Agronomists are putting sound agronomic advice to paper.
Rick Storoschuk, a sales agronomist at GJ Chemical in Arnaud, Man., refers to manure as “a burden to one and a benefit to another.”
Those who raise livestock have what some might see as a burden – a seemingly endless supply of animal waste with limitations, both regulatory and geographically, for its disposal. Storoschuk, however, sees tremendous benefit in recycling that “burden.”
If it’s handled properly, it’s a very valuable source of nutrients.
“There’s nutrient in that product that we can apply to the soil. There’s a lot of value in it,” he says. “I know our customers who have hog or poultry barns and are putting the manure on their land love it. If it’s handled properly, it’s a very valuable source of nutrients.”
In addition, the use of manure as fertilizer can contribute to the sustainability of agriculture. Using this byproduct of livestock production recycles nutrients used in feedstock production back into the soil and closes the loop on nutrient use.
In Manitoba, where manure use is regulated under a section of the provincial Environment Act called the Livestock Manure and Mortalities Management Regulation (LMMMR), producers with 300 animal units or more of at least one category of livestock must file an annual manure management plan prepared by a person who meets the professional requirements defined in the regulations – generally speaking, an agrologist or certified crop advisor.
Grant Melnychuk, Manitoba Pork Council’s manager of sustainable development programs, says this annual planning and review process ensures livestock producers have a sufficient land base available to sustainably apply the manure produced at their facilities and that environmental impacts are minimized.
“All of the environmental considerations for manure are addressed by the LMMMR,” says Melnychuk. “It ensures that manure is applied when there’s limited chance of run-off, and when soils are in the best position to utilize the nutrients.”
In addition to restrictions on where and when manure can be applied, the management plans require components like soil sampling, to ensure that the nutrients are applied to the fields at a rate at which crops can best utilize them, and setbacks from environmentally sensitive areas like waterways.
Melnychuk says this level of oversight doesn’t exist with manufactured fertilizers, which tend to be less water-soluble, more precisely applied and better able to remain in place under most environmental conditions.
“When you look at the whole manure management planning process, it’s worth noting that no equivalent exists when it comes to managing the use and application of chemical fertilizers,” says Melnychuk.
The Agronomist’s Role
Although he doesn’t write the plans himself, Storoschuk’s work as an agronomist plays a vital role in their execution by ensuring that the manure is best used to meet both the crop’s needs and his customer’s goals, while adhering to the principles of sustainable fertilizer use and provincial regulations.
After testing their soil, and a well-agitated sample of manure to determine its nutrient content, Storoschuk works with the customer to come up with a strategy that meets their cropping plans. This includes determining if supplemental nutrients are necessary to fulfill the crop’s requirements.
As current regulations in Manitoba limit the amount of phosphorus that can be applied, Storoschuk says strictly applying manure can often leave other nutrients, such as nitrogen, lacking.
“It used to be that we applied based on the nitrogen. Now it’s phosphorus,” says Storoschuk. “Take a wheat crop, for example. We apply manure to match the phosphorus needs of the crop and then we still often need to top it up with manufactured fertilizer; be it granular, liquid or ammonia.”
This part of the process is also where the agronomist identifies potential missteps, like overapplication, and can make recommendations to avoid them. In one such case, a customer was applying turkey manure within the guidelines; however, after harvesting a very good crop the post-harvest soil tests showed leftover nutrient. Storoschuk was able to make a recommendation for an application rate that made better use of the customer’s resources, while still meeting the needs of the crop.
“Turkey manure is rich in nutrients, in terms of phosphorus and potash, and also nitrogen – there’s more nitrogen in poultry litter,” he explains. “We found that (the customer) was applying just a little bit too much for the current crop. After looking at soil tests, analysis and crop removal, we concluded that he could spread that product over more acres and get more benefit from it.”
Sustainable Use in the Face of Scrutiny
This example shows how vital it is to have expert agronomic advice and, at the same time, illustrates how the principals of 4R Nutrient Stewardship – the right fertilizer source, at the right rate, at the right time and in the right place – can be applied to the application of manure.
Regulations governing manure application on farmland vary widely between the provinces, but with growing public scrutiny of the environmental impact of agriculture, it is safe to assume that more regulation, not less, is in the future.
Storoschuk says retailers can provide value and minimize scrutiny by working with their customers to make the best use of this valuable resource, while being mindful of their neighbours and of any sensitive areas. The best way to keep a positive perception of the product, he says, is through proper, environmentally sustainable use.
“We want to make sure that we are injecting the liquid manure; we’re limiting run-off; we’re avoiding the sensitive areas where there’s a natural waterway that could flood and wash away the product if it doesn’t get incorporated in time,” says Storoschuk. “It’s not unlike what we would do with manufactured fertilizer. We want to keep it out of the water, and we want to make sure it’s available to the crop.”
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