Manure Management Help to Maximize Nutrients

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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Farmers applying manure to their fields can become more efficient with proper manure management practices. (DTN file photo by Mitch Kezar)

Manure management on our small eastern Nebraska farm is, well, pretty basic. We feed our cow-calf herd forages, they produce manure on the cow lots and then in the spring (or the fall) we spread it on our crop fields with a several-decades-old Kelly Ryan manure spreader.

The manure from roughly 30 cow-calf pairs really doesn't cover too many acres in the two fields closest to the cow yards. We still have to buy commercial fertilizer for growing row crops.

And then the same thing happens the next year. And next year and so on.

For those with hogs or dairy cattle, which produces larger quantities of liquid manure, there are certain management practices which can help to better utilize nutrients in livestock manure.

In an Advancing Ag webinar series titled "Smart Manure Management", manure management specialists touted some of the management practices to maximize manure usage. The webinar series is put on by the University of Minnesota Southwest Research and Outreach Center located in Lamberton, Minnesota (…).

There are several strategies to maximize nutrient and organic matter values of manure, according to panelist Christine Brown, field crops sustainability specialist for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.


At the top of her list would be to follow the 4Rs of nutrient stewardship -- the right fertilizer source at the right rate at the right time and in the right place.


Brown said manure is the right source of nutrients for many different crops if applied correctly. The first step would be to apply at the right rate.

Manure needs to be applied in a uniform pattern and at a rate to meet crops nutrient needs, she said. Application equipment should be calibrated and a frequent analysis of the nutrient content of the manure should be taken.


Choosing the right application timing is also important when using manure, Brown said.

Producers should apply fertilizer in the spring, right before crops can use the nutrients, or even into standing crops. Manure can also be applied after cereal crop harvest with cover crops planted and after corn harvest in the field if the manure is incorporated.


Brown said the right placement should be considered. Rapid incorporation or injection into the soil is a must to minimize ammonium nitrogen volatilization.

While the manure should be incorporated, it should not be placed too deep into the soil to avoid manure getting into the field's drain tiles.

"You also need to select a crop that needs nutrients," Brown said. "Ensure fields have the correct soil conditions for maximum infiltration and minimize runoff."

Avoid applying manure during the winter months on frozen soils, she said. Nutrients in manure are at risk of running off fields with frozen soils as spring thaw happens.

Brown said proper manure management requires year-round planning.

In Ontario, much of the manure application is in the spring on crops already present. She pointed to spring applications of manure to winter wheat crops and application on forages and pastures.


Brown said she is a big proponent of improving nutrient distribution and encourages farmers to think about using neighborhood nutrient management planning. Farmers who have already applied manure to their acres can sell manure to nearby farmers who have not applied manure recently.

The advantages of this system would be to move manure application from fields with higher levels of fertility to acres of lower fertility, she said. This system would also develop cooperation between livestock and cash grain farmers.

"Another plus would be you decrease transportation costs and road issues if the manure is applied nearby," she said.

Examining our manure management "plan" of our farm, it does align with many of the points manure specialists recommended.

We will usually apply manure in the spring and it does get incorporated before the next crop is planted. We don't always apply manure in the fall -- because of early wintry weather -- but if we do spread in the fall we usually don't disc it in.

We try to pick different parts of the fields every time we do apply manure so we are not overloading the soil in one spot with too much nutrients. I am not a manure expert, but the amount of nutrients in solid manure from beef cattle is probably considerably less compared to liquid hog or dairy manure.

And we never apply manure on frozen ground. This is not us being sustainable just practical -- the manure on the cow lots is frozen as well.

Russ Quinn can be reached at

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