Ohio Farmer

Ask a CCA: Utilization of manure in a growing crop has increased exponentially.

February 24, 2021

4 Min Read
liquid manure spreader
MANURE APPLICATION: Application of manure on a growing crop provides an additional application window and brings the 4Rs more into consideration, where specifically timing and placement are addressed. a369/Getty Images

Manure Management has been and will continue to be at the forefront for livestock operations and for producers utilizing manure from these operations. There has been an increased focus on manure utilization and its management within several watersheds throughout the state of Ohio, in particular Grand Lake St. Mary’s and the western Lake Erie Maumee River Basin.

Between the notable changes to regulations and guidelines and the H2Ohio program, there has been considerable effort to tackle this four-headed “monster”: The production of manure is inevitable, the utilization of manure has and will continue for crop production, the public perception of manure has evolved, and the environmental concerns with regards to manure use have been heightened. 

How do we then confront this “monster,” and I use this term loosely as I do not view manure as a monster, but rather an important tool in the toolbox for production farming. At one point in time, manure was considered a necessary evil and carried very little monetary value. 

Soon it became a marketable product through “manure auctions,” but still a necessary evil.  After some time, it became a hot commodity, and exports off the farm increased dramatically. Today, manure is a sought-after commodity where demand outweighs availability at times and is considered an additional source of income for the livestock producer. With that in mind, the management of manure is critical to the success of both livestock and crop production operations.

For liquid manure, application windows are generally dictated by growing crops, thus applied in the summer after wheat harvest or in the fall after corn or soybean harvest. Through some early research done by Glen Arnold with Ohio State University Extension, producers started to consider the potential benefits of applying manure on a growing crop. 

Glen’s early research was applying liquid swine manure on a growing wheat crop as a topdress in the spring. His research indicated that using liquid swine manure as a topdress would produce just as good as yields as compared to commercial nitrogen. Thus, an application of manure on a growing crop provides an additional application window and brings the 4Rs more into consideration, where specifically timing and placement are addressed. 

Since that early research, the wheels have turned, and the utilization of manure in a growing crop has increased exponentially. Over the past 10 years, there have been several livestock producers applying liquid manure on a growing crop. Some started out applying the manure via dragline directly over the crop after green-up or emergence, while others used a slurry tank going up and down the rows. 

Today, a lot of research is being done with sidedressing liquid manure in a standing corn crop, and most has been done via a dragline system. For the past several years, the collaboration between OSU Extension educators and producers across the state has produced several field-scale trials. 

Since 2014, the trials indicate swine manure applied as a sidedress in standing corn has produced higher yields as compared to commercial 28% UAN in the same field. On average, over the course of those years, the yield increase has been 15.71 bushels per acre. That is a significant increase and cannot be ignored.

There are obvious logistics to review when considering sidedressing corn with manure. Here are a few questions and answers:

What type of application equipment? You may be at the mercy of the custom applicator equipment, but utilize a toolbar that can incorporate the manure and provide good soil coverage (Bazooka, Zoeske, Bambauer-Dietrich). Incorporation and good soil coverage provides a nitrogen savings and about a 25-bushel advantage versus surface applied.

Distance from the source? Most often, try to stay within 1 to 2 miles of the manure source. The farther away from the source, the more transfer pumps and hose are required.

Size of field and field layout? Whether a field is square or not, most fields can be utilized. It works very well if a field is planted on the diagonal. There has also been success with traditional planting, but you will need a hose humper and an extra person.

What is the right rate to utilize? The rate to be utilized needs to be based on a well-represented manure analysis. Most applications have been made at the 5,000- to  6,500-gallon-per-acre rate for swine manure, with heavier rates being applied for dairy manure.

What is the best timing for application? Manure can be applied from preemergence all the way to V4. Studies show application beyond the V4 stage of growth can cause damage and result in lower yields. The younger the corn stage, the more attention to toolbar choice is warranted as to not harm the smaller plant. It is better to apply in the heat of the day or afternoon when the corn plant is more flexible. If you plant around May 1, you have about six weeks to sidedress, but if you plant around Memorial Day, you have about two weeks. 

Custom applicators and agronomists who have worked with applying manure in standing corn also can offer suggestions and input. Considering applying manure via sidedress opens up another application window and is another tool in the toolbox at the producer’s disposal.

Otte is a certified crop adviser and CEO of Otte AG.

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