. Farm, Homeworth, Ohio; and Gary Galton, a dairyman from Nunda, N.Y.

Lots of manure. Galton’s perspective comes from having to manage 6 million gallons of manure from his 950-cow dairy each year.

The farm has 800 acres of corn and another 700 acres in hay that can be used for manure application.

Using a system of two tanker trucks and a 7,400-gallon injector tanker, the farm uses a Yetter injection system with 25-inch blades that opens a slot that takes the manure injection hose as the equipment moves along.

Galton said they’ve found the system works best at about 7 mph, and can spread 8,000 gallons per acre.

The result is little manure on the soil surface. “Odor is always a concern of ours and this is pretty minimal,” Galton said.

Compaction concern. The heavy equipment, however, takes its toll on the fields.

“Compaction is always a concern,” Galton said. “Everything we do is heavy.”

They keep the tanker trucks on the roads and use an arm to top-load the injection tanker at the field’s edge.

Even with careful management, however, Galton said they have to subsoil every year because of compaction concerns.

Dairyman Scott Lindsay agreed that it’s tough to time field applications when the conditions are best for the heavy equipment.

“Manure is a great thing, but you can do a lot of damage.”

Transition. Lindsay calls his manure application and cropping system “in transition,” as he juggles how best to apply the 2 to 3 million gallons of manure produced each year by his 450 head of Jersey cattle.

Lindsay has been using a 5,800-gallon, three-axle Houle manure spreader with disk incorporator in his minimum tillage system. Using a chisel plow, he incorporates between 10,000 and 11,000 gallons per acre.

He’s also used a Unverferth Zone-Builder sub-soiler to also work those fields and minimize compaction.

The Columbiana County dairyman is looking at doing more no-till through a custom operator, and is also considering ways to reduce soil disturbance, perhaps switching to an injector-type of application.

Have tanker, will travel. Campbell Bros. Farm considers itself a cash grain operation, even though the western Columbiana County operation maintains its own herd of 70 dairy cows. The Campbell family has followed total zone tillage system since 1989.

They were raising corn silage for a neighbor, who then asked them to handle his liquid manure. They have now suddenly found themselves in the custom manure application business and bought a 6,300-gallon tanker with Yetter injectors last fall.

The system incorporates the manure with little surface disturbance, said Randy Campbell. Injecting the manure between 5 and 7 inches, the tanker can spread between 8,000 and 14,000 gallons per acre.

The panelists said keeping a watchful eye on soil levels of nitrogen and phosphorus is critical, and emphasized the need for manure analysis to know exactly what you’re spreading and constant soil testing to know exactly what you’ve got in the field.


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