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With high fertilizer prices, should you consider manure options in your area?

manure application minnesota

By: Melissa Wilson, Extension specialist in manure management, and Chryseis Modderman, Extension educator

As fertilizer prices continue to rise, more people are considering how to integrate livestock manure into their soil fertility plans. While dealing with manure can be a bit more complicated than fertilizer, it’s a valuable source of nutrients and also provides food for soil microorganisms; a win-win situation when it comes to overall soil health! Here are some tips to consider to make sure you get the best bang for your buck from manure.

No livestock, no problem

If you don’t usually apply manure, you likely don’t have a large livestock operation; but don’t let that stop you from reaping the benefits of manure! Talk to a neighbor who raises livestock about buying some of their manure and paying them to apply it on your fields.

There are several mutual benefits from this sort of partnership. The obvious one being that you get the nutrient and soil health benefits of manure, while possibly saving a chunk of change on fertilizer; and the livestock owner earns extra money from a (by)product they needed to apply anyway. In addition, large livestock operations sometimes struggle to find enough land suitable for manure application in the fall to make their on-farm manure storage last through winter. If your fields are close to their barn, it may help cut their transportation costs. Plus, if your partnership continues in the future, they may be able to write you into their manure management plan.

Using a neighbor’s manure is far from a novel concept and there are many farmers around the state that already do this every year. Unfortunately, these agreements aren’t standardized, so prices and experiences may vary. Just keep in mind that if another farmer applies manure to your field, it is now considered “transferred manure”. The operator will give you certain records about the manure being applied that you will need to keep for up to six years after application. For more details on transferred manure, visit the MPCA’s feedlot site.

Manure nutrient availability is not always like fertilizer

Not all nutrients are created equal when it comes to manure. Some are bound to organic particles and will release slowly over the first and even the second growing seasons after application. Other nutrients are plant-available right away and behave similarly to commercial fertilizers after application. More specifically, nitrogen (N) availability of manure varies by livestock species and how the manure is applied. See the table below to get an idea of what percentage of the total N measured in the manure you can expect to be available for next year’s crop. This table assumes that you are applying the manure in the fall when soil temperatures are less than 50°F.

Table. Manure nitrogen availability as affected by method of application and animal species (% N available per year)

Species & year Broadcast + incorporate >96 hours Broadcast + incorporate 12-96 hours Broadcast + incorporate 0-12 hours* Injection with sweeps Injection with knife or coulter
Beef year 1 25% 45% 60% 60% 50%
Beef year 2 25% 25% 25% 25% 25%
Dairy year 1 20% 40% 55% 55% 50%
Dairy year 2 25% 25% 25% 25% 25%
Swine year 1 35% 55% 75% 80% 70%
Swine year 2 15% 15% 15% 15% 15%
Poultry year 1 45% 55% 70% n/a n/a
Poultry year 2 25% 25% 25% n/a n/a
*including double disks

For the other nutrients, we expect that 80% of the total phosphorus (P) and 90% of the total potassium (K) measured in the manure via a laboratory test will be available to the crop the following growing season. Less is known about sulfur availability at this time, but we estimate roughly 50% of total sulfur in the manure is available.

Spread it out

Since manure is a complete nutrient source, you can choose several different application rates based on your goals for the field. Typically, the N-based application rate (to supply full N needs of the following crop) is the highest you can apply in a field. This usually results in more P and K than is needed for that crop. If you are trying to get the best bang for your buck, consider applying the manure at a lower, P-based rate, and then supplement the rest of the N needs for the crop with commercial fertilizer. That way the nutrients are balanced for crop needs, and you can spread manure on more fields! Remember that manure also has carbon, which can help improve the organic matter content of your soils. Spreading the wealth to as many fields as possible can be beneficial in the long run.

Watch your nitrogen

In Minnesota, regulations state you cannot apply more N than the crop needs in any given year. This means you’ll have to account for first-year availability of N in the manure plus any other fertilizers applied to the field that might contain N (like starter fertilizer, MAP, and DAP). In the second year after manure is applied, you have to take a second year N credit for the manure.

Put a value on it

One of the questions we’ve been getting recently is how to put a dollar value on manure. This depends on several factors, like whether your field needs P and K, what kind of equipment you’ll be using to apply the manure, etc. Luckily, we have a web-based calculator to help you out! You’ll want to make sure to plug in current fertilizer prices (which seem to be changing rapidly these days!) as well as your specific information. The great thing about the calculator is that you can play around with the numbers to see where you can get the best value from the manure.

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Support for Minnesota Crop News nutrient management blog posts is provided in part by the Agricultural Fertilizer Research & Education Council (AFREC).

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