Journal of Nutrient Management – Quarter 4 – 2020

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Published by W.D. Hoard & Sons Co.

November | 2020

Journal of

Nutrient Management

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Mixing cover crops and manure Integrating biochar into a manure system Don’t settle for less

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BENEFITS • Dry Matter content up to 38% in solids when separating cattle slurry • Economical production of high-quality bedding from the manure solids already on the farm. No need to buy additional bedding • High dry matter content even at high throughput rates

• Including automatic weight control • Including control panel • New robust cage and XC wearing screen • Housing made of cast iron

• Low energy consumption

• Permanent cleaning of the screen by the auger

• Press screw and screen basket made of stainless steel

• Easy to maintain

• Long life of the auger due to hard metal coating

• Gearbox with NEMA flange allows convenient and costeffective sourcing of US motors up to 15 HP


Submersible motor pump gear unit design


Submersible motor mixer

BAUER North America, Michigan City, Indiana 46360, PO Box 8943 +800 922 8375,,

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2020-05-06 10:02 AM


Volume 1 | No. 4

Journal of


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Tradition, technology, and gratitude Mixing cover crops and manure

22 26

Andy Dellava Jane Griswold

Proceed with caution: Contents may vary

Jenna Zilverberg Kim Zilverberg

Let’s be professional about it


When it rains, it pours



Answers at your fingertips Integrating biochar into a manure system Don’t settle for less

First Thoughts . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Policy Watch . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 In the Field . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Manure Minute . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 Fresh Paint . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24 Places to Be . . . . . . . . . . . . 25 On the Move . . . . . . . . . . . . 26

ON THE COVER After a busy harvest season, many farms jump right into manure application as weather allows. To reduce road traffic, some manure is transported through dragline hoses. A booster pump, like the one used by this custom applicator on a Midwestern farm, helps maintain pressure and flow speed in the hose when manure is traveling longer distances. Photo by Mike Rankin, managing editor of Hay & Forage Grower.

Find us online at:

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EDITORIAL OFFICE 28 Milwaukee Ave. West Fort Atkinson, WI 53538 WEBSITE EMAIL PHONE (920) 563-5551

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@ Website: Postmaster: Send address corrections to: Journal of Nutrient Management, PO Box 801, Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin 53538-0801. Tel: (920) 563-5551. Email: info@ 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, Copyright © 2020 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.

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Abby Bauer Managing Editor

any of us who farm or work in the industry come from a long lineage of agriculturists. The generations before us who raised animals and grew crops paved the path we follow today. For others, agriculture entered their lives through an experience or a mentor. That was the case for the founder of our publishing company, W.D. Hoard. Hoard did not grow up on a farm, but he started working on a neighbor’s farm as a teenager. That dairyman encouraged him to read and learn all he could about dairy, and there’s no doubt his advice played a pivotal role in propelling Hoard toward a lifelong career of leadership and serving dairy farmers. Agriculture as a whole would not be what it is today without the strong history and tradition of farming we have in this country. At the core of today’s practices to maintain fertile soil and care for animals are foundational lessons that were learned decades ago. At the same time, we would not be where we are now without technology, either. As the country grew in population and cities sprawled into the countryside, farmers were tasked with producing more food on less land. To do this, farmers made adjustments to how they managed fields and raised animals, incorporating more technology into the everyday aspects of production agriculture to enhance efficiency and productivity. For manure, advancements in technology have provided options for storage that maintain nutrient content and minimize odor. More advanced equipment allows us to transport manure farther, and it tells us precisely where it should be applied to better use manure as a nutrient source for crops. With technology, we are able to turn manure into bedding and energy, too. We are able to use these

nutrients in a way that not only is more productive but also protects the environment. The opportunity that technology brings is also what draws some bright, young minds to agriculture. That was the case for Mat Stutzman, the poultry farmer featured in the story on page 10. His original career plans did not involve farming, but the chance to add technology to grow and enhance their farm excited him, and that is what motivated him to return. This year has been far from normal, and it has forced us to alter some of our traditions, at least for a while. Thankfully, access to technology has allowed family members and coworkers to easily communicate, and even see each other, through phone calls, texts, and video chats. Perhaps some things will never be the same again, as the pandemic forced us to discover new ways to do daily tasks. Still, there are important traditions at the core of our families, our farms, and our communities that can’t be replaced. I hope those traditions are able to return — and flourish — as soon as it is safe to do so. This is the fourth and final issue in our first year of publication. Thank you for joining us on this ride as a reader, and we look forward to sharing the latest news and research in nutrient management with you in the year ahead. We appreciate your steadfast commitment to agriculture. May the upcoming holiday season be filled with health and happiness for you and those around you. Until next time, Abby

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:

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The Maryland Department of Agriculture is accepting grant proposals for the department’s Animal Waste Technology Fund. The fund has $3.35 million available to invest in innovative technologies during fiscal year 2021, which ends June 30, 2021. For the first time, innovative technology proposals that treat animal waste streams, in addition to animal manure, will be accepted. This would include dairy waste water, poultry processing waste, and livestock mortalities. Animal waste technology projects that are cost-effective, proven, innovative, and adaptable to Maryland will be considered. Proposals must be submitted by December 31, 2020.

The owners of a horse track in New Orleans, La., have agreed to pay a $2.8 million penalty for allowing horse manure and urine to enter the city’s drainage system for at least the past six years. The fine is reportedly the largest ever paid by a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) under the Clean Water Act, according to the U.S. Justice Department. Churchill Downs, based in Louisville, Ky., owns the track and is working with federal, state, and local environmental agencies to deal with the wastewater and stormwater, which will include $5.6 million in capital investments over the next three years. More than 1,800 horses can be housed on the property at one time.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) named 379 priority watersheds to help agricultural producers across the country improve water quality. Producers in these targeted areas will receive focused financial and technical resources through USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to implement practices that avoid, control, and trap nutrients and sediments, including filter strips, cover crops, and manure management. “We see a positive impact when we partner with producers to deliver conservation practices to critical watersheds,” said Farm Production and Conservation Under Secretary Bill Nothey.

KANSAS Dairy Farmers of America, the nation’s largest dairy farmer-owned cooperative with headquarters in Kansas City, Kan., announced its commitment to reduce direct and value chain greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2031. The cooperative’s goal has been validated by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), which supports the Paris Agreement’s broader goal to keep global warming below 2°C. DFA’s target also aligns with the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy’s goal for the U.S. dairy industry to become carbon neutral before 2050. DFA says it will work to reduce emissions on farms, in processing plants, and on the road. Strategies to reach this goal include mitigating methane emissions from cows by supporting advances in feed efficiency, herd nutrition, and feed additives; using renewable energy on farms and in processing plants; capturing emissions through healthy soils and crops; and creating transportation and hauling efficiencies to reduce emissions.

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UNITED STATES The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy unveiled a Net Zero Initiative, an industrywide effort to help dairy farms of all sizes implement new technologies and adopt economically viable practices. The initiative’s research, farm testing, and market development will focus on improving sustainability and economic opportunity through refinements in feed production, manure and nutrient handling, on-farm energy efficiency, and cow care. The initiative is a critical component of the U.S. dairy industry’s environmental stewardship goal to achieve carbon neutrality, optimize water usage, and improve water quality by 2050. The first company to join forces with the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy as part of the Net Zero Initiative is Nestle USA, committing $10 million over a multiyear partnership. This collaboration will help provide access to environmental practices and resources for farms across the country. November 2020 | Journal of Nutrient Management | 5

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COVER CROPS AND MANURE Cover crops can capture leachable nitrate — but do they take up too much nitrogen in the process? by Matt Ruark


orn silage production offers a great opportunity to plant cover crops for erosion control and water quality benefits. In Northern climates, cover crops can be hard to establish following grain harvest, but if corn is harvested for silage by late September, grass cover crops can grow quickly and provide valuable ground coverage. Winter rye is the most popular cover crop in this scenario, as it will survive the winters in the northern U.S. and provide benefits up until termination in the spring. Other popular grass cover

crops include oat and spring barley, which can grow quickly during the fall but will die off during the winter. This has the advantage of reducing an extra trip across the field to terminate the cover crop, but the dead biomass may not provide adequate erosion protection in the spring.

Concerns about fall application Many questions still remain when using cover crops, especially when manure is applied in the fall. While fall applications are essential to overall manure management, application at this

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time does create risk of nitrate leaching into groundwater or to surface waters via tile drainage. Cover crops can help trap leachable nitrate during the fall and early spring months before planting. We do not expect, though, that this “trapped” nitrogen will be returned to the next corn crop. The question at hand is how much nitrogen from the manure is left for that next corn crop? In a perfect world, the cover crop would just trap the nitrogen that would be leached, but recent studies in Wisconsin have revealed they also tap into the nitrogen that would be available

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 Figure 1. Spring barley growth of about 800 lbs./ac of dry matter in Dane County, Wis., in November 2015.

 Figure 2. Winter rye growth of about 1,500 lbs./ac of dry matter in Grant County, Wis., in April 2015.

for the next corn crop. Between 2015 and 2018, cover crop research trials were conducted in Wisconsin at the Arlington, Lancaster, and Marshfield Agricultural Research Stations (located in Dane, Grant, and Marathon County, respectively). In each study year, cover crops (winter rye, annual ryegrass, and spring barley) were planted following a corn silage harvest and an application of liquid dairy manure of about 10,000 gallons per acre, which typically provided about 80 to 100 pounds of nitrogen (N) per acre (lbs./ac). The different cover crop species were compared to plots where no cover crop was applied. The following year, corn was planted 10 to 14 days after the winter rye cover crop was terminated (spring barley and annual ryegrass winterkilled). Eight rates of N were applied to determine differences in the amount of N needed to optimize corn yields.

 Figure 3. Winter rye growth of about 2,500 lbs./ac of dry matter in Dane County, Wis., in April 2017.

a lot of nitrogen. There could also be nitrogen immobilization that occurs when the winter rye cover crop decomposes. This is where soil microorganisms consume plant-available nitrogen (ammonium and nitrate) while decomposing the plant material, reducing the amount available for the corn crop in the soil.


Evaluating nitrogen needs The results of this study revealed three different things. First, if using cover crops that winterkill (such as spring barley), there was no reduction in the manure N credit for the next corn crop. Typically, spring barley produced 1,000 lbs./ac of dry matter biomass or less (Figure 1). Second, when winter rye (a cover crop that consistently survived the winter) produced less than 2,000 lbs./ac (Figure 2), then about 35 lbs./ac of extra N fertilizer was needed to maximize the next year’s corn yield. This result indicates that the winter rye reduced the “nitrogen credit” of the manure. Finally, when winter rye biomass exceeded 2,000 lbs./ac, the expected nitrogen value of the manure to the next corn crop was eliminated. This indicates that while getting enough cover crop to provide erosion control (about 1,000 lbs./ac) is good, when the cover crop gets too big it begins to act as a cash crop and utilizes most, if not all, of the nitrogen in the fall-applied manure. Nitrogen adjustments based on cover crop biomass are presented in the table. Since our research was conducted with the fall applications of manure, we are attributing the need to apply additional nitrogen fertilizer to the fact that the cover crop physically took up

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“...had results in the first week of application. The manure smelled different and was very easy to pump.” -- East Wisconsin dairy

“The manure hauler commented he never had a pit of manure that was pumpable without agitation.” -- East Pennsylvania dairy

“The smell and the air quality has improved dramatically.”

-- Northeast Iowa dairy (800) 435-9560 AGRIKING.COM

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Nitrogen adjustments to manure N credit book values Cover crop biomass (lbs./ac)

Estimated N uptake (lbs./ac)

Amount to adjust manure N credit (lbs./ac)



No adjustments needed

1,000 to 2,000

25 to 45

Subtract 35 lbs./ac from manure N credit if winter rye was used*



Do not take any manure N credit**

*There was no clear effect when winterkilled cover crops were used based on Wisconsin research. **This recommendation applies to manure N applications up to 100 lbs./ac of available N. (Adapted from Ruark et al., 2019)

The more winter rye biomass there is, the more immobilization that can occur. It’s important to note that the findings reported here are for late summer and early fall manure applications. There are still many aspects of cover crop use with manure that need to be fully explored, such as timing of manure application (in late fall or spring).

Cover crops and corn yield Similar to our findings with nitrogen, risk of corn yield loss occurred when

cover crop biomass exceeded 1,000 lbs./ ac. The biggest effects were observed when winter rye exceeded 2,000 lbs./ ac. For the most part, yield reductions were less than 10 bu/ac, and there were no observable nutrient deficiencies in the corn crop. Our findings are not unique, as others in the Midwest have found similar results. In contrast, cover crop trials by the Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) have shown yield reductions to be rare, occurring in only two of 29 site years

between 2011 and 2019. (The report can be found at These studies by PFI were conducted with cooperating farmers on their fields. Collectively, this indicates that there is some potential risk to corn yield when winter rye biomass gets too high, but experience with cover crops can reduce the overall risk of yield loss. Grass cover crops take up nitrogen from the manure that would have likely leached out of the root zone over winter and spring before planting. However, it does appear to tap into the nitrogen that would typically be available for that next corn crop. The trick for farmers is to grow enough cover crop biomass for good erosion control but not grow too much as to tie up nitrogen. See the sidebar for recommendations. â– The author is a professor in the department of soil science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

COVER CROP RECOMMENDATIONS Here are tips for keeping biomass low and for managing corn following cover crops: 1. If new to cover cropping, consider starting with spring barley or oats (covers that will winterkill in cold climates). 2. Keep seeding rates low for covers that survive the winter (such as 60 lbs./ac or less for winter rye). 3. Wait 10 to 14 days between termination of winter rye and corn planting. 4. Utilize a starter fertilizer that contains nitrogen. 5. Use row clear attachments on plant-

ers to increase soil warming around the seed.

1. If a lot of biomass has already been produced during a warm fall, consider a fall termination to avoid excessive biomass in the spring.

3. C onsider harvesting the winter rye as a winter silage crop. This would also be beneficial from a nutrient management planning perspective, as the nutrients from the fall manure application would be applied to this winter silage crop. If interested in this option, it will also be important to follow all herbicide rules, as some applications can prevent the winter rye from being fed.

2. Terminate the winter rye as early in the spring as possible and make

4. If you want to avoid risk, consider planting soybeans instead of corn.

6. Split apply N fertilizer, or at least avoid having all of the nitrogen applied in-season. The following are considerations for when you get more than 2,000 lbs./ac of winter rye:

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fields with an abundance of winter rye biomass top priority in the spring.

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field’s nitrogen needs vary from year to year. In a recent University of Nebraska Extension Crop Watch article, extension specialists explained that this need is partially dependent on the previous year’s weather conditions, previous crop nitrogen uptake and yield, and postharvest residual soil nitrogen. The authors shared that when a growing season is drier than normal, it may limit downward movement of nitrogen (N) in the soil profile, nitrate leaching loss, crop nitrogen uptake, and crop yield. A reduction in yield could leave more residual N in the soil; a soil sample taken at a depth of 2 to 3 feet in the fall or spring would confirm this. Timing of N application is critical for crop yield, N use efficiency, economic return, and N losses into the environment. Since precipitation is unpredictable, the potential for N loss is present during the fall, winter, and early spring. For this reason, the authors said that spring soil sampling

and split N application (preplanting and in-season) is the best strategy. However, if applying N in the fall, consider the following practices to avoid over application and N loss. 1. Sample soil at 2 or 3 feet deep to determine residual nitrate-N to be credited in nitrogen rate calculations. 2. Apply fertilizer N or manure when soil temperature is below 50°F at a 4-inch soil depth. 3. Apply anhydrous ammonia instead of other N fertilizers. 4. Limit fall application of N to silt loams, silty clay loams, and finer textured soils. 5. Avoid fall application on wet or flood-prone soils. 6. Consider applying part of the N in the fall and the remainder during the growing season. 7. Following University of Nebraska-Lincoln recommendations, plan to apply 5% more fertilizer-N in the fall compared to spring application to compensate for potential losses.



he number of anaerobic digesters on farms continues to expand, growing tenfold between 2000 and 2020 (see graph below). As of this year, there are 255 anaerobic digesters in operation and 33 more under construction, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Ag STAR program. Of those farms operating digesters, 205 have dairy cattle, 44 raise hogs, eight have beef cattle, and seven raise poultry. Some digesters accept manure from more than one species, which is why this total exceeds 255.

Number of operating digesters

Anaerobic digesters on U.S. livestock farms 350 300 250 200 150 100 50 0 -50




■ Under construction




■ Newly operational




■ Operational



■ Shut down

Source: AgSTAR Livestock Anaerobic Digester Database

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All photos: Abby Bauer

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Litter and used manure are composted in windrows; some of it is used as bedding in the barns. The remainder is stacked in a manure shed and then land applied.

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by Abby Bauer, Managing Editor

at Stutzman’s original career plan in public relations and sports media didn’t exactly include agriculture, but growth opportunities and technology drew him back to the farm he grew up on. “I always enjoyed the business aspect of farming,” Mat said. “As technology became more prevalent in agriculture, that got my attention. The tech side played a major role for me.” Mat’s grandfather moved to Constantine, Mich., in 1961 and started crop farming there. Mat’s parents, Albert and Sarah, followed suit, and until 2012, the Stutzmans were strictly grain farmers running 3,000 crop acres. At that point, Mat and his three siblings had all returned to the farm, and the ability to incorporate the third generation is what pushed them to diversify. They considered other forms of livestock before partnering with Miller Poultry, a poultry processor headquartered in Goshen, Ind. Miller Poultry was looking to expand its business and needed more farms to raise birds, and the Stutzmans quickly became interested.

For the love of manure They started out by building two broiler barns in 2013 to “dip our toe in the water and see what it was like,” Mat said. They quickly saw the benefits poultry manure provided their crop fields, along with the opportunity to provide more job opportunities on the farm. In fact, poultry litter, not meat

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tion, is really what pulled the Stutzmans to broiler raising. “We love the manure. That’s the reason we got into poultry,” Mat said. “Our number one goal was to produce manure for application.” That interest in manure’s value started with Albert. When Albert took over the farm from his dad, he focused on nutrient management, started to plant cover crops, and instituted other environmental friendly farming practices. Albert also worked for a local dairy farm as a supervisor, and their anaerobic digester that generated power for the dairy intrigued him. “My dad was always interested in energy production,” Mat said. “We started looking at those concepts.” While anaerobic digestion wasn’t a great fit for their farm, they quickly saw the litter provided tremendous value when land applied. “High-quality nutrients and everything you get from manure, that’s really why we expanded the poultry farm,” Mat said. A year after their initial barns went up, they built two more, and then four more the year after that. Then, in 2017, Mat’s sister and her husband, Lynette and Tim Carpenter, built a four barn breeder egg facility. There they produce fertilized eggs that are picked up by

Miller to be hatched at their facility. Last year, the Stutzmans built another breeder egg facility 1.5 miles from the home farm.

Capturing the sun Mat’s brothers have since moved on from the operation, so today he farms with his sister, his brother-in-law (who manages the crop side of their farm), and his parents. Albert’s interest level in renewable energy remained high, so they continued to look for ways

Albert and Mat Stutzman handle the dayto-day operations on their broiler farm, where they have up to 320,000 broilers on-site at one time. to advance the farm in that area. Although it appeared too cost prohibitive at first, the Stutzmans found the right contracts with the right people and some grants that allowed them to install 870 solar panels on their farm this year. “It was still a large financial invest-

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ment of ours,” explained Mat, “but we see two positive benefits. For one, our electrical bill by the end of this year should be down to $0, so there is a financial aspect to it. We are also cutting down on our electrical usage and producing energy in a way that is much more environmentally friendly.” The solar panels will generate 425,000 kilowatt hours per year, or enough electricity to power 40 homes. All energy used in barns is being produced by the solar panels. Some of the harnessed energy is sold back to the power company; the rest is banked for use on the farm overnight or on nonproductive days when the panels are not capturing enough sunlight. “It will be well down the road before we’ll see some financial return, but the reason behind the solar panels was that when people pull in to the farm, we want them to see the steps we are taking to be environmentally friendly in our farming practices,” Mat said, reaffirming their commitment to sustainability.

In the barns Powered by the sun, each of the broiler barns is 60 feet wide by 600 feet long and can house 40,000 birds. When at full capacity, the Stutzmans are raising 320,000 birds on-site at a time. Miller Poultry brings the chicks from their hatchery when they are one day old, and the Stutzmans raise the birds for about 41 days, or until they are 5.2 pounds. Miller formulates and A total of 870 solar panels harness energy from the sun, producing enough power to run the farm and sell some to the electric company.

delivers the feed for the broilers, which changes as they grow. The Stutzmans’ farm is not certified organic, but they do raise their broilers without the use of antibiotics. A new requirement of the Global Animal Partnership (G.A.P.) standards, which farms growing for Miller Poultry abide by, is incorporating windows in all barns to allow natural light. “The sun is good for you,” Mat said. “We have seen nothing but health benefits from it, and we get a lot better yield out of the birds.” They also maintain a very consistent environment inside the barns. In the winter, this includes running furnaces to provide heat. For summer, fans and cooling walls are used to bring the temperature down and ventilate the barns. The cooling walls contain a material like cardboard and have cold water running through them. “We try to make the birds as comfortable as possible,” Mat said. “A happy chicken is a healthy chicken.” To make sure birds get off to a good start, they lower the feed and water trays so the 1-day-old chicks can easily access them, and they use Christmas lights to attract chicks to the water. Water intake is something that they monitor very closely, because Mat said, “It is often the first indicator that something is wrong.” They also drop a curtain halfway through the barn for the first 11 days to keep the chicks closer to food and water and in a more secure environment. They have added different enrichments to the barns to enhance animal well-being. This includes perches and buckets with both ends cut off to provide

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areas for privacy when birds want it. Once a barn full of broilers has grown and left the farm, the barn is cleaned out. The goal is to have a 3-inch layer of bedding on the ground when a new group of birds is placed in the barn, so the Stutzmans remove compost as necessary to reach that point. Sometimes they use a piece of equipment called a housekeeper, which Mat likened to a potato digger. It shakes up the litter, removing larger wet chunks while leaving behind the drier used shavings.

What lies beneath The remaining used bedding and manure is pushed into windrows, and over the course of 14 days, the windrows are rolled two times to make sure the proper temperature of 140°F is maintained for composting. “That is key for antibiotic free,” Mat said. “Composting kills off the negative bacteria.” Once composting is complete, the litter is leveled out and a layer of fresh shavings is placed on the top. Mat explained that for chicks, the litter is their immune system’s “lifeblood.” He said, “If they didn’t have bacteria that is in the used litter, the mortality rate would spike.” Not being able to use antibiotics can be a challenge, especially in the very young chicks. “Biosecurity is really, really big,” Mat said. “It is your main line of defense.” The used litter and manure that is removed from the broiler houses is placed under an open-sided stack barn. Here the litter and manure are further composted until it’s used for land application. The Stutzmans test both the soil and the manure to make sure they are applying the correct amount on their

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fields, which they use to grow mostly seed corn and soybeans. While they use some of the litter themselves, at this point, a majority is sold to other farms in the area. They have found a market and great demand for their product; the potato growers especially love it, Mat said. They currently have a waiting list for crop farmers wanting to purchase their composted manure.

The future of farming While Mat’s four children are still young, some of his nieces and nephews are starting to show interest in joining the farm. The Stutzmans’ philosophy requires them to work somewhere else for two years before returning to the family business. “Farming is so advanced now. The amount of business and tech involved, nutrient management, planning —

it’s grown to such a high level,” Mat said. This requires more education, but it also creates more opportunities in different areas. And much of the thoughtful planning and practices the Stutzmans have put into place are in hopes that their farm can carry on for three more generations. This includes the farm’s location, which they chose very carefully before building their first barns. With land spread over three counties, they selected this spot as there are no nearby neighbors. Using proper air control management, Mat said there are seldom odor issues anyway, but they remain committed to public perception and showing consumers what they do. “We are genuine about what we do, how we care for our animals, and the way we care for the land,” Mat shared. “I think that’s very important for

agriculture right now, finding ways to show our consumers and people not on a farm the positives we are doing.” The Stutzmans feel their addition of solar power, which was the first installation on a Michigan poultry farm, was a prime example of how production agriculturalists can connect with consumers in a positive way. “We are really going the extra step to show we are looking at sustainability and looking for environmentally friendly ways to produce proteins, fruits, and vegetables,” Mat said. “We take pride in what we do,” Albert added. Their family remains committed to sustainable agriculture practices, mixed with technology that can help them raise healthier animals and grow better crops. For Mat, he is energized by the future potential of their farm. ■

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Seven inches of rain fell in the Crookston, Minn., area in July, creating opportunities for ponding and surface runoff.

Heavy rainfall in a short window of time can lead to measurable nutrient loss. by Lindsay Pease


etween May 1 and July, 13 inches of rain fell at the University of Minnesota’s Northwest Research and Outreach Center in Crookston. This was about 3.5 inches greater than the 30-year average. What started out as a near-normal season for rain took a sudden turn with 7 inches of rain in July. Quite literally, when it rained, it poured.

Falling with intensity Many factors play into whether heavy rains lead to nutrient loss. Some of these factors are how much it rained, what soil type you have, what crop you grew, how much fertilizer you applied,

how quickly it rained after you applied the fertilizer, and whether you have tile (or irrigation). One of the key factors that determines if water will be absorbed into the soil or runoff the soil surface is rainfall intensity. The soil can only absorb water so fast. This is the soil’s infiltration rate. If rainfall intensity exceeds the soil’s infiltration rate, you will get ponding or runoff. Infiltration rate depends on both the soil’s physical properties (texture, bulk density, and so forth) and the soil’s existing moisture content when it starts raining. Soils that are more coarse in texture absorb water faster than finer

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textured soils. Drier soils absorb water faster than wetter ones. Management practices can have an effect on infiltration rate, too. Less compacted soils will absorb water faster than more compacted ones. In general, no matter what the soil properties are, if soil moisture is high and you get a high-intensity rainfall event, then conditions are right for surface runoff. By my estimation, from May through July, rainfall intensity in Northwest Minnesota’s Red River Basin region likely exceeded infiltration rate on six days for sandier soils and up to 21 days on our more clay soils. That means between six and 21 chances for ponding and surface runoff.

Impacts the environment Nutrient loss in surface runoff tends to be more of an environmental concern than a soil fertility concern. Surface runoff, ponding, and flooding can both damage crops and erode the soil surface, but it will not collect plant-available

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nutrients in a high enough volume to starve the crops. Surface runoff typically does not carry high amounts of nitrogen with it, but it can move high amounts of sediment-bound phosphorus into streams and waterways. Although this phosphorus is tightly bound to particles and not plant-available in the field, this can change once it moves into waterways and is exposed to different biological drivers. For example, phosphorus becomes more available at neutral pH levels. This means that phosphorus that is unavailable in the highly calcareous, high pH soils of western Minnesota can become available downstream. Excessive phosphorus availability in lakes and streams can lead to harmful algal blooms. These harmful algal blooms are a critical environmental concern that threaten our use of freshwater lakes for fishing, drinking, or recreation. Nutrient loss concerns are not only an issue with surface runoff. Once rain makes it into the soil, then nutrient loss from leaching becomes a potential problem. While surface runoff leads primarily to phosphorus loss concerns, leaching is more of a nitrogen loss issue. Excessive nitrogen in the form of nitrate in drinking water poses a health risk to babies and pregnant women. Rainfall is one of the strongest predictors of nutrient movement into shallow groundwater (or tile drain flow). Rainfall tends to have a stronger influence on nutrient leaching than either fertilizer management or soil texture. This holds true whether you are looking at nitrogen or phosphorus. For nitrogen, the soil moisture that comes with rainfall drives the mineralization process. Cover crops, reduced tillage, and For phosphorus, we see managing tile drainage discharge pulses of loss shortly help keep nutrients in the field. following rainfall. This can temporarily elevate nutrient availability for the crop, but nutrients will move along with water as it leaches away.

loading without reducing crop yield. Experimenting with cover crops or reduced tillage to see if those practices help improve soil structure is another strategy. Improved soil structure can increase the available pore space for water to be absorbed into the soil. Cover crops promote improved soil structure by adding organic matter and living plant roots into the soil to help keep soil in place between cash-crop growing seasons. Reduced tillage helps to stabilize soil aggregates and keeps the pore spaces formed by those soil aggregates from breaking apart. A low level of nutrient loss may be unavoidable if heavy rains are in the forecast. Even so, it is important (and economical) to optimize soil fertility in addition to implementing other water management practices. When we are looking at soil as a system, fertilizer management is only one aspect keeping nutrients in the field and out of downstream waterways. We may not have any silver bullets for improving nutrient use efficiency, but we do have options. ■ The author is an assistant professor and extension specialist in the department of soils, water, and climate at the University of Minnesota.

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Help nutrients stay put Although we cannot control the weather, we can try different water strategies to improve our chances of keeping nutrients in the field. These strategies include managing tile drainage discharge with controlled drainage and implementing cover crops and reduced tillage into our cropping system. Controlled drainage is a practice that uses a structure installed at the outlet of a subsurface drainage system to physically slow or stop the flow of water out of the field. This practice keeps water in the field for a longer period and has been shown to reduce downstream nitrogen and phosphorus

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The Newtrient Catalog provides a third-party perspective on many farm technologies and solutions.

Answers at your fingertips This one of a kind catalog is the first step to understanding your farm’s environmental reduction solutions. by Jamie Vander Molen

s companies and countries continue to set carbon reduction goals and develop environmental strategies, dairy remains an important partner in providing solutions. Today, dairy farms are adopting field practices to

improve soil health; feed improvements to optimize cow health; and innovative manure management technologies to produce renewable energy and create valuable renewable fertilizers. As we look ahead, we are just beginning to scratch the surface on solutions

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to reduce emissions, capture nutrients, and create renewables in an economically feasible way. The Net Zero Initiative (NZI), an industry-wide pathway to help farms reduce their environmental footprint from field to farm gate, will help foster and raise awareness of these key solutions.

Potential promises As a dairy farmer, it’s likely that you’ve been approached by a technology vendor, energy company, or feed company with promising solutions to reduce odor, capture nutrients, or create renewable energy on your farm. And, as the need for solutions accelerates, new technologies, practices, and innovations will continuously emerge at rapid rates. While there’s no shortage of solutions and business opportunities, it can be overwhelming to identify and evaluate all of the current solutions. In fact, in the technology space alone, there are over 300 companies in the U.S. that provide technologies to manage manure

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and capture nutrients. Unfortunately, we’ve heard of some farms that adopted a technology to solve one problem, only to face a new problem because the farm didn’t choose the right technology or vendor. Other times, farms may not be getting feasible, long-term technology systems, or may not be compensated for the real value that they provide to a project based on the sale of its products (such as renewable energy). Not every solution is right for every farm or business. The current options need further research, evaluation, pilots, and developed markets to be considered as a real option for most farms.

Read the reviews This need for more information and evaluation spurred the development of the Newtrient Catalog. It is a free, online, and easily accessible catalog of solutions. It’s one of the only available resources for farms to get a third-party perspective to answer some of your burning questions, such as: • Does the technology or solution actually do what it claims to do? • Is this an economically feasible solution for my farm and business? • What type of environmental benefits will I receive from the solution? • What other farms are using the technology or solution? • What type of products does the technology produce, and is there a market for the products? Many have referred to it as the “consumer reports” of dairy farm solutions. The full catalog can be found at Each potential solution can be searched by vendor or company, type of solution, and on-farm problem that needs to be solved. Before having a conversation with a vendor, we suggest you visit the catalog to read more about their experience and projects. While the resource is created with the farmer in mind, it’s been used by policymakers, investors, and technology developers to incentivize sustainable improvements and investments in

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dairy. Within the dairy community, we understand that our industry provides many solutions to reduce the environmental footprint, benefiting people beyond the farms and in communities. This catalog demonstrates dairy’s commitment and ability to provide viable solutions.

Plans to expand We know that each dairy farmer’s business goals are unique based on farm size, location, and design — and they are continuously changing. In a similar way, Newtrient will be expanding the catalog to include feed and manure additives and conservation best practices that farms can reference to help inform plans that reduce their environmental impact. Through the Net Zero Initiative, dairy’s commitment to be an environ-

mental solution remains strong. It has set out to establish the markets needed to make this possible for farms of all sizes by diversifying revenue, increasing resiliency, and lowering costs. The hope is that the catalog makes it easier for farms and all stakeholders to understand that there are currently many available options, and to help farms find ones that meet their business and environmental goals. ■

If you have questions or would like more information on the solutions listed within the catalog, please contact

The author is the vice president of sustainability initiatives and outreach at Newtrient.

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Integrating biochar into a manure system Whether made from manure or other feedstuffs, biochar provides benefits when land applied. by Rebecca Larson and Joseph Sanford


iochar is a carbon-based product resulting from pyrolysis, where feedstocks (wood chips, corncobs, or even manure solids, for example) are heated without oxygen to high temperatures to produce oils and gas that can be used for energy. Biochar is what remains after that process. The product contains a lot of carbon and is very low density, meaning a large bag can be very lightweight (5 to 20 pounds per cubic foot). The biochar can contain a variety of nutrients and other materials depending upon what was within the feedstocks made to create the biochar. One of the most interesting things about biochar is the structure, which is very porous — think lots of tiny gaps or void space where air and water can move through the biochar. The structure provides a lot of places for all kinds of different molecules to bind to the biochar, allows air and water to enter, and even provides a place for microorganisms to grow. This is important because biochar characteristics can change how effective the biochar is for a particular application.

Made from manure Characteristics vary depending upon what the biochar was produced from (the feedstock), the temperature it was





Biochar can be made from different feedstocks. Pictured here are A. corncob; B. manure; C. poplar wood; and D. birch wood. produced at (300 to 800°C), and the duration it was produced, among other factors. These factors are important when starting to examine how biochar can be most effectively integrated into manure systems.

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Biochar can be made from manure solids, or it can be made from other feedstocks and integrated into manure systems. Biochar can be used for a variety of applications, such as reducing hydrogen sulfide production or

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ering nitrogen and phosphorus from manure streams. Manure can be separated, and the manure solids can then be dried and converted into biochar. The resulting manure-based biochar has a significantly reduced density compared to manure. This can reduce handling and transport issues since it is lighter and takes up less space than the original manure solids, meaning more can be moved with less cost. Unfortunately, drying manure solids is an energy intensive activity that can make the process expensive, but the availability of biogas on many farms that can be used to dry manure solids is lowering the barriers to making manure-based biochar. While much of the nitrogen can be lost in the drying and pyrolysis process, the phosphorus is retained and can be transported farther distances at the same cost compared to separated solids. In addition, manure-based biochar poses less risk than unprocessed manure as the high production temperature inactivates pathogens and eliminates odors. While this is an area that is currently being explored, more work needs to be done to assess the economics of this process and the fertilizer or nutrient value of the biochar.

Other feedstocks work, too Biochar can also be made from other organic feedstocks depending upon the characteristics of biochar that would be useful for a specific agricultural application. For example, some wood-based biochars were found to have the ability to reduce hydrogen sulfide production in manure-based anaerobic digesters. This could be useful in reducing this corrosive gas that also has a significant human health risk. Biochar can also be used to uptake manure nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. The biochar characteristics are important in terms of the nutrient type and form they can uptake. Biochar has shown ability to uptake ammonium or ammonia,

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This is a plot trial with biochar incorporated into the soil. where the uptake amount is generally based on the cation exchange capacity. Key factors in determining a biochar cation exchange capacity is the biochar feedstock and production temperature. However, other characteristics may be important for uptake of different forms of nutrients. In addition, biochar can be modified to target characteristics needed for an end application, sometimes called designer biochar, as it targets a specific application. For example, allowing biochar to naturally age in soil has improved the ability of biochar to uptake nitrate. Further, cations (such as calcium) can be added to manure solids prior to pyrolysis, which has then been shown to increase the ability of the biochar to uptake phosphorus. To modify biochar, researchers have to look critically at the mechanisms behind the desired function and maximize the ability of the biochar to produce the desired effect.

Out in the field While biochar can be produced from many different feedstocks and integrated into manure systems in different ways, almost all biochar eventually gets field applied. Biochar is known for its ability to improve soil quality. Improvements in soil water holding capacity have been measured when biochar is applied to soil systems. When biochar is applied, it can also serve as a slow-release fertilizer. The biochar characteristics are critical for understanding application impacts to cropping systems. In many cases, the biochar can be beneficial at specific land

application rates, but when overapplied, it can lead to reduced yields. Understanding the specific characteristics of the biochar will allow users to better incorporate biochar and actualize the desired benefits. While there are many potential benefits to integrating biochar into manure systems, our knowledge is evolving rapidly as researchers continue to investigate the impacts from incorporating these products on farms. ■ Larson is an associate professor and extension specialist in the department of biological systems engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Sanford is an assistant professor of agricultural and biological systems engineering at UW-Platteville and faculty researcher for the Wisconsin Dairy Innovation Hub.

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Don’t settle for less A few key maintenance tasks help sand settling lanes reach their full potential.

s dairy farms grow in herd size, the amount of required bedding also goes up. Dairy farmers often use sand as bedding because of its availability, comfort, and effectiveness in maintaining herd udder health. With farms using as much as 100 tons of sand weekly, any type of sand recovery could be a substantial money saver. To recycle this bedding, sand settling lanes are becoming more prevalent in the dairy industry. In Illinois, we have seen a surge in this type of system, and as with any new process, producers have experienced some trouble getting the settling lanes to perform as intended. In evaluating the sand settling lanes, it was found that most of the problems had to do with the operation and maintenance of the system.

Takes effort to operate Dairy farmers are always busy, and time is at a premium. Most do not want another structure on-site that requires more time to operate. Producers may assume that a sand settling lane is a “plug and play” system. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Sand settling lanes require continual operation and maintenance to function properly. In 2016, we visited five Illinois dairy farms with sand settling lanes. Various parameters were measured to see how the sand lanes were functioning. During the visits, the producers

Abby Bauer

by Matthew Robert

The use of sand settling lanes reduces the amount of sand that ends up in a manure storage structure, but they need to be properly maintained to maximize their potential. shared information about their operation and maintenance. Most were never given operation and maintenance instructions, which meant they had to determine how to run the sand lane on their own. Because of this, the sand lanes at each of these facilities were not separating the maximum amount of sand out of the waste stream. This led to excessive sand in the waste storage facility at the end of the sand lane and the producer having to purchase extra sand for bedding.

How to do it From this small field study, we recommend that the producer understands the following key features before the

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sand settling lane is put into operation. This way, the sand lane functions at its optimal performance. Know the system’s capacity (both flow rate and velocity of the waste stream). Every sand lane is designed for a certain flow rate or capacity. The flow rate is determined by the time it takes the waste stream (coming from the flush system of the freestall barn) to go through the sand lane and the dimensions (length and cross-section area) of the sand lane. For sand to settle, the waste stream needs to be at an optimal velocity — not too fast and not too slow. When the velocity is correct, sand will settle in the sand lane and solid manure particles

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Figure 1. Sand settling lane during a flush. Note the white bubbles on top of the water. This shows where sand was in the sand lane before the flush. The bubbles were made because of ripples caused by the waste stream being redirected. will continue to be suspended in the liquid (see Figure 1). Changing the flow rate (or velocity) of the flush system will impact the effectiveness of the sand settling lane. The producer needs to know the optimal flow rate for the sand settling lane so that it can be set and not changed. In general, the optimal flow velocity is between 1 and 2 feet per second, depending on the size of the sand particles. Knowing the length of the sand lane (in feet) and measuring how long the waste stream takes to travel this length (in seconds) will determine velocity. It is advisable to measure the velocity of the waste stream weekly to make sure that nothing has changed with the flush system. Regular cleaning is necessary. Many producers do not realize that the sand lane needs to be cleaned daily. When a sand lane is working effectively, sand is being deposited in the lane. The deposited sand affects the flow dynamics in the settling lane by changing the cross-sectional area of the flush lane or by reducing the effective slope. These changes in cross-sectional area and slope can significantly affect the amount of sand that will settle in the lane. If a producer cleans the sand out of the lane only once or twice a week, the buildup of sand between the clean-outs

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Figure 2. Sand lane with settled sand and manure after multiple flushes.

Figure 3. Sand storage area with sand collected from the sand settling lane.

lowers the effectiveness of the sand settling lane (see Figure 2). Since sand settling lanes are typically designed for flow with no additional sand in the lane, cleaning the sand settling lane daily is important to maximize the collection of sand in the lane. Management of the reclaimed sand that is removed from the settling lane is important as well. To reuse the sand as bedding, this sand needs to be cleaned. The sand particles still contain some manure and wastewater that can cause mastitis. When the sand is removed from the sand settling lane, it is usually placed in a sand storage area for about three months (see Figure 3). This will allow enough time for rainfall to clean the recovered sand if the sand pile is turned weekly so that all of the sand can be cleaned by the rain. If the stored sand is simply left until it is time to be reused as bedding, this will raise the risk of mammary infections for the milking cows.

it only makes sense to keep it running with optimal performance to maximize the return on investment. â–

The author is an agricultural engineer for USDA-NRCS.

Follow the plan When a sand settling lane is built, ask the designer of the system for an operation and maintenance (O&M) plan. The O&M plan should include all the above items, along with seasonal (or annual) maintenance items. Following a site-specific O&M plan is recommended to maximize the effectiveness of the system. With the large economic investment to have a sand settling lane designed and constructed, November 2020 | Journal of Nutrient Management | 21

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Todd Garrett

The nutrient content of manure can vary significantly within a storage structure, even after agitation.


CONTENTS MAY VARY Sequential sampling of liquid manure pits ensures nutrients get to the fields that need them the most. by Ev Thomas


arm owners realize that responsible manure management is a requirement, not an option. High fertility fields — especially those that test high in phosphorus (P) — can be difficult to manage. A Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) Nutrient Management Plan (NMP) may limit the amount of P added each year (as manure or commercial fertilizer) to not exceed annual crop removal. On many of these farms, as the size of the dairy or livestock enterprise grew, additional cropland had to be purchased or leased to meet the need for more forage. Some of 22 | Journal of Nutrient Management | November 2020

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these recently acquired fields are several miles or more from the farm (and from the manure storages). Because of prior management (or mismanagement), many of these recently acquired fields may be much lower in fertility than cropland on the “home farm.”

One farm’s story This was very similar to the situation we were facing at the William H. Miner Agricultural Research in Chazy, N.Y., as we entered the 21st century. Our dairy had been expanding in cow numbers, and we’d built a new liquid manure pit to

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meet the needs of the larger herd. About half of our approximately 700 acres of cropland was part of the old Heart’s Delight Farm that preceded the establishment of Miner Institute, and these fields had been farmed (and fertilized) intensively for the previous 30 to 35 years. The balance of our cropland had been either leased or purchased more recently and was much lower in fertility. Some of this land had what we tongue-in-cheek called “renter’s disease” in that it had been rented by the year with annual crop harvest — usually as hay — but few, if any, nutrients had been added as manure or fertilizer. The NMP for Miner Institute was primarily based on phosphorus, and we had a considerable acreage of land with moderate to high soil test P, and the rest with very low P.

Sampling on repeat Sequential or repeated sampling of liquid and slurry manure pits isn’t a new idea. At the time, the Penn State University testing lab was offering a three-test manure analysis package at a reduced price designed to encourage farmers to sample manure pits several times as their pits were pumped down. We did repeated sampling over several years and discovered that even after what we thought was thorough agitation of our liquid manure pit, the first of the manure pumped out of the pit was a much different product than what was pumped out as the pit started to empty. Not only was the manure in the top half of the pit (more or less) lower in solids content, but the nutrient profile was much different on a dry matter (DM) basis. This isn’t surprising since a high percentage of the phosphorus in dairy cow manure is in the solid portion (feces), with much less in the urine. Once we determined that there were meaningful, repeatable differences, we decided to take advantage of this in our manure management. There’s no dividing line between higher and lower manure P content; not surprisingly, the changes are gradual. The lower DM, lower P manure was spread on fields on the home farm, which were higher in soil test P, and we could apply this manure at a relatively high rate per acre. This pleased our field crops crew since even with our several tank spreaders, it’s much more efficient to spread manure on fields close to the pit than on fields several miles away. When you’re hauling manure 5 miles, the fewer loads, the better! This system also complied with the farm’s Nutrient Management Plan, since the low solids/low P manure limited the amount of applied phosphorus on fields testing high in P. Then, as we got to the bottom half of the pit, we started hauling the high solids/high P manure to our far-off fields that could efficiently use the phosphorus as well as the other nutrients in dairy manure. It has been said that “manure is a multivitamin,” and not only were these distant fields low in phosphorus, but they

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were low in other nutrients as well. For instance, in previous soil test summaries, we’d found considerable differences in soil test zinc between fields, with much of the difference related to past manuring history. The more dairy manure applied, the higher the soil test zinc analysis.

Create an informed plan What we did wasn’t research since there weren’t any replicated treatments. But repeated manure analyses over the years, and during various stages of emptying our manure storage, convinced us that the differences in P content — the nutrient of concern in our Nutrient Management Plan — were “real and repeatable.” We determined that we could devise a manure application strategy to take advantage of these differences. ■

The author is retired from the William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute and is president of Oak Point Agronomics Ltd.

November 2020 | Journal of Nutrient Management | 23

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LET’S BE PROFESSIONAL ABOUT IT Utilizing the best machinery to meet the needs of our customers and preserve fields is an important part of a custom applicator’s job. by Jesse Dvorachek

ow! Thats about all I can say about this fall manure application season. It is truly the tale of two different worlds. The last two seasons, at least for us in northeast Wisconsin, have been the most challenging in recent history. Then we moved into 2020 with a beautiful planting season and a nice summer to apply manure to hay ground and other cover crops, which helped get ahead on fall application. I’m sure not all have been as lucky as we have been, but this year I’m gonna take it, because last year almost broke us. Now we are being tested with a different set of challenges. It has been relatively dry through August and harvest, and that has presented a problem we didn’t have the last two years. Instead of dealing with soft, moist soils and the issues that come with that, this fall so far we have found the ground is very hard, which can cause other problems. Compacted soils wear disks, bearings, and chisel points much quicker than normal, which creates more maintenance work to repair the damage. Also, hard, dry ground can cause issues with manure getting to tile lines and groundwater more quickly. How, you might ask? The answer is

worm channels. If you have healthy soil that is alive with organic matter and worms, those little critters create channels in your soil profile. When soil is dry and cracked, the manure can find those channels and move quickly to the groundwater, tile lines, and then to waterways. How can we combat this? The best and most common way is

As nutrient applicators, we are being asked to take on a lot of responsibility for the farmers, and they trust us with a valuable resource. pretillage. I know, it’s another pass across the field when the applicator is supposed to be incorporating the manure for you. But being able to pretill a couple inches below the desired application site is going to save everyone a lot of headaches in the long run. At lower rates of nutrients being applied, one will be able to get by with a light tillage pass with a field cultivator or vertical tillage. With higher rates of application, one will have to pull out a heavier disk or chisel plow. The latter is not ideal as it brings up rocks and breaks up the soil profile, but in some years it may be needed to make sure we

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are protecting our environment. Rules and regulations seem to be changing all the time, and the best we can do is adjust and do what is right for the environment As nutrient applicators, we are being asked to take on a lot of responsibility for the farmers, and they trust us with a valuable resource. That is why it’s very important we become professional nutrient applicators.

We can still have fun, but following the rules set out for us, even though we may not always agree with them, is very important. As professionals, we can help protect the dairy, hog, chicken, and beef industries. The nutrient byproduct from the farms is the biggest hot button in the agricultural industry today, and it likely will remain that way going into the future. ■

The author owns Dvorachek Farm and Industry LLC, a custom manure application company in Brillion, Wis.

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