Farmers might have an opportunity to replace some commercial fertilizer on wheat and corn crops after an unusually wet fall and warm winter left livestock producers with an abundance of manure, says Glen Arnold, an Ohio State University Extension researcher.
Livestock producers have been pressed for manure storage because they've been unable to get out and apply it to saturated fields. But according to Arnold, they can turn the unplanned excess into opportunity by using it as a field-crop fertilizer.
While manure has long been a viable fertilizer option, the time and high costs associated with transporting it, coupled with the convenience and efficacy of synthetic fertilizers, have limited its application to summer and fall months postharvest. But as commercial fertilizer costs have risen sharply in recent years, Arnold says more farmers might now be interested in applying manure as wheat and corn crops are growing – especially since the nutrients are in their manure storage facilities waiting to be used.
"A relatively small percentage of farmers apply manure to growing crops at this time, but we think that will increase once more people see the benefit and cost savings," he says. "Farmers are creative business people, and when they see how well manure works they'll come up with innovative ways to make it work for their operations."
Arnold, whose field research includes use of livestock manure on growing crops, says he has found that farmers can benefit financially by using manure. He also has found that more of the nutrients – nitrogen and phosphorus in particular – are better used when applied to the crop while it's growing instead of when fields are bare.
"Incorporating manure intro growing crops is a great way to keep phosphorus from escaping into surface waters," he says.