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Digesters make more than methane Spreading nutrients and goodwill Put your best foot forward
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Volume 3 | No. 1
Nutrient Management MANAGING EDITOR Abby Bauer ART DIRECTOR Todd Garrett EDITORIAL COORDINATOR Jennifer Yurs DIRECTOR OF MARKETING John Mansavage
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Spreading nutrients and goodwill
Time to shine Phosphorus control practices offer varying trade-offs
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A farmer’s view on feeding to cut emissions
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Piecing together the nitrogen puzzle
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Digesters make more than methane
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Embrace data — it is critical to your future Organic matter: The backbone of soil health Put your best foot forward
First Thoughts . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Policy Watch . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Manure Minute . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 In the Field . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 On the Move . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 Places to Be . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 Nutrient Insights . . . . . . . . . . 22
ON THE COVER Texas A&M’s Southwest Regional Dairy Center utilizes recycled effluent to flush the barn alleyways that connect to the sand settling lane. The manure and effluent moves through a static screen separator where solids are removed. The effluent flows first into a settling basin and then into the clay lined, two-stage 6 million gallon lagoon. Photo by Todd Garrett, Art Director.
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Journal of Nutrient Management (ISSN# 26902516) is published four times annually in February, May, August, and November by W.D. Hoard & Sons Company, 28 Milwaukee Ave. West, Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin 53538 Tel: (920) 563-5551. Email: info@ jofnm.com Website: www.jofnm.com. Postmaster: Send address corrections to: Journal of Nutrient Management, PO Box 801, Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin 53538-0801. Tel: (920) 563-5551. Email: info@ jofnm.com. Subscription Rates: Free and controlled circulation to qualified subscribers. For Subscriber Services contact: Journal of Nutrient Management, PO Box 801, Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin 53538, call (920) 563-5551, Email:firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright © 2022 W.D. Hoard & Sons Company. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Content may not be reproduced or used for any commercial activity without express written consent from W. D. Hoard & Sons Company.
February 2022 | Journal of Nutrient Management | 3
2/10/22 11:20 AM
TIME TO SHINE A Abby Bauer Managing Editor
nyone paying the bills to fertilize fields, heat a home, or both knows that those expenses have been draining more from the bank account as of late. Sky-high prices from 2021 bled into the new year, leaving 2022 filled with uncertainty as to where these values will go. Anhydrous ammonia and natural gas are closely linked, because natural gas is a key element in the process that converts nitrogen to ammonia in a reaction with hydrogen to create this nitrogen fertilizer source. So, when natural gas prices nearly doubled between January and October of last year, it didn’t take long for anhydrous ammonia to follow suit. The year started out with a price tag of $450 per ton and exploded to quotes as high as $1,350 per ton for anhydrous ammonia later in 2021. No doubt, the price of these two inputs impacts other farm choices and expenses. According to Michigan State University assistant professor Matthew Gammans, “Natural gas drives what happens with ammonia price, which drives decisions around corn planting in the spring, which ultimately affects the corn price. The three are very tightly linked.” Enter manure. Fortunately, when fertilizer prices are high, livestock producers have another tool in their toolbox that most crop farmers don’t have readily available. Manure has been used for centuries to nourish fields, but at a time when fertilizer prices are through the roof, it is really an opportunity for manure to shine. Improved manure management over the past few decades has reaped even greater rewards from this abundant by-product that livestock farmers must deal with anyway. Even though many nutrient management practices are established due to regulations that have been put into place to protect water quality, farmers who want to take true advantage of the power of manure would do these things regardless. During an interview with Jason Demaray, general manager of support services at Reicks View Farms featured on page 12, he stated this very clearly.
“We are regulated, but it’s the value of the manure that really drives more of that than the regulations,” Demaray shared about their nutrient management. “It’s not just a cost of disposal for us; it’s really a co-product. It’s a very valuable byproduct of producing pigs that we can fully utilize. The economics drive more decisions than regulations.” Years like this make manure and soil testing even more imperative. If you know the nutrient content of the manure you have at your disposal, it can be best put to use. As for soil, tests may reveal a nice stockpile of phosphorus or potassium in some of your fields. Perhaps this is an opportunity to reduce commercial fertilizer use this year. However, don’t shortchange fields that would benefit from application, as the immediate cost savings could result in lost profits at harvest. And, if you cut back on applications this year and utilize more of the nutrients banked in the soil, don’t forget to replenish those inventories down the road. Aside from being an economic benefit, using manure to its fullest potential is also a compelling part of agriculture’s sustainability story. If we can recycle a waste product by using it as fertilizer to grow crops that feed animals, while reducing the need for commercially-made products, that is about as sustainable as it gets. Whether we like it or not, the goal of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions is here to stay. From television news reports to presentations at conference to articles in magazines like this one, it will remain a topic of conversation. More and more, it feels like a light is getting shined onto agriculture. Rather than seeing that light as a microscope evaluating our every move, perhaps we can make this agriculture’s time to shine in the world’s sustainability efforts. Until next time,
Let us know your thoughts. Write Managing Editor Abby Bauer, 28 Milwaukee Ave. West, P.O. Box 801, Fort Atkinson, WI 53538; call: 920-563-5551; or email: email@example.com.
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NORTH CAROLINA The Environmental Protection Agency will be investigating the North Carolina legislature’s decision to fast track a general permitting process allowing four hog farms to generate biogas. The Southern Environmental Law Center filed a complaint that “degraded groundwater, surface water, and air quality” would disproportionately harm the mostly black and Latino residents that live in this area, violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and state environmental laws. The $500 million biogas plan is a joint venture between Smithfield Foods Inc. and Dominion Energy Inc. Last July, the legislature passed the Farm Act of 2021, requiring the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to create an expedited permitting process that would enable existing hog farms to obtain a general permit to join the program. Opponents worry that the general permit
will treat all farms the same using similar monitoring requirements regardless of size and production style. The DEQ will hold several public meetings to get feedback from the community. The general permit is supposed to be finalized by July.
MISSOURI Two counties in Missouri filed an appeal to the state’s Supreme Court last month to overturn a law passed in 2019 that prohibits county commissioners from setting policies that are “inconsistent with or more stringent than” the state’s rules for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). The commissioners for these two counties and several Missouri residents previously sued the state, saying the law and its 2021 update violated the state’s constitution, but they lost their case at the trial court level.
Late last month, State Senator Ram Villivalam (D-Chicago) filed a senate bill to extend the Partners for Conservation Fund, a program run through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, through 2032. The funding for the program would rise from $10 million to more than $25 million over the next 10 years. Illinois is one of 11 states in the Mississippi River basin that have pledged to develop strategies to reduce the amount of nutrients leaving their borders. The state set a goal to reduce nitrates and nitrogen runoff by 15% and phosphorus runoff by 25% before 2025. However, the most recent update from 2020 showed that nitrate/nitrogen loss rose by 13% and phosphorus loss grew by 35% compared to the baseline period of 1980 to 1996.
REALIZE THE VALUE OF FEEDLOT MANURE
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on soil fertility, and taking steps to reduce nutrient losses, such as knifing in liquid manure or incorporating solid manure. “If cattle feeders are going to capitalize on this resource, they need to make sure they do not treat manure, well . . . like manure,” he wrote. ■
Nutrient value of manure in various feedlot facilities 160
Manure value, $/head
hen discussing feedlot profitability, producers may often talk about the cost of gain or break-even costs. If manure enters the discussion, it is often referred to as an expense, but extension feedlot specialist Warren Rusche reminded cattle feeders to not underestimate the value of manure collected from feedlots in a recent South Dakota State University article. The value of manure varies depending on the type of facility, as shown in the figure. Using $750 per ton for urea, $800 per ton for diammonium phosphate (DAP), and $700 per ton for potash, a 999-head beef facility would generate $52,000 worth of crop nutrients in an open yard, $110,000 in a bedded-pack barn, and $135,000 in a slatted floor barn. These numbers assume that cattle are housed in the facility year-round and that 50% of the manure nitrogen is available for crop use. The manure nutrient value would be even higher at current fertilizer price levels. Rusche recommended taking a strategic approach to manure application to capture its value. This includes collecting representative samples and submitting them for accurate laboratory analysis, prioritizing fields based
140 120 100 80
Assumptions: Urea = $750/T DAP = $800/T Potash = $700/T 50% of N available
60 40 20 0 Open yard
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IN THE FIELD
PHOSPHORUS CONTROL PRACTICES OFFER VARYING TRADE-OFFS The management of phosphorus loss must account for the different forms and seasonal characteristics of the nutrient. by Ryan Heiderman and Eric Cooley
itigating phosphorus loss from cropland is often a balancing act, with numerous environmental and management factors interacting simultaneously. There are trade-offs when determining how to tackle this challenge. Different forms of phosphorus exist within an agricultural system, each with characteristics that must be matched to an appropriate conservation practice or management strategy to effectively reduce losses. Phosphorus (P) can be in the organic or inorganic form, and it can either be dissolved in water or attached to soil particles in runoff. The behaviors of these various forms should be considered when applying strategies aimed at reducing P loss to the environment. Scientists have long documented the links between harmful algal blooms and other water quality problems to phosphorus, but aquatic ecosystems are particularly sensitive to dissolved P.
Seasonal effects It is well known that surface runoff will happen; the amount and timing of precipitation are uncontrollable, but what is contained in that runoff is controllable. Over the past 20 years, Discovery Farms Wisconsin has been actively monitoring runoff events on farms across the state. Analysis of data from over 127 site years and 2,184 runoff events has shown March to be the month when the most runoff occurs in Wisconsin, with more than double the
the soil has thawed and been worked, particulate phosphorus attached to the soil particles is carried with the runoff.
Weighing the options
For two decades, Discovery Farms has been monitoring runoff events around the state. average runoff amount of the next highest month. March is not, however, the month with the greatest soil loss. June, closely followed by May, loses far more soil than any other time of the year. As such, March and June are the months with the highest P loss, but the type of P lost in these months is different. Similar proportions of the total annual P loss happen in January, February, and March at 39%, compared with May, June, and July at 45% (Figure 1). However, in the early months of the year, 71% of the P is in the dissolved form (moves with water), while in the middle of the year, 70% is of the particulate form (moves with soil). In late winter and spring, runoff is influenced by snowmelt and frozen soils, where the majority of the P loss in this runoff is in the dissolved form. Soils are often frozen and fieldwork is minimal, leaving soil particles in place, and thus, less particulate phosphorus is found during these runoff events. Come summer, when rainfall is often highest and
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The implementation of conservation practices should account for different forms and seasonal characteristics of P loss. While a practice may reduce one pathway of loss, it may potentially increase another. For example, conservation tillage and cover crops are an effective means of reducing soil runoff. However, over time, these practices have been shown to cause more stratification and accumulation of P in the upper soil layer, leading to greater water-soluble P, which leads to more dissolved P in runoff.
Finding a balance The Discovery Farms edge-of-field monitoring program has found similar results as other P studies, which demonstrate that the implementation of soil health or conservation practices has some potentially unintended consequences regarding P loss. Keeping the soil in place with minimal disturbance has many erosion control and soil health benefits, but these practices should be combined with P nutrient management strategies. A balance must be made between placing nutrients below the soil surface but not with so much disturbance that soil loss becomes an issue. Injecting or banding fertilizers in combination with conservation tillage practices is one such jofnm.com
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Avg. monthly P loss (lb/ac)
Figure 1. Forms of P loss vary by month 0.40 0.35
Dissolved phosphorus Particulate phosphorus
0.30 0.25 0.20 0.15 0.10 0.05 0.00
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec 39% of annual 71% dissolved
45% of annual 70% particulate
Specification of monthly phosphorus loss exhibiting winter runoff is predominantly dissolved and spring runoff is mostly particulate.
Dissolved P flow weighted (mg/L)
Figure 2. Correlation between soil and runoff P 3.5 3.0
trade-offs between keeping the soil in place and incorporating P deeper into the soil. Modern agriculture has made great advances to reduce soil loss, but phosphorus loss continues to be an issue. It is important to utilize tools to target the specific challenges unique to each farming system. There are seasonal events to prepare for that are more or less predictable, in particular snowmelt and when soils may be frozen. Anticipating when runoff is most likely to occur can guide fertilizer timing. Soil testing, at various depths, can determine if a P stratification situation needs to be alleviated with either reduced P inputs or incorporation deeper into the soil profile. Conservation practices that reduce erosion are shown to be highly effective at lowering soil loss during runoff events, but may potentially lead to higher soluble P losses and P stratification. Utilizing all the tools available to closely monitor and time management strategies will help alleviate the water quality and other environmental concerns of P loss from agricultural systems while maximizing crop production. ■ The authors are with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension’s Discovery Farms program.
2.5 2.0 1.5 1.0 0.5 0.0 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100110120130140150 Soil test P (ppm); 0 to 1 inch
There is a positive correlation between soil test phosphorus in the upper 1 inch of soil with flow weighted mean concentration of dissolved phosphorus in tile drainage and edge-of-field runoff.
strategy. Monitoring showed that incorporation of manure reduced dissolved P loss by 50% in no-till fields and pasture. When P is surface applied, either as fertilizer or manure, there is the potential for an accumulation of P within the upper few inches of soil, in particular under no-till or conservation tillage. Stratification is a situation where excess P buildup occurs in the top few inches of soil, and an under supply of P develops deeper in the soil profile. Phosphorus stratification has the potential to both limit crop yields and lead to environmental concerns around runoff issues. Discovery Farms data has shown a direct correlation between soil test P values in the upper inch of soil and dissolved P flow weighted mean concentrations in runoff (Figure 2). Surface soil testing (of the upper inch or two) and comparison to routine soils tests can identify if P stratification is present on your fields and the severity of stratification. Potential strategies to reduce the buildup and stratification of P involve jofnm.com
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February 2022 | Journal of Nutrient Management | 7
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Digesters make more than methane The nutrient content of anaerobic digester effluent serves as a valuable fertilizer source. by Nicholas Clark, Anthony Fulford, Joy Hollingsworth, Joyce Pexton, and Deanne Meyer
Changing with the seasons Data from a current project funded by the California Dairy Research Foundation provides insight into the nutrient content of digestate, the effluent coming out of the digester (Figure 1). Samples were taken at six freestall dairies with anaerobic digesters. Samples were collected from each dairy under summer and winter conditions. Four to eight samples from each digester were collected over several days in each season. Cows had feedline soakers and access to corrals in summer. During winter, cows did not have corral access and soakers did not run. An early analysis of the data shows a distinct seasonal change in the chemical and physical makeup of digestate.
Low solids digestate effluent was sampled in September 2020. The physical and chemical components of digestate were lower in summer than winter (Table 1). This was expected, as herd management typically changes with the seasons. In summer, water from soakers was used to cool cows, and less manure was collected because cows spent less time in the barn. Bedding of freestalls occurs more frequently in winter, increasing the liquid stream nutrient contribution. That’s why the flush-lane collection in summer is more diluted than in winter. The greatest differences in manure characteristics occurred between seasons on each dairy. Results were consistent within a season from each dairy and did not exhibit a lot of variability.
The solids side Total solids are everything in the digestate besides water. This includes inert solids (or ash) and volatile, organic solids. Carbon in the organic matter is
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what is converted in part to methane and carbon dioxide and captured as a biogas. Carbon coming out of a digester in effluent escaped methane production. When digestate is land-applied, it can add to the carbon stock of soil, which has potential benefits for soil quality. The two primary nitrogen sources in digestate are organic nitrogen and ammonium. Organic nitrogen isn’t immediately plant available, but ammonium is. However, organic nitrogen will eventually be decomposed by soil microbes and become plant available, so both sources are beneficial to plants. In the winter, we observed the ammonium to be a lower proportion of all the nitrogen found in the digestate (Figure 2), meaning less of the digestate nitrogen was immediately plant available. Figure 1: Contributions of ammonium and organic nitrogen to total nitrogen in digester effluent 300 Concentration (lbs./acre inch)
ore and more anaerobic digesters are being built on dairies. These digesters capture carbon from manure as biogas. The gas is then processed and used to power vehicles, improving the greenhouse gas footprint of the dairy industry. Out of the digesters comes treated water that still has a high nutrient content, much like lagoon water, which can be applied to cropland as a fertilizer source. It is important for dairy operators and forage crop producers to understand the chemical makeup of this digester effluent before making decisions about how to apply it to cropland.
NH4 nitrogen Organic nitrogen
100 50 0
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Table 1. Characteristics of manure digestate samples from anaerobic digester systems across six commercial dairies in the San Joaquin Valley of California* Measured
Range (low to high)
659 to 3,030
2,126 to 7,102
325 to 1,228
1,193 to 4,707
43 to 103
95 to 292
5 to 124
63 to 244
33 to 169
85 to 276
Total phosphorus (P2O5)
23 to 82
71 to 226
Total potassium (K2O)
99 to 264
185 to 387
Electrical conductivity (dS/m)2
3.4 to 9.8
4.9 to 9.4
Expressed in pounds per acre-inch1 of water unless noted otherwise. 1An acre-inch of water is 27,154 gallons. To quickly convert acre-inches to 1,000-gallons, multiply by
27.154. To convert 1,000-gallons to acre-inches, divide by 27.154. 2deci-Siemens per meter
This is important to know. Keep in mind that in winter, microbes are less active, so they are slower to decompose the organic nitrogen. Phosphorus is largely found in fine solids in the digestate while potassium stays dissolved in the water. Both elements are essential for plant growth and development and are found in abundance in the digestate. The electrical conductivity is a measure of salinity, which is the property of how much salt is dissolved in water. Essential plant nutrients as well as solutes toxic to plants contribute to salinity. So, it’s important to remember that having a high nutrient content in the digestate can also mean having high salinity, which can cause stress to plants when land applied.
Using the effluent Understanding seasonal variability of digestate is important for proper manure sampling and utilization. Consider the range of electrical conductivity values above. Forage corn has an average salinity tolerance threshold of 1.8 deci-siemens per meter (dS/m) and a yield reduction slope of 7.4. That is, forage corn yield is expected to decline by 7.4% for every dS/m above 1.8 in irrigation water. If a corn crop were fully irrigated with only the least saline effluent shown above, we would expect a yield reduction of at least 11.8% due to season-long salinity stress. jofnm.com
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Table 2. Macro-nutrient removal from the soil by corn silage at 30% dry matter Yield (tons/acre)
Nutrient (lbs/acre) N
Higher saline waters are more likely to cause an acute salinity injury called specific ion toxicity. This injury is commonly known as “salt burn” and looks like dried leaves starting at the bottom of the plant. Knowing the expected ranges of nutrient and salinity concentrations means you can make better fertilizer value and crop safety predictions when blending the digestate with irrigation water. Notice the rates of macro-nutrient removal from the field when corn silage is harvested (Table 2) and refer back to the macro-nutrient concentrations shown in Table 1. If you were ambitiously farming for 40-ton silage corn on phosphorus and potassium sufficient soils, you could replace those elements with three acreinches per acre of the average digester effluent in summer, and you’d likely be overfertilizing with potassium by 188 pounds per acre of K 2O. That same amount of digester effluent applied in season to the corn would also add 267 pounds per acre of plant available ammonium nitrogen and 114
pounds per acre of plant unavailable organic nitrogen. However, in summer we expect that 50% of the organic nitrogen applied from liquid manure sources will become plant available, so about 57 pounds per acre are likely to convert to plant available ammonium. A total of 324 pounds per acre of plant available ammonium nitrogen could be expected as a contribution from that water source. That’s only 20 pounds more than what is expected to be removed per acre in the harvested silage corn. Since nitrogen is so reactive in the environment, many inefficiencies exist. It’s possible that some of the crop’s nitrogen demand will need to be met with other nitrogen sources such as manure solids, compost, or synthetic fertilizer. ■ The authors are all affiliated with the University of California. Clark is an agronomy and nutrient management farm advisor; Fulford and Hollingsworth are soil quality and nutrient management farm advisors; Pexton is a junior specialist in the Meyer Lab; and Meyer is a livestock waste management specialist.
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2/10/22 11:19 AM
EMBRACE DATA — it is
critical to your future
From production trends to financials, farms are already collecting data; the next step includes tracking environmental impacts. by Lauren Brey
mid growing interest in the source of food and how it is produced, customers are seeking information about the sustainability of what they eat and drink. Adding to that, the flurry of activity around environmental, social, and governance is causing supply chains to scramble to make commitments and prove they are taking action. Part of taking action is gathering data so companies can prove they are making progress. Food companies have access to their own information about how they process products, but they also need to get data from the source of their raw materials — farmers.
A framework to follow Many farmers are already using data to better manage their businesses. On the animal side, it might be measuring milk production and components, weights, feed quality, and genetic information. On the crop side, you might use GPS and sensing technology, soil tests, and yield data. This is also common when it comes to farm financials. While you may not be collecting exactly what will be requested from a food company, you already use data to make management decisions, and there is opportunity to do the same with sustainability data. Farmers for Sustainable Food (FSF)
is a collaborative, industry-supported effort to promote and support farmer-led solutions to today’s environmental challenges. We support farmer-led conservation groups as well as supply chain sustainability projects with a regional focus in the Upper Midwest. FSF provides administration, communications, events, strategy, technical expertise, and funding for six farmer-led groups and sustainability project coordination and management. We help farmers gather data on their environmental impact regarding crop production and land management through several avenues. One way is through a simple conservation practice survey, supported by our partners at The Nature Conservancy, that aggregates information about what farmers in farmer-led conservation groups are doing on the land and models the impact they are having on phosphorus savings and sediment erosion. Another avenue is through sustainability projects. Farmers and their partners can access FSF’s Framework for Farm-level Sustainability Projects. This is an easy-to-use handbook that helps farmers determine which conservation practices are most effective for their individual farms by equipping them with the tools necessary to document the environmental and financial
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effects of conservation practices. The framework is designed to be flexible, so it can be replicated for projects elsewhere. It’s free to use and available at FarmersForSustainableFood.com. The guide covers four areas of consideration for establishing and executing farmer-centric sustainability projects: 1. Engagement 2. Formation 3. Operation 4. Conclusion Focus areas can be both environmental and financial. It also suggests tools that farmers and their partners can use in their projects.
Tracking progress Starting in 2019, this framework was put to the test through a three-year pilot project in southwestern Wisconsin, and three more projects launched in 2021. Through the pilot project, farmers completed financial and environmental analyses to develop benchmarks. Financial baselines were set to evaluate return on investment (ROI) year-overyear, and farmers determined what conservation practices worked best for their farm. The project received the “Outstanding Supply Chain Collaboration” award from the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy in 2021 and is now being duplijofnm.com
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cated by other farmer-led groups and food companies. One tool being used in FSF-supported sustainability projects that is available to any farmer is Field to Market’s Fieldprint Platform. The platform is a pioneering assessment framework that empowers brands, retailers, suppliers, and farmers at every stage in their sustainability journey to measure the environmental impacts of commodity crop production and identify opportunities for continuous improvement. Farmers can access this free and confidential tool through the online Fieldprint Calculator or through associated farm-management software that integrates the platform’s metrics and algorithms into the tools that farmers are already using. Brands, retailers, and suppliers can then access aggregated data from farmers who opt to participate in Continuous Improvement Projects. Farmers get scores about each field they enter data on, as well as aggregate
scores in eight areas of sustainability: biodiversity, energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, irrigated water use, land use, soil carbon, soil conservation, and water quality. This data helps farmers make management decisions to improve their field activities as well as share their sustainability story downstream to the customers of their products.
Seize the opportunity This is just one option available for data collection. Recognizing there are many categories for continuous improvement, there is also still a need to improve the collection and management of all this data to make it easier to use and understand. Various programs and platforms, plus the time needed to enter the information, can make it a challenge to use the information to its fullest potential. The good news is there are companies working on programs to put the data into a dashboard. Also, don’t be afraid to look for support from
technical experts in the environmental or financial space to support you in your collection and analysis. Sustainability is a journey and it takes a team of people over time to navigate it. Reach out to trusted advisers for support and make a commitment for several years to use a tool before you can determine the value and your progress. One year of data and information is not enough to understand trends. This work must be done collectively and all parties have a role to play. Let’s view this interest in food and farming practices as an opportunity rather than a threat and make our data work for us, both in farm management and for our customers. It’s never too late to start. ■
The author is the managing director for Farmers for Sustainable Food.
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800.628.6196 OXBO.COM February 2022 | Journal of Nutrient Management | 11
2/9/22 2:01 PM
& GOODWILL The Reicks family has grown their hog farm in a way that keeps manure close to the fields and their generosity close to home. by Abby Bauer, Managing Editor
doing their part to feed families. Sustainable practices have always been at the core of the farm’s growth. In fact, one of their company’s values is to be “clean and green.” Over the years, they have planted trees, added filtration systems to their barns, participated in a variety of recycling programs, and more recently, installed solar panels. And, since the very beginning, they have made sure to utilize the value of the manure produced by their livestock. Reicks View Farms is headquartered in Lawler, Iowa. With Dale’s passion for
architecture, their beautiful office serves as grand central station for the farm. At the main site is a sow barn, shop, and warehouse. This is also the location of their feed mill, which mixes nearly all the feed needed for their hogs, some 9,500 tons per week. There is storage for 2.8 million bushels of corn on site, and 400 semitruck loads of grain move in and out of the feed mill each week. Jason Demaray serves as general manager of support services. After working for almost two decades in agricultural banking, Demaray joined the
Reicks View Farms includes 175 finisher sites in northeast Iowa. A barn houses 2,500 head at a time, with 5,000 hogs moving through each barn annually.
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amilies Feeding Families” is the motto that emerged as Dale and Laura Reicks grew their hog operation from scratch. The husband-and-wife duo founded Reicks View Farms in 1979 with 240 acres of corn and 200 sows. The family-owned farm, which now includes their children Brady and Kaylie, has grown to 13,000 acres and 1.5 million hogs finished per year. With 300 employees, 130 production partners, and consumers across the country, the Reicks are certainly
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team at Reicks View Farms a few years ago. As we sat in his office, it was easy to see the web of activity required to keep the farm operating smoothly. A map hanging on the wall shows every sow or finishing site owned or contracted by the farm. Rather than simply expanding at one location, they have spread out their hog facilities by purchasing nearby land as it became available. This allows them to generate manure close to the fields that can best utilize the nutrients. “Dale has always understood the value of manure,” Demaray shared. “His philosophy has been that there’s a lot of value there, and we are going to try to capture as much as we can.” They strive to get the full benefit of the nutrients and build up fertility by banking it in the soil. Today, they have 175 finishing barns that house 2,500 head each. They also work with more than 100 contract growers in northeast Iowa, including a few barns that Demaray owns himself, that finish hogs for the operation. In all, Reicks View Farms produces about 1% of the nation’s hogs. The most recent expansion created enough space to hold over 60,000 sows. They currently have 11 sow units in operation, with a 12th under construction. They also own a boar stud and collect all their own semen. In addition, they raise gilts as a Pig Improvement Company (PIC) multiplier herd. Hog production starts in the nursery, and they have room for 210,000 preweaned pigs at a time. While some farms may hire out this phase of production, it has been Dale’s philosophy that if they can get the pigs started on the right foot, and get them to feeder pig weight, that a majority of the hard work is already done. Most of the company owned barns are “greenfield” facilities that they designed and built; it has not been their desire to purchase existing buildings. From the start, Dale said, “Let’s build our own,” and that has been a better long-term strategy for the farm, Demaray shared. Another division of Reicks View Farms is Jerico Construction, their own construction crew that builds facilities for jofnm.com
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the farm. Like most any farm, labor is a great opportunity and a necessity. While the farm has good retention rates for employees, there is still a fair amount of turnover. “Pigs are easy, they do what they are supposed to do, but people are harder,” Demaray noted. The Reicks are proud to provide employment options in their local community, and they feel that anyone willing to do manual labor can be trained to work in their barns. Most of their
benefit to their operation. With all this animal movement, they are washing and disinfecting 200 trailers a week. “It takes a lot of work and expense, but the benefits for animal health are worth it,” Demaray said of their commitment to biosecurity. They recently built a new truck wash that includes six bays, more automation, and a floor with a 4-foot slope from the front of the trailer to the back that allows bedding and waste to be removed more easily. These new features maximize the farm’s biosecurity practices and reduce the amount of water required to get the job done.
Capturing the nutrients
Jason Demaray serves as general manager of support services and closely monitors the day-to-day operations of the farm. farrowing department is made up of women, as they have found them to have a more natural skillset for this area. They utilize Hispanic labor, and they have found these individuals to have good attitudes with a desire to learn and work hard. The farm is working on its first group of green card applications as another source of potential employees. It has been more difficult to hire for their transportation unit, as Demaray said there are simply not enough CDL operators available. Transportation is a big part of their business, as they are moving 75,000 hogs every week. About 25,000 weaned pigs are moved out of the sow units, and 25,000 are moved out of the nursery to the finisher barns. Another 25,000 hogs are transported to market, with the majority of their hogs being sold to Tyson. Their location in Iowa places them close to several market options, which the Reicks consider a
When you have livestock, you have manure, and Demaray said, “We handle a lot of manure. It is a huge undertaking to manage.” Manure accumulates in the underground storage beneath each barn. For the past five years, they have used a manure additive called Triune that prevents crusting in the stored manure and reduces odor. Working with Iowa State University researchers, air filtration systems that reduce both odor and ammonia emissions have also been incorporated in some of their newer barns. The manure’s nutrient content varies depending on what facility it comes from. Manure from the sow units, for example, has a lower nutrient value due to the amount of wash water that also makes its way into storage, and as such, it must be applied to fields at a higher rate. The sow barn manure contains 10 to 15 units of nitrogen per 1,000 gallons, compared to manure from the finishing barns that has 40 units of nitrogen per 1,000 gallons. Manure is pumped out of the underbarn storages and transferred using a dragline system. Manure is applied using an application tool bar. In the past they had used a three-point system on the back of a tractor, but the weight of the machine caused stress on the tractor and compaction in the fields. They recently switched to a pull type bar that distributes the weight more evenly in hopes to eliminate those two
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Manure is pumped through draglines and then injected into the soil to capture the most value from nutrients. problems. Manure is injected into the ground, and Demaray said with this system, odor is reduced during application and more nutrients are retained. They typically complete about 60% of their application in the fall and 40% in the spring. Dale prefers spring application as less nitrogen is lost, but it makes sense for their operation to empty the manure storages in both spring and fall, even though most of them have a years’ worth of capacity. Demaray acknowledged that there are more costs associated with split application, but they are finding that visiting fields twice helps them do a more uniform job and cover some of the gaps. “We are seeing a good yield response, so we are going to continue to do it,” he shared. A lower application rate also helps their fields to dry out more quickly in the spring, allowing their cropping crew to begin planting sooner. The lead pump at the barn can push the manure a mile, and booster pumps are used when needed to go further than that. Before application, they work the perimeter of each field to help minimize any runoff. Demaray said that prior to application season, they test their manure, sending more than 150 samples for laboratory analysis. Following their state’s requirements, they also take soil samples for analysis every four years. They use these results to determine what application rates and locations make the most sense. “We want to determine where we are going to get the best bang for our buck
with the manure we have,” Demaray said. “We try to be as efficient as we can, especially with the recent run up in commercial fertilizer prices.” In hog country, most farms are in corn production year after year, which allows them to efficiently utilize their manure and produce the feed they need for their hogs. In all, the Reicks fertilize about 10,000 acres with manure, and they do nearly all the application themselves with their own equipment and a crew of four employees dedicated to nutrient management. Another staff member, with the help of an outside consultant, works to update close to 200 nutrient management plans each year. Every facility has a manure management plan, and while these plans are a requirement to guide application, Demaray said the farm’s motivation to manage manure comes from capturing its value. “We are regulated, but it’s the value of the manure that really drives more of that than the regulations,” Demaray shared. “It’s not just a cost of disposal for us; it’s really a co-product. It’s a very valuable by-product of producing pigs that we can fully utilize. The economics drive more decisions than regulations.”
Looking to the future Demaray’s roots in agriculture were established by helping on his grandfather’s farm as a child. He said that was where he picked up his love of agriculture. After college, he got a job in the agriculture industry working as a lender for Farm Credit for nearly two decades. Over the years he saved some
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money to purchase land and put up a contract finishing barn. That generated equity, and he was able to buy another farm and grow his own side operation. Through his work that specialized in swine farm lending, he met the Reicks. At the time, Dale was looking to add someone to their management team, and Demaray agreed. Since joining the company, he has also bought and rented more land and put up four additional contract barns, now raising hogs for Reicks View Farms. He sees his personal farm as an opportunity for him and his wife to instill in their three children a knowledge of farming and the value of hard work. “It’s been fun for me to be able to do that, to grow my personal business, and at the same time, help grow the Reicks’ business,” Demaray noted. Dale and Laura’s children had that opportunity to grow up surrounded by agriculture, and today, they are proud to be the next generation of Reicks View Farms. Brady and Kaylie continue to grow into their ownership roles and look for opportunities to improve the business in several ways, including the area of sustainability. As an example, a few years ago, the farm was presented the opportunity to build a solar array within their footprint. After some consideration, a partnership between the two siblings called Reicks View Renewables was created, and a solar array covering 3 acres was installed in March of 2020. The panels produce between 80% and 90% of the farm’s peak energy needs. “As we evaluated the solar installation, we found it to be a sustainable effort and a long-term investment in understanding renewable energy,” Demaray explained. “We liked it in part because it helps show that we want to be good stewards of the land, that we want to be as sustainable and renewable as we can, and that we are willing to try technology.” Telling their story will be a priority for the farm’s future, too. The Reicks are very involved in their local community, and the siblings are focused on connecting with the “movable middle,” jofnm.com
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the people they feel are open to learning more about agriculture. While manure handling isn’t always an easy story to tell, Demaray said that people find it interesting when they learn how their manure is utilized in a nearly closed loop system. With 2,500 head in each of their finisher barns and two groups finished per year, each barn houses 5,000 pigs. They share with the public that those animals produce enough manure to fertilize 160 acres. With corn that yields around 200 bushels per acre, that manure fertilizes 32,000 bushels of corn. Each pig consumes about 6 bushels of corn, so most of the corn fertilized by the manure is fed to the next 5,000 hogs housed in that barn, and the cycle continues. “When people hear that, they often say, ‘Whoa, that’s sustainable,’” Demaray explained. “It is pretty cool when people can make that connection.”
The Reicks family of Lawler, Iowa: Dale, Laura, Kaylie, Tessa holding Miller, and Brady holding Marley. Community connections go beyond the farm, though. Many charitable donations are made annually to local groups and events as part of the Melissa Lea Reicks Foundation, a fund created in honor of Dale and Laura’s oldest daughter who tragically passed away in 2003. The Reicks also offer several college scholarships for stu-
dents pursuing careers in agriculture. In 2020, during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, they donated 20,000 pounds of pork to community members and thousands of N-95 masks to a local hospital. The motto “Families Feeding Families” really drives the daily operations of Reicks View Farms. Demaray emphasized that not only is the farm family owned, but many employees support their families by working here, and they have multiple members of the same family working for them. “We are impacting others with this successful business,” Demaray said. “It is an economic engine that helps keep the community going.” With the next generation involved and a focus on sustainable agriculture in place, the Reicks are poised to remain a leader in both the hog industry and in their Iowa community for years to come. ■
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Organic matter: The backbone of soil health Soil organic matter acts as a warehouse for an array of nutrients. by Eric Young
oil productivity is a function of several interacting factors including parent material, soil texture, drainage, pH, nutrient levels, and soil organic matter content. Except for soil texture, optimizing these other factors is paramount to maintain or improve crop yield potential. Soil organic matter (SOM) is of particular importance to soil fertility and health. Sometimes referred to as “the living, the dead, and the very dead” in soil science circles, SOM is comprised of former living organisms at various stages of decomposition. SOM has a multiplicity of beneficial effects on plant growth due to its impacts on biological, chemical, and physical properties and processes.
Relationships with carbon While SOM is chemically heterogeneous, a large fraction of it is organic carbon. Soil organic carbon is derived from living matter and constitutes most of the total carbon in humid, temperate climates. Figure 1 shows the relationship between total carbon and SOM for a set of soil samples collected at the Marshfield Agricultural Research Station in Stratford, Wis., as part of a cover crop study. The strong linear relationship The author is a research soil scientist for the Institute for Environmentally Integrated Dairy Management, USDA-Agriculture Research Service.
A large fraction of soil organic matter is made up of carbon, which is derived from living matter. between total carbon and SOM shown here is quite typical. The fraction of SOM that is carbon varies for different soils. Based on the linear regression, about 62% of SOM is carbon. SOM serves as a warehouse for nutrients beyond carbon. In particular, nitrogen (N) and sulfur tend to be highly associated with SOM. Many land grant university soil fertility guidelines use SOM levels to adjust N recommendations. Using the same data set as above, a strong relationship exists between total carbon and total N (Figure 2). This is the reason SOM alone contributes significant amounts of plant-available N to crops during the growing season, as microbes mineralize organic N to ammonium-N. Phosphorus and micronutrients are also intimately associated with SOM. In addition to these nutrients residing in SOM itself, the ability to retain pos-
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itively charged nutrients from the soil solution (such as calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, copper, and zinc) increases with greater SOM due its net negative chemical charge. In addition, organic acids from SOM can enhance plant-available phosphorus via chelation of aluminum, calcium, and iron that render phosphorus unavailable. SOM also fuels biological activity by providing a labile carbon source for microbial respiration in addition to other nutrients. Maintaining SOM and active decomposition is important for mineralizing organic nutrients to inorganic, plant-available forms.
A critical glycoprotein Developing a better understanding of SOM composition and its impacts on soil health is an active research area. Among the many important substances constituting SOM, a glycoprotein called glomalin appears to be critical. Glomalin is thought to originate mainly from arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, a widespread species infecting nearly 90% of terrestrial plants. Research shows that glomalin can comprise up to 25% of SOM, with a relatively long residence time (more than 40 years) due to its high percentage of aromatic and carboxylic functional groups. Physically, glomalin acts as a cementing agent and tends to be enriched with nutrients. Several studies have reported close associations between glomalin content and SOM or soil organic jofnm.com
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Figure 1. Soil organic matter versus total carbon content
y = 0.6238x – 0.2815 R2 = 0.97
Total nitrogen (%)
Total carbon (%)
2 1 0
Figure 2. Total carbon versus total nitrogen content
4 3 2
y = 0.0953x + 0.0103 R2 = 0.97
Soil organic matter (%)
Total carbon (%)
carbon contents. Research has clearly demonstrated that glomalin affects soil physical properties. Several studies in different countries have also reported significant correlations between total soil glomalin content and aggregate stability. Greater total glomalin content was associated with more stabile soil aggregates and lower erosion potential.
The bottom line is that managing SOM is a critical aspect of soil health because of the multiple beneficial effects on soils. Practices that maintain or elevate SOM are essential for realizing long-term agronomic and environmental benefits. A continued challenge going forward will be determining the best way to synthesize the large amount of emerging soil health data to develop effective soil tests and tools for producers. ■
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ON THE MOVE
PUT YOUR BEST FOOT FORWARD By hoping for the best but planning for the worst, your farm or business will be better equipped to handle a manure spill if one occurs. by Abby Bauer, Managing Editor
o farm or custom manure applicator wants to experience a manure spill incident, but accidents happen. Rather than finding yourself thrown into the unwanted spotlight with no plan in place, Michigan Farm Bureau’s Laura Campbell encourages people to think ahead. She shared her tips for responding to the public and media during Michigan State University’s virtual Michigan Manure Summit. If there is an accident that involves manure, “Whether you are a farmer or custom hauler, you are going to have to deal with the public, and you may have to deal with the media,” Campbell said. She recommended that farmers and applicators develop not just one plan, but two.
Address the concerns The first plan details what you will do if there is a manure spill or a hauling accident. You must be prepared to address questions and concerns, especially from people who live nearby, she said. Some of your responses may need to be different depending on who you are talking to. She said to be prepared for photos and videos that could be taken at the site. “Everyone has a video camera right in their pocket on their cellphone,” she said. “A good way to approach a
situation is just to assume you are on camera. Be careful of the things you say and do.” A public response will be necessary, but if the incident causes a safety risk, your first and primary obligation is to start clean up and report the accident to authorities. While doing this, Campbell again reminded the audience to remain calm, in case someone is recording your reaction. She said you want to be sure anyone watching sees that you are competent and responsible and that you are doing what should be done to take care of the problem. While it’s not possible to prepare for every situation, part of the written response plan could be prewritten statements for quick access in an emergency situation. This could include background information about your farm or business to help people understand who you are and what you do. “Prewritten statements really help you out, so you don’t have to think about it on the fly,” Campbell shared. “Make a statement about your intent to follow laws and regulations and to cooperate with law enforcement and regulatory agencies. That goes a long way toward helping people understand that even though you’ve had an incident or an accident, you are going to be responsible and do what you are supposed to do help fix it.”
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Also include the contact information for the business owner, manager, or another delegated spokesperson. Be sure other employees know who to refer questions to if they are approached by someone. When speaking with people after an incident, Campbell said to be truthful. She advised one provide facts but not overshare. She also said it’s okay to ask someone to wait for a response if you are busy with clean up or want to wait for the official report to be released. Campbell again said to be prepared for people to take photos and videos, and she said to not try to stop someone from doing that as it could escalate the situation quickly. However, she said you can ask people to leave private property if they are simply a passerby. “The only people you have to let on your property are law enforcement authorities and agency folks responding to the incident,” she said. “Bystanders and neighbors may be concerned about their property, safety, and have strong feelings about manure application,” Campbell said. “You or the owner or manager should talk to them directly.” Campbell identified that there is a difference between talking to the public and talking to media. First of all, she stated that there is no such thing as “off the record.” “A reporter can quote jofnm.com
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PLACES TO BE Due to the COVID-19 health situation, some meetings and events are being rescheduled or canceled. Please visit the listed websites frequently for updates. anything you say,” she said. If someone from the media asks you unrelated questions or inquiries about information you don’t have, Campbell said it is okay to refer them to others who may be more of an authority on the topic, including regulatory agencies or industry groups. If you are being filmed during an interview, she recommended talking to the reporter asking the questions and not looking directly at the camera. The reason is that it can be intimidating to talk on the camera, and the more you look at the camera, the more intimidated you may become. Campbell said this can make a person look nervous and potentially not as in control of the situation. In addition, be aware of your background before filming starts. For instance, Campbell said you don’t want to be standing in front of a tanker truck with your name and logo on the side for everyone to see on the local news. She also said that you can decline to go on camera and still answer questions. This may be something you want to decide ahead of time and include in your written plan so that you are not making these important decisions on the fly.
Repair the damage If someone reports or posts something negative about your operation after the incident, Campbell said to first apologize and make no excuses. “That shows you are taking responsibility for what happened,” she said. However, don’t admit to actions that are uncertain or may cause you legal jeopardy. “Stick to the facts, and stick to the things you want to convey,” she advised. “Outline the actions you took and will take to clean up and solve the problem, to prevent or reduce the chance of the incident happening again,” Campbell said. “There’s never too many ways to say you are going to cooperate and comply with regulators, law enforcement, and whoever else is involved.” She explained that this helps address the jofnm.com
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problem and builds goodwill for your farm or application business.
Before an incident The other plan you should prepare is the proactive communication you do prior to an incident. “This is a really, really crucial piece of this. You don’t want the first time someone hears of your farm or hauling business to be when you get coverage on the evening news,” Campbell said. She suggested getting to know your neighbors, local officials, and extension staff. Share positive information about your business, including your practices, certifications, and your attention to quality and safety. Provide contact information for the owner or manager, and look for chances to support the community by sponsoring local events, hosting events on the farm, or speaking up at public meetings. “It’s important that you have a personal touch not only with clients but also other people in the community,” Campbell noted. “Let people get to know you.” She said it’s also an ideal opportunity to explain why manure application is beneficial. In this technology-driven era, Campbell said it is really important to have an online presence, which could be a website or social media site like Facebook. Share information about the operation, including photos and videos. Celebrate achievements, awards, and certifications. “It shows you are taking that extra step of responsibility.” She did note to limit this site to business only, separating work from your personal views. “That way, you are not generating controversy on a site dedicated to building good public relations,” she said. When it comes to manure spill incidents, Campbell said to plan for the best, but also for the worst. With a written strategy in hand and goodwill built with neighbors and the public, your farm or business will be better suited to handle an accident if one should occur. ■
Midwest Forage Association Symposium February 21 to 23, 2022 Wisconsin Dells, Wis. Details: midwestforage.org Wisconsin Cover Crop Conference February 24, 2022 Rothschild, Wis. Details: on.hoards.com/ WIcovercropconf High Plains Dairy Conference March 1 and 2, 2022 Amarillo, Texas Details: highplainsdairy.org Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin Business Conference March 16 and 17, 2022 Wisconsin Dells, Wis. Details: pdpw.org Midwest Poultry Federation Convention March 22 to 24, 2022 Minneapolis, Minn. Details: midwestpoultry.com California Dairy Sustainability Summit April 12 to 14, 2022 Virtual Details: CADairySummit.com Waste to Worth Conference April 19 to 22, 2022 Oregon, Ohio Details: lpelc.org/waste-to-worth If you would like us to include your event on our list, please send details to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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A farmer’s view on feeding to cut emissions As feed supplements to reduce enteric methane emissions become more available, what will it take for livestock producers to use them?
s the number of food companies, restaurant chains, and national organizations making commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions continues to grow, it is likely that farmers will be asked to be a bigger part of the solution. While production agriculture can certainly play a role in a sustainable future, the key is finding practices that create environmental benefits without reducing productivity and profitability for livestock and crop farmers. One potential tool in the future is the use of feed supplements that could reduce enteric greenhouse gas emissions. The opportunity to transform feed supplements from promising to a real solution was examined during a virtual panel discussion held as part of the Sustainable Agriculture Summit in Las Vegas, Nev. One of the panel members was Suzanne Vold, a dairy farmer representative on the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy’s Environmental Stewardship Committee. Vold and her family operate Dorrich Dairy near Glenwood in west central Minnesota. She emphasized their commitment to improving the environment. “Sustainability is important to all of us on our farm, because as dairy farmers, the health of our cows, the health of our land, and the health of our families is extremely important to us,” she said. “We look at sustainability from the cow side, and we protect the
land, air, and water we use because we live where we work.” Vold shared several changes they made to their farm over the years, including a drum system that composts manure into bedding. They also made the switch to an automated milking system in the fall of 2019 as a way to better care for their cows, which Vold called their most important asset. As for feed supplements, Vold said, “This topic is exciting because I think it could have a big impact on our carbon footprint without making a huge capital investment. Yes, there is a cost to using those additives, but it’s not the same as putting in large pieces of equipment.”
Proven success Before using a supplement on their farm, Vold said they would want to see a product go through plenty of research trials to be sure it achieved the desired results consistently. It is also important that the product be tested on farms comparable to theirs. “Dairy farms are very different, due to climate, soil type, and the type of feeds that are fed,” she said. “A lot changes with geography. I would like to know these additives worked in a similar climate and on farms similar to mine.” She continued, “We would rely heavily on our nutritionist and veterinarian to help us make these decisions, as they would be the ones reviewing the data with a more trained eye. They know us,
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by Abby Bauer, Managing Editor
Suzanne Vold shared insights during a panel discussion at the Sustainable Agriculture Summit in Las Vegas, Nev. they know our farm, and they know the technology we are working with.” Vold would also want to know that the product was tested on cows at various stages of lactation, and any changes to the ration would need to be done at the right pace. “Consistency is key for cows. When we make ration changes, we do it slowly and gradually,” she explained.
Safety comes first When asked what she would not be willing to give up in order to reduce enteric methane emissions, Vold said that was an easy answer. “I’m not willing to trade the health of my cows,” she said. “Cow safety, both short term and long term, is important to me.” Production is, of course, another area of consideration. jofnm.com
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“If there is not a milk production and or component increase, I have to make an economic decision,” she said. “Are these additives really providing a benefit?” Also important is what these supplements do when they leave the cow. “I need to look at what are they doing to our manure,” Vold shared. “Our manure is an asset for us. We use it for fertilizer; it is our primary fertilizer for the crops we grow to feed our cows. If the composition of the manure changes, if the nutrient that reaches our crops changes and I have to purchase more commercial fertilizer, that is another tradeoff I need to look at when I make this decision.” Vold was asked what she believed to be the biggest hurdles for adoption among farmers. “On our farm, our value statement is ‘Leaving it better than when we came,’” she said. “That is something we are always trying to do. In order for us to do that, we need to make sure those things we are changing are really effective.” Consumer acceptance is also part of the equation. “The other side of this coin for is consumers and the community at large recognizing the value of our milk that comes from supplements that reduce enteric methane,” she said. “What is it going to take to help educate the general public, the people consuming these dairy products, that they are safe and effective? What do we need to do for education?” She added, “I am making the assumption that these additives are already tested and proven safe for humans. As a producer that makes products for human consumption, I would never dream of considering them if not able to be safely consumed by humans in milk.” Vold said that she is excited for the opportunity feed supplements could provide, but it is going to require collaboration along the entire dairy product chain. “From farmers to vets, to nutritionists providing incentives through their company partners, and even working with processors and retailers to make sure consumers understand why we are using these supplements and their benefits — it is going to depend on all of us working together,” she said. jofnm.com
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The other panelists agreed that more work must be done to prove the effectiveness of supplements, both in how they affect livestock productivity and their true benefit in reducing emissions. They saw cost as a potential hurdle for farmer acceptance, and it was suggested that financial incentives may be needed
to encourage use. It was also reiterated that any supplement fed to cattle would need to be proven safe for both animal and human consumption. Still, the group shared enthusiasm that feed supplements could have a potential impact on reducing enteric methane emissions somewhere down the road. ■
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PIECING TOGETHER THE NITROGEN PUZZLE by Thomas Menke
ne of the enigmas of manure management is how to account for the nitrogen it provides after application. Some discount it altogether, assuming it has either all been lost or simply “unavailable.” Some give it full credit according to the manure test. As most things in life, the answer is somewhere in between. Manure nitrogen (N) exists in three general forms: organic nitrogen, ammonia nitrogen, and (rarely) nitrate nitrogen. A caveat here is that at least 50% of poultry manure’s organic nitrogen is uric acid, a first cousin to ammonia. Plants use mostly nitrate nitrogen to grow, so something has to change for the manure nitrogen to be useful. Nitrogen availability tables generally show organic-N at 33% with ammonia and nitrate-N at 100% availability. Adjustments are made based upon application time of year and days until soil incorporation (if done at all) to compensate for losses. If you smell ammonia, you are losing nitrogen. If you applied manure last summer after wheat, leaching losses beyond root reach or denitrification in waterlogged soils may occur. Eight months later, how much nitrogen is left to feed the corn? If nitrate is rarely found in manure, then where does it come from? A very important concept here is that soil microbes are the nitrogen gatekeepers. Soil temperature, moisture cycles, organic matter, carbon material (residues), pH, other nutrients, and overall “health” impact the microbes’ activity.
They are continuously converting nitrogen back and forth between organic and inorganic forms. Based on soil biome complexities, how can we predict what we can count on without putting yields or the environment at risk? Would a soil test give us the answer we need? The answer is . . . probably. I have had experience with the pre-sidedress nitrate test (PSNT) soil analysis since 1980. I also helped develop a more
If nitrate is rarely found in manure, then where does it come from? comprehensive soil test that added results of ammonia-N. This significantly improved the measurement of manure-available nitrogen in the soil that we could input into our nitrogen use recommendations. Still, a calculation method had to be developed to help pinpoint recommendations even better. We had successfully used this process on tens of thousands of acres annually for 30 years. Even so, I knew we were missing something. The PSNT analysis (even with ammonia) is only a “snapshot” of nitrogen the microbes were providing us the day of sampling — not necessarily for tomorrow. Another critical factor is having test results before corn is sidedressed. This meant sampling early because clients
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would start applying N as soon as they could. We experienced lower soil-N levels earlier in the season compared to follow-up tests later in the growing season. This makes sense knowing microbial activity would be diminished during lower temperatures. Could we develop a test that was not soil temperature dependent? Knowing that microbes constantly shift nitrogen between inorganic and organic forms, we set out to discover if we could test for the organic-N portion — that table value “33%” portion or what I call “mineralizable-N” — that we were seeing as the soil warmed up. Based upon this need, a cooperating laboratory performed many soil incubation trials to try to coax this heretofore hidden nitrogen out so it could be measured. As a result, a new soil nitrogen test method was developed. We then successfully adjusted our nitrogen recommendations accordingly. Here are the takeaways: 1. Manure application provides a deeper reservoir of nitrogen in soils than we previously thought yet suspected. 2. Traditional PSNT soil analyses give a limited glimpse of soil N content. 3. We can do a better job of accounting for nitrogen from manure and save money on fertilizer while keeping nitrates out of the water with a little extra effort. ■ The author is the president of Menke Consulting LLC, an agronomic and environmental consulting firm in Greenville, Ohio.
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