Editor’s note: This article is the second part of a four-part series regarding manure-spreading research. The first part was published in the June 13 edition of Agri-View.
Prioritizing corn planting as more important than spring manure applications is common — and for good reason. Earlier planting often leads to better yields. But supplying nutrients to feed those crops and emptying manure storage are also important. Techniques are available that allow manure to be spring-applied without disrupting corn planting.
Distributing manure applications to times other than fall spreads the workload throughout the year. It increases the availability of manure-hauling equipment and custom applicators. Spring-applied manure provides nutrients in close proximity to crop needs, increasing efficiency. Spring manure also spends less time sitting in idle fields than fall manure, potentially reducing the risk of nutrient loss. Spreading manure onto green growing plants improves nutrient capture.
Three ways to spread spring green
Spread on covers — overwintered cover crops provide a green plant to spread manure on. Winter cereals like rye, wheat and triticale produce tremendous growth in early spring. The growing cereal acts as a water pump to dry the soils.
The combination of cover crops and reduced tillage improve water infiltration and the soil ability to carry weight. That allows manure equipment to access fields at a time when most conventionally farmed fields would be too muddy to drive on. The cover crop reduces runoff and absorbs some of the manure nutrients, releasing them to the cash crop as the covers decompose.
Spread on planted corn — another spring-hauling opportunity is to apply manure after corn planting. Derek Van de Hay is a University of Wisconsin-Discovery Farms and Lower Fox Demo Farms participating farmer. He surface-applies 6,000-8,000 gallons of manure on his corn within three days of planting. If he spread manure prior to planting, he would need to wait two-three days for the soil to dry again before he could plant. But the spring system ensures his corn is planted as timely as possible. The additional moisture from the liquid manure helps seeds to germinate.
Sidedress manure — an emerging technique for in-season manure applications is sidedressing manure. Jesse Dvorachek is a custom manure hauler operating in northeast Wisconsin. He has custom-built a manure tanker capable of side-dressing corn up to 24 inches tall without damage to the crop. Using precisely placed dual tires the tanker travels through the field, with the corn passing harmlessly between the duals.
Some farms are applying manure to young corn with a drag hose. When applied through the V3 or even V4 stage, the crop is not damaged by the hose because the growth point is below the ground surface.
Glen Arnold at The Ohio State University has conducted manure trials. He’s demonstrated that not only is applying manure at sidedress safe for the corn, but it also boosted yields better than corn sidedressed with urea-ammonium nitrate. By sidedressing manure, those nutrients are provided to a growing crop when they are needed. That reduces the risk of nutrient loss to water resources. June is also a slow time for manure hauling, so custom applicators are more available.
Spreading manure on growing plants in spring improves nutrient-use efficiency and may boost yields. Applying manure more synchronized with crop needs also reduces risks to water quality. Spreading green in spring is a great opportunity to give crops a great start. It also reduces the scheduling crunch that relying on fall manure applications can produce. Find ways to create new spreading windows.