Last fall, fertilizer prices were trending higher (Figure 1), and with supply change issues and soaring fuel prices, that trend has continued into the spring. Even with potentially higher crop prices, this offers challenges to finding ways to increase or maintain farm profitability. However, one available option is to explore the use of manure on your farm. Many livestock owners have long known the value manure has to offer. With skyrocketing commercial fertilizer prices, this offers the opportunity to make even better use of the manure resources.
Farmers who historically have relied on synthetic fertilizer, and even those who have used manure, but have limited experience with spring application, should consider using some manure this spring. While there is never a guarantee of what fertilizer prices will do in the future, current prices are unprecedented. Until 2021, most years showed a lower average price in the fall than in the spring. Even if your manure resources are limited and applying some manure this spring means you won't be able to cover as much ground next fall, it still represents an opportunity to save some money now since fertilizer prices haven’t stabilized.
ISU research evaluating the impact of swine manure timing on the yield of corn has consistently shown moving manure application closer to the growing season has a yield benefit. In 2021, with a dry fall and spring nitrogen loss via leaching and denitrification was at a minimum. The yields between fall and spring-applied manure were similar. We also compared spring UAN fertilizer to spring manure application and found, on average, the spring manure to corn (following soybean the previous growing season) out yielded the spring UAN application by 13 bushels per acre.
Similarly, this may be a good time to reexamine the nitrogen application rates you are selecting. Manure management plans typically utilize the yield goal method to set nitrogen application rate maximums, intended for environmental protection, not to maximize profit. Rate selection tools, like Maximum Return to Nitrogen, can be used to determine rates that will help you maximize your manure fertility value and typically will help you stretch the manure across more acres.
Farms that have not historically used manure in the past may be more interested in purchasing manure due to either inability to obtain other fertilizers or because of the high prices. If you are working with someone new to using manure, you can do a few things to help facilitate the exchange.
- Set a price that works for both sides. Manure has value, and the value moves with the price of other fertilizer sources. Can selling some manure now potentially help you obtain acres for manure application in the future? If you are selling manure, look for fields that can utilize the N, P, and K to maximize value and price.
- Know your regulations. Suppose the manure is coming from a confinement animal feeding operation. In that case, it needs to be applied by a certified applicator. Unless it is sold under Chapter 200A, through an independent manure broker, the field needs to be in a manure management plan (and have appropriate soil tests and erosion assessment).
- Share the
experiences you had in what helps you get the most value and best benefits
of your manure. Discuss improvements to soil health all the nitrogen won't
be available right away, and then state how the injection units will leave
the field or best practices you've found to make planting a success.
Higher fertilizer prices make getting the most from your manure essential. Spring application has consistently shown similar or improved yields. Moreover, with the high fertilizer prices, getting manure nutrients to the right field at the right time makes manure more valuable than ever.