Protecting Water Quality Between the Rows

Protecting Water Quality Between the Rows

Stateler Farm farmers standing by Stateler Farm sign
To demonstrate the potential of in-crop manure application as a replacement to purchased fertilizer, Duane and Anthony Stateler of Stateler Family Farms in McComb, Ohio, conducted a field trial in partnership with The Ohio State University Extension to compare the outcomes of an in-crop manure application to a traditional fall application.

Improving water quality in Ohio through agriculture starts with implementing proven conservation systems and methods. The Blanchard River Demonstration Farms Network showcases and demonstrates conservation practices that improve agriculture’s impact on downstream water quality in Ohio.

Applying nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium found in livestock manure to growing field crops is an economical way to recycle the readily-available nutrients. To protect downstream water quality, farmers and Ohio State University researchers have been working together to ensure these nutrients stay in the fields while also contributing to the crop’s growth.

One such farm striving to utilize manure produced by their livestock is Stateler Family Farms, a Blanchard River Demonstration Farm site. The Statelers started working with Glen Arnold, Ohio State University (OSU) Extension field specialist, manure nutrient management, to utilize their liquid swine manure in an efficient fashion – economically and environmentally. They accomplished this by applying manure to their emerged cornfield.

New equipment needed

There is a growing interest in this practice, but the equipment is a farmer’s biggest hurdle. “Most liquid manure from larger farms is applied by commercial manure applications and their equipment is currently not set up to go through cornrows,” Arnold said.

In order to implement this practice, the Statelers used a toolbar fitted to pull a drag hose to knife the manure into the soil between the cornrows at the V3 stage of growth. The hose was connected to a frac tank which sat at the edge of the field.

However, logistics have greatly improved in the last few years and are getting easier for farmers who are looking to implement this practice on their farms. Arnold recommends modifying smaller manure tankers to travel down cornrows or working with relatives or neighbors to get a drag hose system that works with their current tractors.

Time is an important factor

Side dressing manure requires the application to take place during the early stages of growth if using a drag hose. In addition to the application of nutrients during an important growing stage, manure side dressing can provide moisture during a dry season. A wet spring can prohibit a farmer from entering the field, but the additional moisture from this practice would not harm the crop. A manure tanker, modified to travel down cornrows, could provide a much wider application window for most farmers as the corn could be much taller than the drag hose allows.

Profit and environmental potential

Manure sidedressing
Livestock manure is carried from the barn through a drag hose to the applicator attached to the tractor. It is then knifed into the soil between cornrows. This practice allows manure to be applied to corn during the early stages of growth. Not only can the growing corn utilize nutrients from the manure more efficiently, but this practice is also more economical for the farmer.

During the 2020 growing season, Statelers experienced a $40 per acre return on this practice when compared to the application of 28% Urea Ammonium Nitrate. This margin includes the cost of application and the rented semis to move the liquid manure to the field ten miles from the manure storage site.

Arnold and his team say the Statelers’ results mirror the results throughout the state. “Statelers yielded about 35 bushels better than their fields with 28%,” said Arnold. “These farmers are using a product that they already have on hand and are seeing great returns. Typically, we see a yield increase of more than 12 bushels per acre.”

“Side dressing manure is proving to be a practice that allows farmers to use a product already available on the farm and aligns with 4R practices. Glen Arnold and his team continue to improve the process and available knowledge so more farmers throughout the state can try this out on their farm.” – Aaron Heilers, Project Manager

Applying manure to a growing crop aligns with the 4R Nutrient Stewardship principles which provide proven best practices for the application of nutrients. Fall soil testing has also shown that the plants are using the available nutrients during the growing season.

Statelers and other farmers throughout Ohio are seeing that manure side dressing can be an efficient use of nutrients. While water quality data from the soil surface and field tile monitoring was inconclusive, the manure-applied fields did not show a “spike” in soil phosphorus while using a product that is readily available on their livestock farm. •

 

Learn more about subsurface nutrient application

Fall vs In-Crop Manure Application Economic Return Calculator

manure-app-calculatorFall vs In-Crop Manure Application Economic Return Calculator

 

This spreadsheet is intended to help users compare economic returns and nutrient use from liquid manure applied in the fall versus in-crop application to standing corn. The spreadsheet can be used to plan applications or evaluate outcomes after applications are made.

To download an example of how this spreadsheet can be used to calculate economic return and nutrient use, download the Google Sheets Example spreadsheet below. To download an unfilled copy to insert your own data, download the Google Sheets User spreadsheet below. After choosing one or any of these options, you’ll be prompted to use your own copy. Click the “Make a Copy” button to download and save your own spreadsheet.

Example Spreadsheet

User Spreadsheet

Five Years In: An Update on the Conservation Practices’ Research & Results

To dive into the latest research and results from the Ohio Demonstration Farm sites, take a look at our 2021 Project Update.

What you’ll find inside:

  • Ohio’s Water Quality Problem
  • About the Blanchard River Demonstration Farms Network
  • How to Improve Quality through Reliable Conservation Practices
  • The Impact of the Blanchard River Demonstration Farms Network
  • New Satellite Research Sites Added
  • Latest Research, Resources, and Tools
  • What’s Ahead for the Blanchard River Demonstration Farms Network
  • How to Implement Conservation Practices to Reach Your Land Management Goals
  • The Demonstration Farm Families and their Conservation Practices

Subsurface Nutrient Placement Conservation

Subsurface nutrient placement allows farmers to put nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium below the surface so that plants are able to increase their uptake of them. This reduces nutrient runoff and helps farmers protect surface water quality.

Manure Management Conservation

Livestock manure can help improve soil health. Variable-rate nutrient application allows crop producers to apply different rates of nutrients in different locations across fields based on soil tests with the help of precision technology like computers and GPS.

Benefits of Strip Tillage and Subsurface Nutrient Application

Prior to 2016, the Kelloggs planted most of their crops with conventional tillage. They decided to change to strip tillage to reduce fieldwork and improve nutrient efficiency. They purchased a strip tillage toolbar that places fertilizer about 5 inches below the ground in a 9-inch band. This was a major investment and complete management change for the family. However, with the combination of grid soil testing, variable rate technology and subsurface nutrient placement, in a band where the crop can more efficiently absorb the nutrients, they reduced their fertilizer cost by about one-third.

Reducing Nutrient and Sediment Loss: Part 2

Research being done at the Blanchard River Demonstration Farms and other related sites around the state is helping researchers determine what practices work best for reducing nutrient and sediment loss. Over the last five years, on-farm research has shown that following the 4R approach can help reduce nutrient and sediment loss:

  • Following the 4R approach.
  • Developing a water management plan.
  • Reducing soil erosion.

The 4R Nutrient Stewardship principles provide proven best practices for the application of nutrients (commercial or manure) by using the right source of nutrients at the right rate and right time in the right place below the soil surface.

Fertilizer placement toolbar demonstrated during the Ohio AgriBusiness Association 4R Technology Review Day held on Kellogg Farms.

RIGHT TIME

Knowing when to apply nutrients is critical. Research shows the greatest potential for nutrient loss is when precipitation happens shortly after nutrient application. The time of year is also crucial – losses are lower when nutrients are applied right before planting or over the summer compared to those applied in the fall or winter.

How you can achieve Right Time:
Apply manure while the crop is growing

Manure has typically been applied in the fall after harvest or spring before planting. However, new equipment for manure application is changing this practice in order to better optimize uptake and placement.

How it works:

The in-crop application of manure can potentially replace purchased nitrogen, while also placing nutrients where the growing crop can immediately use them. The application of manure to a growing crop can also extend the manure application season, reducing the pressure to apply manure during the stress of harvest.

“Purchasing a strip-till unit and the necessary equipment cost roughly $250,000. But for an operation our size, more effectively placing fertilizer beneath the soil surface in a band where the crop can more readily access it reduced our fertilizer bill by almost one-third, or $100,000 per year.” – Bill Kellogg

RIGHT PLACE

Research is beginning to show that placing nutrients on the soil surface and leaving them undisturbed can have a negative effect on downstream water quality. By injecting or tilling nutrients into the soil, the dissolved reactive phosphorus concentration can be greatly reduced.

How you can achieve Right Place:
Subsurface placement

A crop can more efficiently take up nutrients when it is placed under the soil surface and in a band. While this type of equipment can be costly, more efficient fertilizer placement can dramatically reduce input costs – to the point that equipment can be paid off in a few years from the savings.

 

This article was featured in the May/June 2021 edition of Our Ohio Magazine

Reducing Nutrient and Sediment Loss: Part 1

Research being done at the Blanchard River Demonstration Farms and other related sites around the state is helping researchers determine what practices work best for reducing nutrient and sediment loss. Over the last five years, on-farm research has shown that following the 4R approach can help reduce nutrient and sediment loss:

The 4R Approach

The 4R Nutrient Stewardship principles provide proven best practices for the application of nutrients (commercial or manure) by using the right source of nutrients at the right rate and right time in the right place below the soil surface.

RIGHT SOURCE

To achieve desired yields most efficiently, a nutrient applicator should select a plant-available nutrient source that provides a balanced supply of essential nutrients while considering both naturally available sources and the characteristics of specific products.

How to achieve the Right Source:
Coordinate nutrient analyses with soil tests

It is important to collect and test soil samples on a consistent basis. Additionally, a nutrient analysis should be compared to the soil test results to ensure the application of the nutrients a field and crop needs.

How it helps:

Coordinating nutrient analyses with soil test results helps reduce the spread of unnecessary nutrients.

Stateler Family Farms utilizes new technology to apply manure at the optimum rate across the field including to a growing corn crop to maximize the benefit of manure nutrients.

RIGHT RATE

Every crop, field and soil has its own unique nutrient needs. When farmers blanket apply nutrients, however, they run the risk of placing too many nutrients in one place and not enough in the other – with the possibility of negative impacts on either the environment or the potential of that crop. Therefore, it’s important to use technology in a way that allows the application of the right rate of nutrients for optimal results.

Solution to achieve Right Rate:
Variable or optimum rate application

Variable rate nutrient application allows crop producers to apply different rates of nutrients in different locations across the field, based on soil tests, with the help of precision technology like computers and GPS.

How it helps:

Variable rate technology for fertilizer has been used by farmers and applicators for many years. It can improve water quality and plant health, as well as optimize fertilizer inputs. Manure, however, has typically been applied at an even rate across the field. New technology for manure application equipment is changing this practice.

 

This article was featured in the March/April 2021 edition of Our Ohio Magazine

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