Where there are cattle there is manure. With manure there is a need for nutrient management to maximize yields and good stewardship of the land. To get started with nutrient management you need to find a plan that focuses on the fundamentals says Dennis Frame, a former University of Wisconsin Extension specialist and current nutrient management consultant.
Start with the Basics
“You start everything with the basics your soil tests. Then you lay that over the top of your crop rotation,” Frame says.
Soil tests will aid in determining if there is buildup of phosphorus and potassium in soil from manure application. It also helps allocate the amount of nitrogen that might be lacking. This better identifies if a field should remain in corn silage, rotate to alfalfa or go to a small grain cover crop.
The soil tests assist in which direction to go. “Once you’ve got the basics of those in place you kind of have a plan,” Frame says.
The next step is to choose the right amount of nutrients that will need to be applied to the crop that is grown for the upcoming year.
Selecting the crop rotation will be driven by a myriad of factors. Considerations like the amount of forage needed to feed your cattle, available land and what the current rotation is for other fields. “How do you want to feed your cows? How do you want to supply it? What do you have for storage? Once you work that out, you start working forward,” Frame says.
Flexibility is necessary even when a nutrient management plan is in place. For instance, if an alfalfa field has a mass winter kill, it’s best to throw the plan out and start over.
“At least you’ve got the basics in place. If you’ve got to make a major adjustment, you know how many acres of each crop you need and you’ve got an idea of where they are going to go,” Frame says.
Be a Good Neighbor and Steward
Managing application of manure to apply proper amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen is a must to not only maximize soil fertility, but be a good neighbor.
Frame says phosphorus has been a concern for years in states like Wisconsin. Runoff of phosphorus has been attributed to algae blooms in lakes.
Nitrogen has also been a problem in many areas of the country. “We’re seeing higher nitrates in ground water. We’re seeing nitrogen that gets to the Mississippi River through drainage tiles that is causing algae blooms,” Frame says.
In some areas of the Midwest people have been skipping phosphorus and focusing on the amount of nitrogen. Frame says this adds difficulty because nitrogen is hard to manage.
When Frame consults with farmers, he balances for phosphorus first making sure there are adequate acres on which to apply manure and that crop rotations will adequately absorb the nutrients. Then nitrogen is taken into account. In Frame’s case he has clients buying less purchased nitrogen fertilizer.
Potassium is an additional nutrient that doesn’t have the same environmental concerns, but could help with soil fertility in alfalfa fields and should be factored into the equation.
Applying enough nutrients will vary based on geography, soil type and yield goals, Frame adds.