Working With Custom Manure Applicators To Improve Nutrient Management Plans

The dairy industry in Wisconsin produces the equivalent of 12 billion gallons of liquid dairy manure annually. That’s enough to cover Lambeau Field (including the endzones) to a depth of just over 5 miles. Wisconsin’s 134 for-hire manure applicators apply approximately 6 billion gallons of liquid manure and approximately 800,000 tons annually. This is a 50% increase in liquid manure application by for-hire applicators since 2006, and more than a 300% increase in solid manure handling.

Management of solid manure has become a much larger part of the industry, with the number of solid spreaders in operation nearing 100 in 2012, compared to less than 30 six years ago. Other areas where the industry has added significant capacity in the same timeframe includes greater than 140 semis for long-distance manure transport and the recent innovation of floating boats for storage agitation.

Given the volume of manure applied and handled by the custom manure applicators, they are the critical partners in implementing the nutrient management plans developed both by professionals and by farmers. Yet less than one of every three farmers served by a custom manure applicator (30.6%) are showing that applicator their Nutrient Management Plan (NMP), according to the every five-year survey of the industry conducted in late 2011 by University of Wisconsin Extension, in partnership with the Professional Nutrient Applicators Association of Wisconsin (PNAAW). This is an increase over 2001, when 22% of their clients were sharing a NMP with the applicator.

The survey also showed that 72.8% of the manure applied (4.3 billion gallons/560,000 tons) was spread in accordance with the written plan presented to the applicator, and that the industry injects or incorporates 51.5% of the manure they apply. The farmer or their agronomist makes 79% of the rate decisions, while the farmer asks the applicator for a rate recommendation only 15% of the time. Survey respondents noted that only 2.9% of their annual volume is applied to either frozen or snow covered ground.

In terms of rates, 54% of fields receive between 6,000 and 12,000 gallons/acre, while 8% receive more than 16,000 gallons/acre. Interestingly, the percentages in all categories are very similar to where they were in 2001.

When asked in the same survey what nutrient management plan writers could do to make the task of implementing the plan easier, several themes emerged:

• Communication: Put your cell phone number on the pages of the plan I get, send me the plan before the hauling season starts. Better yet, talk to me when developing the plan.

• Maps: Keep them simple, consistent – rate, field ID and setbacks, tell customers to show them to me.

• Field Planning: With the farmer, plan an early harvested crop in a field that needs manure so we have somewhere to go very early in fall. Plan applications in the same direction – not one field south, one north and the other 3 miles east.

When asked what farmers could do to make their job easier, several similar areas were identified, including:

• Have everything ready to go when we arrive – the plan, the pit, and the tractors, but especially the maps.

• Plan crop rotations to allow for off-peak application.

• Don’t pre-work the entire field.

• Have a back-up plan if some fields are too wet to spread in.

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