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New subsurface poultry litter works for no-till corn

A new poultry litter application method injects dry litter directly into the soil by using a subsurface litter application implement developed by USDA-ARS.

Farmers often use poultry litter as an alternative to chemical fertilizer. It provides good nutrients and organic matter for plants and soil. Surface broadcast application of it, though, leave unpleasant smells and pose environmental concerns. In Kentucky, a subsurface method is being tested for no-till corn.

“When used wisely, poultry litter is a valuable resource,” said Edwin Ritchey, University of Kentucky Extension soil scientist. “It provides nutrients to the soil, eases environmental concerns and, in many cases, is cost effective.”

The new method injects dry litter directly into the soil by using a subsurface litter application implement developed by USDA-ARS researchers. Karamat Sistani, a soil scientist and research leader with the USDA-ARS in Bowling Green, has worked on developing this poultry litter subsurface application technology for the past 10 to 12 years with fellow scientists.

“It is one new method of how to apply poultry litter that has environmental and agronomical benefits,” Sistani said. “Previous research projects have focused on using the technology in pasture and cotton. This is the first study on a large-scale plot of corn.”

A two-year study conducted by Sistani, Jason Simmons, USDA-ARS biological science technician; Dan Pote, USDA-ARS soil scientist in Booneville, Ark. and Ritchey found the subsurface application of poultry litter had a huge advantage over the traditional application methods in terms of improved air quality and runoff nutrient reduction.

“It reduces the amount of ammonia being released into the atmosphere by 90 to 95 percent, and nutrients stay in the soil where plants can get them and are not lost through surface runoff,” Sistani said.

Researchers tested the application against the traditional dry poultry litter broadcast application and an application of a commercial fertilizer.

Simmons found that the grain yields and biomass yields when the plants were at full maturity were similar in all three applications. When the corn reached the V5 growth stage, the subsurface application had a greater biomass yield and nutrient uptake than the traditional broadcast method.

“This technology could be used in sensitive areas such as land bordering residential developments or watersheds,” Simmons said. “It also provides a more uniform application of the litter and could result in reduced rates of fertilizer.”

Researchers conducted the study in Daviess County, where, poultry litter is readily found, which contributed to site selection.

Ritchey said the new application method “is really a win-win situation for all involved.”

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