In an effort to build healthier soils, many row crop farmers are caught between wanting the benefits of livestock on their land but also not wanting to enter the livestock business. The decisions are further complicated by whether to pursue grazing livestock, manure or compost. There are many benefits of livestock to be found without the commitment to raising them or partnering with someone else.
To help navigate these options we are joined by Mary Keena, a Livestock Environmental Management Specialist with NDSU Extension based out of the Carrington Research Extension Center. In this episode we explore the benefits of incorporating compost and manure into the soil, how to make it work on your operation, how to get started in composting, and some common pitfalls to avoid.
“As far as our crop production and looking at our soils goes, we want that organic matter back in our soil. And how can we do that?
We add manure. That’s one tool in the box. With that then comes increased water-holding capacity and increased structure for our soil. And so we’re, we’re adding a lot of other benefits besides just the fertilizer…. We’re adding a little bit of microbes to the soil as well through our manure or compost.” – Mary Keena
Keena recommends contacting local livestock producers to see if you can collaborate to use their manure. She suggests starting with a small section of your operation to trial the benefits and management of manure use. She welcomes producers to come visit the research centers to see different types of manure and compost use on example plots that they have established. Keena explains the equipment and timing of managing compost and manure. She finds that equipment for turning the product is the largest expense but she offers producers a less expensive alternative.
“If you’re not sold on compost, try it with the equipment that you have on your farm. Do you have a loader? Do you have a skid-steer? Do you have something that you can turn it with? Do that first. And then if you’re like, this is awesome, then go to a turner because it is an investment. But again, it’s kind of another tool in the box and it’s a trade off. How do you want to manage it? Do you want to manage it in the field or do you want to manage it before it gets to the field?.” – Mary Keena
Composting allows management of the substrate into a more consistent product with more active microbes and less risk of adding a weed seed load to your field. Raw manure can produce the same benefits but will need to be managed once out on the field with practices including herbicides to manage an increased weed burden not eliminated with composting. It’s up to the producer which method of management best fits their operation. There are many factors apart from yield producers can hope to see changes including soil structure, organic matter, microbial growth, affordability, decreased inputs and production value.
This Week on Soil Sense:
- Meet Mary Keena, a Livestock Environmental Management Specialist with NDSU Extension based out of the Carrington Research Extension Center
- Discover the many benefits to adding manure or compost to your row crop management
- Learn about the expenses and the possible pay-off from using these products
Connect with Soil Sense:
Soil Sense Podcast is hosted by Tim Hammerich of the Future of Agriculture Podcast.