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Use high-tech tools to make manure applications easier

Gary Doerr and his wife, Liz, of Creighton have been raising hogs for years. They recently found a way to combine high-tech tools they were already using in crop production to improve how they spread hog manure over their crop fields.

The Doerrs, who farm with their son, Eric, use high-quality manure that includes wheat straw bedding from their hoophouse finishing barns to improve fertility on crop ground. In the past, they’ve been concerned about overlapping too heavily with manure in some areas and skipping others.

By moving their Trimble GPS unit from the combine and planter to the tractor that pulls their manure spreader, they are able to log spreader passes across a field, ensuring more uniform coverage. They set their overlap pattern, and even engage autosteer capability during applications, to make sure coverage is perfect.

The Doerr family implemented mapping with an Ag Leader Technology system on their main farm computer. Since adopting variable-rate and GPS technology units for monitoring yield in the combine, planting and spraying operations, they continue to look for new ways to utilize technology.

At a glance

Creighton farm family uses GPS mapping when spreading hog manure.

Mapping lets them cover all fields equally, without excessive overlapping.

Overlaying yield maps can help identify weak fertility spots in each field.

“With the manure, it will probably take a few years to notice the results in yield,” Gary Doerr says. But when he overlays his yield maps and manure distribution maps from last season, he can already notice a 10- to 20-bushel yield bump without starter fertilizer on the same corn variety in a field where the land was covered with manure last spring, compared to an adjacent sector that was not covered.

“You need a big enough spreader to cover half-mile rows easily,” Doerr says. “You also need to travel at a consistent speed, so you are spreading the manure at an even rate.”

“If you have livestock, you have manure,” he says. “It’s all natural.” For the Doerrs, manure is not a liability, but an important asset in cropland fertility.

“One of the uses is that we can overlay yield maps now and just spread manure where the yields are low,” he says. These same weak-yield areas in each field might require a special recipe of manure and commercial fertilizer to improve overall fertility. “We’re building up spots in each field with manure,” Doerr says.

“There are a lot of possibilities and uses. I just don’t think many producers think about taking it [the GPS unit] out of their combine or planter tractor and putting the gear in the tractor pulling the manure spreader,” says Chris Henry, University of Nebraska Extension engineer. “Instead of trading in the old gear, consider installing it permanently in the tractor that pulls the manure spreader.”

Making records easier

“This technology takes the drudgery out of the records needed to maintain a nutrient management plan,” Henry says. “It provides an automated way to make the application maps for each field needed for the new annual report requirements.

For every field, the producer knows how much manure was applied. It also allows producers to patch in appropriate setbacks from surface water, tile intakes, ditches, sinkholes, wellheads and other conduits to surface water.”

Doerr says his mapping system keeps a record of his manure passes in a field and when manure was applied. He gives the same maps to his agronomist, who uses the information when he is making fertility recommendations on Doerr’s cropland.  

“In the end, it all comes down to what works for each individual situation,” says Henry. “It is about using manure to its maximum benefit, and these GPS tools can help us do just that.”

MANURE POWER: For Gary Doerr, mapping technology helps his family get the most out of the fertility benefits of their hog manure without heavily overlapping in the field.


TEAMING UP: Eric Doerr (left) and his father, Gary, team up in utilizing technology in applying and mapping manure applications.

This article published in the June, 2011 edition of NEBRASKA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.