LONDON, Ohio — It wasn’t the most glamorous topic for a national show, but for the attendees at the North American Manure Expo, held Aug. 3-4 in Madison County, the topic was fitting.
Farmers, custom manure applicators, equipment companies and researchers gathered at the Farm Science Review grounds for a two-day look at animal waste — and how they can better use it.
The event covered the ins and outs of this out-going material — and all facets of science and technology surrounding modern manure handling. Topics included water quality and regulations, liquid and solid manure handling and application, and safety.
Equipment in action
Attendees also got to see how the equipment worked — with farm tours that demonstrated manure agitation equipment, and field tours that demonstrated solid and liquid manure application.
One of the newest developments — side dressing corn with liquid manure — was especially popular. It’s part of a broader effort to apply manure to growing crops, to reduce reliance on commercial fertilizer and ensure nutrient uptake — before the nutrients have a chance to move out of the soil profile, and reach the tile or a creek.
“The manure that you have in the pit is money in the bank, and we want you to use it that way,” said Sam Custer, an Ohio State Extension educator in Darke County, who is helping research ways to side-dress with manure.
Custer said OSU research is showing about an 18-20 bushel increase from using swine manure, compared to side-dressing with nitrogen. Part of the reason for higher yields, he thinks, is because with manure — there’s also a lot of moisture being added to the field.
The moisture could be more beneficial in a dry year, but Custer said the research is showing that side-dressing in a wet year works just as well.
The biggest challenge is the logistics — getting equipment and drag lines set up in a way that will cause minimal damage to the standing corn plants.
Equipment manufacturers are working on some new designs and new tool bars to make it easier to spread into standing crops — some of which were on display at the expo.
The Cadman Power Equipment Co. demonstrated their row-crop application equipment, which allows for continuous manure application into standing corn, while pulling a hose that can supply fields a half-mile long.
Custer also said incorporating the manure — instead of leaving it on top the soil — shows a “tremendous” yield incentive in corn, in addition to cutting down on nutrient loss.
In addition to side-dressing corn, he encouraged farmers to continue top-dressing their standing wheat with manure, versus waiting until the wheat is harvested, and then spreading on an empty field.
Although studies have shown manure does not move through the soil as fast as commercial fertilizers, Custer said it gets a lot of bad views by the public.
He predicted that going forward, farmers will face continued regulatory scrutiny with nutrient applications — and that eventually, the western basin of Lake Erie will be declared impaired or distressed.
Know the data
Terry Mescher, ag engineer with the Ohio Department of Agriculture, said farmers need to pay close attention to existing soil nutrients — and analyze the exact manure they’re putting on, versus what the crops are using. Applying nutrients above what the crop uses in a growing year is more likely to result in nutrient loss, research has shown.
In some cases, crops may not need a phosphorus application for a year or more, and Mescher said some fields could take 15 years or more to reduce the phosphorus levels to acceptable levels.
He warned that while phosphorus is like “cash in the bank,” because it is available for years to come — there is also a limit to how much a farmer can withdraw — because the crops only use so much each year.
If regulations continue to get tougher, fields with excess phosphorus buildup could come under increased scrutiny.
Mescher reminded farmers that the nutrient issue is not just limited to Lake Erie or Grand Lake St. Marys — and that last year — the biggest algal bloom was actually on the Ohio River. He said the future of water quality discussions will enter on all of Ohio’s lakes and rivers.
Rory Lewandowski, an OSU Extension educator in Wayne County, said the expo was a good way to expose manure applicators to a lot of new equipment, and procedures and processes related to manure management.
“It’s a great opportunity to network,” said Lewandowski, who gave a presentation on cover crop opportunities and challenges.
About 1,000 people attended the manure expo, an event which originated with the University of Wisconsin, in 2001. Last year’s show was held in Chambersburg, Pa. The event will return to Wisconsin in 2017, to be held in Arlington, Wisconsin.