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Manure

See what farms are using for nutrient management, from anaerobic digesters and storage to field application and emissions.

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We live in changing times. Farming like your grandparents, your parents or even like your older siblings did may not be possible anymore. Agriculture still has not completely come to grips with the vast changes environmental concerns will thrust on the industry. We can’t even predict which environmental issue will overwhelm us next. There are so many possibilities: sediment, nutrients, biological oxygen demand (BOD), pathogens, antibiotics, hormones, heavy metals and others. Then there are the air issues: ammonia, PM2.5 (particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns), VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and any kind of odor.

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Today the spotlight in the United States is on the increasing world demand for energy and the high cost of oil and natural gas. This has heightened interest in alternative and renewable energy sources such as biofuels, forests, wind, solar and animal manure.

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The application of animal manure to farmland is an economically and environmentally sound management practice for most feedlot operators and farmers. Land application returns nutrients from manure to the soil and helps build soil fertility. Manure provides nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium, magnesium, micronutrients and organic matter. Applying manure to soil has been shown to improve soil tilth, increase water-holding capacity, reduce wind and water erosion and improve soil aeration. Land application of manure should be managed to recycle plant nutrients rather than used as a disposal method.

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Producers need to be aware of the impacts manure can have on water and air quality. However, manure and other byproducts of livestock production have important impacts on farm profitability, neighbor relations and protecting soil and water quality.

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Over the past couple of months, two situations within the world of animal nutrient management have come back into the limelight, forward movement of the EPA on monitoring air emissions from various agricultural facilities across the U.S. and a new look at who is actually required to obtain a discharge permit for CAFO operations. Neither development is going to change the face of agriculture today, but as information continues to flow, there is opportunity for change in the future.

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When crude oil was $10 a barrel, the benefits cow power can provide to farms, communities and the environment were a blip on the radar. Now that crude oil has surpassed $70 a barrel, interest in renewable energy is on the rise. However, biogas recovery from anaerobic digestion still takes a backseat to ethanol and biodiesel in the limelight. Experts in the energy field are beginning to shift this focus, pointing out the multiple benefits of using waste to produce biofuels.

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