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Three producers adopt manure application techniques for soil conservation

Progressive Dairyman Editor Karen Lee Published on 11 March 2016

As more and more is learned about nutrient application and soil conservation, three innovative Wisconsin farmers have changed how they apply manure.

Dan Brick, Ben Peterson and Bob Uphoff shared what they’ve learned from their new techniques at the fourth annual UW Discovery Farms 

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Dan Brink

Conference held in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, in December.

Dan Brick milks 900 Holsteins at Brickstead Dairy in Greenleaf, Wisconsin.

Brick practices no-till planting on half of his acres and uses cover crops. In the northwestern part of the state, on Four Cubs Farm in Grantsburg, Wisconsin.

Ben Peterson

Ben Peterson
uses injection as the primary application method for manure from his 900-cow dairy.

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Most of the farm’s manure is stored in a covered lagoon and then applied to land that is very flat and very heavy.

Bob UphoffJust six miles south of the state capitol building, Bob Uphoff operates Uphoff Ham and Bacon Farm with his two sons in Madison, Wisconsin. They raise 1,500 hogs a year from farrow to finish.

The farm has some solid manure storage, with the majority of the manure stored in pits under the hog facilities.

With a preference for no-till, Uphoff researched creative ways to incorporate the farm’s manure.

What challenges do you face?

BRICK: With using cover crops, our challenge is having enough of a window to get that crop to grow and getting out 12 million gallons of manure onto our ground.

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PETERSON: Our challenge is very heavy lake-bottom soils left from the glaciers. We have a lot of clays, with 30 feet of clay in some cases. This can lead to clod formation in spring when soils are worked, and compaction can happen with one bad pass.

Nutrient availability in early spring is also a challenge, specifically nitrogen, which does not mineralize quickly. Also, denitrification if the soil profile is too wet. Phosphorus availability can get to be an issue because of the wet soils, and harvesting in wet conditions can get bad.

UPHOFF: Our old injection system was straight chisels. We’re about 99 percent no-till now. That creates some challenges for the past few years wherever we were applying manure we were no longer no-tilling.

Each year of tillage on a no-till program sets you back about five years on your no-till program. The other challenge is: We are primarily a corn and soybean operation. If we put manure on the acres in soybean production, with this type of tillage system, there is not a lot of residue left.

What methods of soil conservation do you use?

BRICK: Starting in 2009, I started planting a lot of tillage radishes for cover crops to keep the soil from washing away and help clean up the bay of Green Bay. I’m not an expert on phosphorus, but I do know when the river is brown, that’s our dirt going in there, and there is probably phosphorus clinging to that dirt.

Today we have 95 percent of our acreage planted in cover crops – seven-way mixes, three-way mixes, winter wheat, winter triticale, tillage radishes and winter peas. The goal is to have a living crop all of the time.

PETERSON: We set up vertical tillage, which gave me piece of mind. I didn’t sleep at night when they were pumping in the middle of the night; it was driving me crazy.

Vertical tillage allows for more accurate application, much better timing, a reduced cost of tillage, reduced runoff of nutrients, the ability to push yields, taking care of the soil profile and promoting maximum biological activity in soil.

UPHOFF: We have had a test-plot field since 2001 in no-till continuous corn production. We haven’t had soybeans on there at all. You would think that you’re going to get a lot of residue, but with enhanced soil biological activity, by the fall of 2015 the only residue that was in there was from this year. The 2014 residue was already gone.

Explain your previous manure application practices.

BRICK: I cultivate and put on an additional 28 percent nitrogen fertilizer. I’m trying to get away from that now because of the ridges from the cultivator that develop at the end of the field. This year, I went in with vertical tillage to try to level those off.

PETERSON: Our old practices included a chisel plow or a DMI Tiger. Manure was spread with a draghose or surface spread and incorporated. We field-cultivated in spring before planting. We had a lot of high fuel bills and delayed planting. It was just a challenge. It wasn’t a perfect spring, we just never got good stands of corn.

UPHOFF: Since 1979, we’ve always incorporated manure with a set of injectors on the tank. We’ve got non-farm neighbors that don’t think hog manure smells like money, and we have to watch the odor. We also know if you can capture that nutrient value, especially nitrogen, you can make it more available to the crop when you incorporate it immediately into the soil.

Describe the new techniques you are using for manure application.

BRICK: This past year, we planted with no-till planter right behind the chopper as it was coming off. We were able to let that crop emerge and come out. We partnered with the Outagamie County Land Conservation Department to use its Bazooka Farmstar applicator.

We had a cover crop of seven-way mix that was 3 to 4 inches tall, and we were able to apply 14,000 gallons of manure with that. It went really well. The idea is to get that into a growing crop. I believe we can utilize the nitrogen a little bit better by doing it that way.

Our ultimate goal is to get into a no-till system. This next spring, if everything works out, we’re going to plant 90 percent of corn into no-till. I want to eliminate all of the hardware into the field.

PETERSON: We’re trying to no-till as much as possible, but when tillage is needed, it is vertical tillage. Fields that are chopped are targeted for manure, vertical tillage, and then we put bin-run rye down when we can to protect fields from heavy spring rains.

Manure is hauled with a 21,000-gallon frac tank we built last year and a half-mile draghose off of that. We use full GPS mapping and rate monitoring.

Manure is injected with 12-inch-high rate shanks on 20-inch spacing so we’re getting it pretty well spread across the ground. We’re getting benefit of almost surface-spreading it but yet having it buried 6 to 8 inches in the ground.

One of the concerns when we started injecting manure this deep was availability early on in the spring. It isn’t available, as it is just too deep down for those young plants to reach. So we set up our planter with 2x2 fertilizer and pop-up to help with emergence and early growth.

We use a PLC to control line pressure. One of the big problems for us injecting before with a draghose system was on the turns. They kept the lines flowing, and we ended up with a ton of stuff on the surface.

On soils that don’t dry, it’s a big problem. Now we’re actually shutting off on the ends. As the applicator pulls up to the end and starts to shut that valve off, the PLC responds to the line pressure increasing and starts to throttle back the motor. That’s how we keep from blowing lines up.

UPHOFF: I’m involved with other area farmers in Yahara Pride Farms. A few years ago, we worked with implement companies to make available a tanker in the watershed area to explore low-disturbance manure injection. At a demonstration day, I started watching the tanker run through cornstalks. It was pretty impressive.

The other injection system we had been running was great for making beaver huts out there in the field, but this one was running right through. The other nice thing about this system: As he started to climb a small knoll in the field, the manure was not trailing back down the trench to the bottom of the hill.

In our watershed, we have an adaptive management program with a cost-share program. We applied for a grant and started to re-convert our tanker to mimic the low-disturbance injector with a coulter in front, tubes following the main coulter and two coulters in the back.

If we try to put all of the nutrients on as manure, we get a striping that goes across the field. We found out if we go to two-thirds or three-quarters of nitrogen needs of that crop with manure, we’ll come back with either a dry or 28 percent nitrogen fertilizer, and we eliminate that striping of the field.

Do you spring-apply manure?

BRICK: On years we did spring-apply manure, I hated it. We were injecting it into the ground. I am hoping now with the winter triticale we have planted, we can come back in and use the Bazooka to apply 10,000 gallons to the acre.

I’m trying to even out our balance a little bit rather than 100 percent of our manure being pumped in November.

PETERSON: Yes, we do, but we try to save our lighter ground for it. We get it injected, then let sit for a few days and go through it. We’d like to get away from it, but the fall weather isn’t cooperating.  PD

Karen Lee
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