BY JEFF BROWN
Farmers with access to manure have an advantage over those who don’t, and that’s especially true this year given high fertilizer prices, certified crop adviser Terry Wyciskalla told attendees at a recent field day in Clinton County.
Since higher-yielding crops pull nutrients from the soil at higher rates, the spike in fertilizer costs couldn’t have come at a worse time.
“We’ve had some really, really good years. Last year was exceptional in southern Illinois,” Wyciskalla said. “We pulled away a lot of nutrient that needs to be replaced back into that soil. So the guy with the manure or the neighbor that has manure you can get from them has a distinct advantage over grain farmers without manure availability.”
The event, part of Illinois Farm Bureau’s slate of Nutrient Stewardship Field Days, highlighted the role manure and cover crops can play as part of the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy. Host farmer Mark Litteken grows corn and soybeans in rotation with barley and cover crops. As a beef producer, he also holds the manure advantage.
Litteken summarized his balance sheet for his soybean crop last year, highlighting that the only fertilizer he applied was five tons of manure per acre. Factoring in “every expense I can think of,” his soybean fields produced net income of nearly $1,400 per acre last year. Fields double-cropped in barley and beans cleared even more, he said.
But Litteken said he’s more motivated by leaving his farm in better shape for future generations. That includes his 13-year-old son, who’s “adamant about farming. He’s going to take this farm over, and if I do the wrong thing, he’s going to let me know about it.”
Litteken works with seed dealer Cliff Schuette to plant mixes of cover crops that provide a feed source for Litteken’s cattle as well as rehabilitate the soil and prevent nutrient runoff.
IFB’s Nutrient Stewardship Grant program is in its seventh year, and Clinton County Farm Bureau has been a partner since the beginning.
“The Clinton County project is a great example of how we’re working with multiple sectors to reduce nutrient loss in Illinois,” said IFB Associate Director Natural Resource Policy Austin Omer. “We work with farmers and researchers to identify, share and implement best practices, and this event features that collaboration across sectors.”
Manure is a cost-efficient way of rebuilding the nutrient profile in soil after a bin-busting crop, but it still needs to be managed correctly.
Wyciskalla and Southern Illinois University Carbondale Professor Amir Sadeghpour, Ph.D., provided research results and tips on how to keep nutrients in the field.
Testing both the soil and the manure will allow for better calculations on how much manure to apply, Wyciskalla advised. All manure is not created equal, and only by getting his or her own analysis will a farmer know how much of each nutrient is going into the soil.
Animal species, seasonality and whether manure is dry or liquid can all impact fertility levels in manure. Wyciskalla offered to share spreadsheets for each species with farmers that they could customize with the results of their own manure analysis and estimate cost returns.
He also pointed out that manure from pits underneath hog and cattle buildings is typically a better product because it loses less ammonia to the environment and it retains better nutrient balance.
Sadeghpour, an assistant professor at SIUC’s Department of Plant, Soil and Agricultural Systems, discussed using phosphorus removal as the guide for how much manure to apply for corn rather than the nitrogen needs of the crop.
“When we use manure on corn, we generally try to meet N needs,” he said. “But manure provides other nutrients, such as P, and corn can’t remove that P as well.”
In fact, plants use just one unit of phosphorus for every six units of nitrogen, Wyciskalla noted. But manure generally provides at least two units of P for every unit of N.
Sadeghpour said his research shows using P-removal-based management improves nutrient management without sacrificing corn yield or forage quality.
To read more about IFB’s nutrient stewardship field days, visit www.ilfb.org/fielddays.
This story was provided by FarmWeekNow.com.