By Jen Bradley
The custom manure application industry is thriving, with more than 34 firms in the state last year. Six years earlier, in 2006, there were only nine according to the University of Wisconsin-Extension.
These manure specialists apply six billion gallons annually, 50% of the state's manure. Technology is a big part of this business, and one that farmers are finding beneficial through time and cost savings.
"Accurate manure application helps farmers protect their pocketbooks and the environment," says Nick Schneider, Winnebago County agricultural agent. "Progress in manure application technology benefits farmers by improving nutrient crediting which can help reduce purchases of commercial fertilizer."
Dustin Ransom operates T-K Agworks LLC in Darien. He says that variable-rate technology using GPS hardware and software is hot in manure application right now. Ransom explains that when handling liquid manure, keeping the flow steady is easiest by managing a tractor's ground speed. GPS receivers, flow sensors and travel speed sensors feed into iPads in each tractor cab (or remotely) to continually track data.
Ransom explains that with volatile fuel costs, most farmers are looking to technology to manage manure – eliminating overlaps and assuring accurate applications.
T-K has been using GPS technology for 13 years, and Ransom says that it just does a better job of pumping, especially when tractors are put on auto-steer. He explains that the GPS alerts applicators to tank flow rates and also eliminates head pressure, changing speed accordingly. He says that this ever-evolving and growing technology gives the operator real-time information as to the manure hitting the ground, an important number to monitor.
"A couple tenths of a mile difference and 50 gallons of flow per minute can change the application rate by a couple thousand gallons an acre," Ransom says.
T-K Agworks relies on precision application technology to provide its customers a more streamlined, precise method for manure management.
Chad Tasch of Malone agrees and says that data makes a difference to a farmer. GPS is also a large part of his business, Tasch's Custom LLC. The data collected helps keep accurate tabs on the gallon per acre dispersal, he says, but also in providing farmers valuable information to use when it comes to spraying pesticides.
He says that technology has also proven a benefit when local and state regulations necessitate new ideas for manure applications. Tasch has developed the Tasch Overpass, a system made of double-well wall casing, with the ability to attach a manure drag hose to either end.
"If you can't bore a piece of property on one side, this is another option," he says. It eliminates the additional hose and pumps that would be needed if dragline had to be run from further down the road.
Tasch adds that when the system was first used, it took three hours to erect, but now only takes 1.5 hours with three people.
"We do use it quite often," he says. It helps keep pumping costs down and neighbors who don't want boring done on their land, happy.
Ransom's father, Tim, started the business in 1985 and he joined his father full-time 15 years ago. He says that the technology push has occurred since then and increased efficiency tremendously, a time and cost savings for both Ransom and his customers. It didn't come without learning curves, however.
Tasch agrees, saying that in just five years things have changed so much in this business. He says that a lot of experimenting occurred to make strides forward.
"It hasn't been easy, but it's turned out," he adds.
Bradley lives in East Troy.