Manure Management Education in
Kewaunee County: The Get Dirty Approach
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
Nutrient and Pest Management Program, UW-Extension
Often in the name of protecting surface and ground water quality, producers are told they must implement management changes. In most cases, the producers are told to implement these but not given the proper tools or directions. The proper tools are the first step in implementing change. A simple tool for implementing change in nutrient management is a manure spreader calibration and a manure sample followed by simple suggestions within the means of the producer. The get dirty approach to manure management does just that.
Kewaunee County is located in northeastern Wisconsin. The county has several tributary streams and rivers that drain into nearby Lake Michigan or Green Bay. The county represents the dairy state well with over 350 producers who make their living by milking cows. Because of the number of dairy farms in the county producing manure, non-point source pollution is a significant water quality issue.
With most of the dairy producers milking between 50-100 cows, the get dirty approach to manure spreader calibrations worked very well. This approach is one-on-one interaction with producers exchanging ideas and implementing change to better credit manure nutrients to reduce fertilizer over applications leading to saving money.
The get dirty approach does not mean simply weighing the spreader full and empty followed by inquiries of the number of loads placed on the field. The approach also does not mean grabbing a manure sample from the gutter or the spreader expecting the sample to represent the entire herd. The get dirty approach means physically walking the area covered by the manure to observe the efficiency of coverage while measuring the area of covered by that manure. Obtaining manure samples for analysis in the get dirty approach means gathering the sample after the manure has been spread on the land. This ensures the sample represents the entire herd and not just one or two cows in that herd. The get dirty approach was successful and can be seen from the results. In the county, 36 spreader calibrations were done and 40 manure samples were obtained from 51 telephone calls with only 7 individuals not willing to participate. Eighty-percent of the calibrations were done in three weeks in the month long campaign during August 1997. The campaign was done by an intern who worked six days a week.
What made the approach a success? The manure spreader campaign was a month long process of keeping the subject in the producers minds. The first step was a personal approach. The dairy producers in the county were sent individual invitations to have their manure spreaders calibrated. The invitations included facts about dairy manure in Kewaunee County, stressing the commercial fertilizer value of the manure. At the same time, a general approach was taken with articles in the local paper stressing the importance of manure spreader calibrations and manure analysis. A feature article was also published with a photo of a manure spreader being weighed kicking off the manure spreader campaign. The campaign was announced on the radio as well as announced at the county fair.
Another personal approach was taken by contacting individual producers by phone. Knowing several dairy producers in the county did have storage facilities for manure, a compiled list, identifying the dairy producers in the county, was brought to the Land Conservation District to determine which producers hauled manure on a daily basis. From the list, a number of producers were called targeting the producers who hauled manure daily. Producers were encouraged to participate by stating the variability of nutrients in manure from one farm to the next. The producer was told how nutrients in manure vary from one farm to the next and the importance of manure analysis. After stating the nutrient variability and the free manure analysis, the majority of the producers were willing to participate.
Aiding in the producers' willingness to participate was the constant exposure to the ongoing manure spreader campaign. The producers stated they had been reading about the campaign in the newspaper and thought it might be a good idea. Several producers intended on calling for an appointment but had not yet gotten around to calling. Also aiding in participation was the local cooperative's crop consultants who were encouraging and referring producers to have the spreader calibration done as well as the manure analysis.
On site observations and suggestions
Producers were treated with respect and with an understanding of the limitations of hauling manure on a daily basis. Suggestions for better application of manure took into account the producer's ability to implement the change. In some cases, a simple suggestion to start spreading in the back of the field was in order, while others included starting application where the producer stopped with the last load. Compliments were often in order when the producer was already reducing tractor speed as the spreader emptied to ensure even application.
For the most part, producers understood the importance of even coverage of manure over the entire field to gain the most from the nutrients in the manure. Most producers were regularly taking partial manure credits to decrease fertilizer application. Even though producers understood the importance of even coverage over the entire field, two areas of coverage by manure was determined to stress the importance of even coverage. The two areas of coverage refer to one area where manure coverage is even throughout the application. The second area includes the first area plus the area where manure spreader output began to diminish.
Producers, especially those who hauled manure daily, were estimating the tons of manure place on each acre of the field. Several producers assumed they were placing fewer nutrients per acre than the calibration determined. The reason for the low estimate was linked to the tons of manure on the spreader. The weight of manure varies with the amount of dry matter in the manure and the moisture (water) content in that manure. Several producers were shocked to find out their spreader held that many tons of manure.
Land availability limitations
Another problem in the county was a lack of land to spread manure solely on next year's corn fields. Because of the lack of land available to producers hauling manure on a daily basis, several producers were hauling manure on legume crops which were to be plowed under in the fall. Why does this pose a problem? Legume crops, especially alfalfa, can provide some or all to the nitrogen needed to grow next years corn crop. Applying manure to such a crop could lead to over application of nitrogen. If this was the case, producers were informed how much nitrogen the legume crop (alfalfa) was leaving in the soil for the following corn crop. Most producers were given reference material about crediting legume crops to ponder over after leaving the site.
This problem also extended to producers with manure storage facilities who lacked the storage space to spread only in the fall or spring. These producers were pumping pits in mid-summer and spreading the manure on alfalfa fields between harvests. Suggestions were made to utilize the potassium credits in the manure to reduce the commercial fertilizer costs of potash placed on the alfalfa fields. This suggestion was made with a referral to the UW-Extension Ag Agent, who is in the second year of research plots to look at the practice.
Subtle suggestions for improvement for manure application proved successful. Though application rates were based on the nitrogen needed to grow a corn crop, the producers now have the necessary information in the spreader calibration and manure analysis to also reduce the amount of phosphorous and potassium applied to the field, reducing surface water problems caused by soil erosion.
The manure spreader campaign was a success. It provided producers with some of the necessary tools needed to better credit the nutrients in manure to reduce fertilizer application and save money. The key to the success was the approach. An approach that understood the hardships of farming and the needs and abilities of the individual with the fluctuating milk market. An approach which leads to further inquiries once the month-long campaign was over. When a spreader calibration is done with a manure analysis, the producer can better utilize the nutrients to reduce application of commercial fertilizers while still obtaining maximum yields from the fields. This tool will in part, increase water quality in the future.