Manure is a resource, not just waste

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MASSILLON, Ohio – You can’t dress up manure ormake it smell like roses, but you should pay special attention to it as a farm resource and profit-maker.
That was the take-home messages from the 2007 Manure Science Review, an Ohio State University Extension event held July 26 at R.G. Drage Career and Technical Center in Massillon.
The same event was also offered July 25 in Celina, Ohio.
Plan. The first step is to develop a plan to manage manure, whether it’s used on your farm or your neighbors’ operations, matching up the nutrients in the manure with what crop ground needs, experts said.
There’s no cookie-cutter manure management plan that fits every farm, according to Jon Rausch, an Ohio State ag engineer who’s been dealing with manure management issues for years.
That means every farmer who’s got livestock should take the time to pencil out the plan that works best for them.
Resources. That plan should include figuring just how much manure your livestock produces, how many acres you have to spread the manure on, when you can spread it, how you’ll store it until then, and then seeing if you’ve got excess that could be sold off the farm.
“You’ve got to balance the nutrients generated with the nutrients recycled. You also have to keep records to make and implement your plan, otherwise the plan isn’t beneficial to anyone,” Rausch said.
Good neighbor. Developing a manure management plan is also important to what the experts call ‘externalities’ – those people downstream from your operation who can be affected by poor manure management.
A good management plan will minimize environmental impacts for those people, by preventing things like fish kills, algae growth, water pollution, and overall bad smell farm neighbors often complain about.
Planning help. Building an effective manure management plan takes time and effort, the experts say. Soil sampling land where you’ll spread manure is critical, as is figuring out how much manure you’ve got to get rid of.
The Extension service offers an online manure calculator that can help a farmer figure out his farm’s output as well as the manure’s nitrogen, phosphorus and potash content, based on generic book values.
Farmers can also take it one step further and get their manure sampled and tested to have exact nutrient content to work with.
“It’s not the easiest or most elegant work, but [manure testing] holds value,” said Robert Mullen, an Extension soil fertility specialist. “A sample from your specific operation is much more useful than using book values.”
Option. Manure is an inexpensive option when compared with chemical fertilizers.
Some workshop participants said they were paying upwards of 50 cents per pound of nitrogen fertilizer for crops.
Experts said the cost of manure can hover around $10 per acre, significantly less than what it would cost for chemical mixtures.
“With such high costs, it’s worth the time to re-evaluate the cost and economic benefits of manure, and manage your operation to take advantage of it,” Mullen said.
The drawback, however, is that chemical fertilizers can be blended to exactly match the needs of the land. On the other hand, manure varies with storage, feed ration and species, and farmers have to learn to play with the cards they’re dealt.
“A nutrient management plan is not perfect, but is a tool to allocate resources. If you monitor and update the plan to keep it working, there are economic and environmental benefits,” Mullen said.
(Reporter Andrea Zippay welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at azippay@farmanddairy.com.)

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