Manure Happens

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Manure management experts say that what we do with manure once it happens is the important part.

Published on: July 21, 2011

Manure management experts say that what we do with manure once it happens is the important part.  

Several manure brokers and management experts were on hand at the North American Manure Expo, held Wednesday, July 20 on the campus of Northeast Community College at Norfolk, Nebraska. During numerous presentations, programs and demonstrations, one theme came up again and again. Manure is a good thing.

While the general public has been conditioned through the rants of mainstream media to think of livestock manure as this terrible monster that brings odor, plague, pestilence and disease, farmers have begun, especially in the past decade, to see manure like my grandfather saw it, as fertilizer and a soil building amendment.

That’s the traditional manure message that needs to get out from this manure expo. We need urban and rural folks to embrace manure (sort of) and hold it up for its greater qualities. With the price of commercial fertilizers skyrocketing, manure is an ancient fertility boon to the soil.

It brings not only nitrogen, but also P and K, along with a little zinc and sulfur. That’s not a bad combination if we are writing a fertility recipe for cropland.

Making an investment in the application of manure on soil often brings with it a 20 to 30 bushel per acre yield bump in the first year, with dividends that pay out over successive crop years. While it is difficult to quantify the amount of trace minerals that come with manure, there is no doubt that these also boost yield.

Manure helps build the soil in other ways, by building organic matter and through an increase in the water infiltration rate, sponging up more precipitation and allowing less to run off the field.

As one expert put it, “Manure used to be a waste. Now it has value.”

Of course there are issues and concerns. We have to be aware of the needs and concerns of odor and dust with close neighbors. There can be problems with too much phosphorus and too much salt. Weed seed that comes with manure can add problems with crop fields, and compaction during application is always a concern.

However, the added benefits to the soil and the overall affordability of livestock manure make it a valuable, but less respected resource on a livestock farm. Manure is absolutely the “Rodney Dangerfield” of all crop fertility tools we have at our disposal these days. But it is rapidly gaining respect from livestock producers who have manure and from crop farmers who are their neighbors and want to purchase it for their fields. Why else would an entire farm show be dedicated to manure management?

Watch for more detailed reports from the expo in future print issues of Nebraska Farmer. For more information on the topics covered at the manure expo this week in Norfolk, visit 2011 North American Manure Expo.