Variety of manure handling sessions included
Yahara Pride Farms, a farmer-led, non-profit organization in the Yahara watershed in Dane County, welcomed more than 100 guests to its annual Ag Innovation Field Day event on August 16. New this year, the Ag Innovation Day was open to farmers, agribusinesses and the general public from across the state.
In year’s past, the event was designated for farmers in the Yahara Watershed, but organizers wanted to expand the reach of the programs and practices that are applicable to a wider audience.
A variety of manure handling sessions were demonstrated including Low Disturbance Manure Injection techniques and manure composting. Attendees had the chance to see dragline and tanker methods of applying manure using low disturbance injection techniques.
Chuck Ripp, a member of the group who owns Ripp’s Dairy Valley, explained that a flow meter in the tractor allows the operator to know how much manure is being deposited in the soil. Depending on soil tests and nutrient management plans, as much as 8,000 to 16,000 gallons per acre can be applied into the soil profile.
“It’s a safe way to apply manure and it keeps a lot of the smell down,” he told the group. “Every year more and more farms do it.”
Ripp explained that it’s an expensive venture but it’s a long-term solution with long-term impact. Manure trucks are used to fill the large tankers that are used to apply the manure. A similar system was on display at the field demonstration. It is used by the Madison Metro Sewer District to apply sewage sludge on fields in the county.
The tractor moves at 5 to 7 miles per hour and deposits the manure six inches deep. Different shovels can be used depending on soil conditions, Ripp said, adding that this technique means less tillage and less erosion on the fields.
After this kind of application they generally plant using no-till techniques in the spring with no problem, he added.
Another method of handling manure was on display at the newly built manure composting facility at Endres Berryridge Farms. Visitors learned the science behind the process and the equipment needed to successfully compost manure. Attendees also had the chance to see finished compost applied to a field and saw a cover crop planting demonstration on a recently harvested wheat field.
The Endres brothers, Jeff, Randy and Steve, decided to try the compost route in new facilities they are in the process of building for young stock. Two barns are being built – one for young calves and one for older heifers. The bedded pack manure from the first barn is being blended with the wetter manure from the older heifers to create the perfect consistency for composting.
The brothers have built a third barn to be used to create the windrows of compost so weather isn’t a factor. They worked with an engineer, Andrew Skwor, from MSA Professional Services, to help guide them through the regulatory and permitting process.
Jeff Endres said they had no cost-share on the project but wanted to move ahead with it and built it according to all applicable standards. Previously, the farm had participated in a Yahara Pride project to test the idea of composting dairy manure.
The newly built, open building has an engineered clay floor. The brothers had looked at the idea of building a hoop structure for the compost project but decided it was just as cost effective to build a conventional building that matches the calf and heifer barns.
That way if they ever decided that the compost building didn’t work out, they could retrofit it and use it as another heifer barn.
Skwor said the building and flooring was designed to be compliant with all DNR regulations. The barn allows the Endreses to work on the compost 365 days each year. (The building’s metal roof is felt lined to protect it from the gases and moisture that are generated from the process.)
The Endreses have also worked with Jason Fuller of Carbon Cycle, who was on hand at the field day to demonstrate how he uses his equipment to turn the compost pile and keep it “working” to destroy pathogens, weed seeds and break down the bedding material.
Jeff Endres said the addition of compost opens up a lot of opportunities with regard to crop rotation. It can be applied to hayfields with less impact than liquid manure. Because compost is a concentrated product, more nutrients can be applied in one pass. In the compost process there is a two-thirds reduction in volume.
Taking out the moisture allows more nutrients to be applied in fewer passes, Skwor explained. It is also a drier, more stable product.
He believes farmers can afford to spend a little money up front to do compost. “This stuff is all stepped up and ready to go when it goes to the field,” he said.
The Endreses’ new shed can house two large windrows; a finished windrow of compost can be turned out every 10 weeks.
Skwor said that the high organic matter percentage in compost is also a plus for agronomic purposes. Using compost on his own land, he was able to raise the organic matter from 2 ½ percent to over 16 percent, which helps increase the soil’s water-holding capability and reduces competition from weeds.
He sees the innovation at the Endres farm as something that could move farmers from so much hauling of manure to the hauling of nutrients without so much water. “I look at this as a solution,” he said, adding that federal agencies have a lot of interest in this technique.
Jeff Endres, who is also chair of the Yahara Pride group, said that field days give farmers a chance to get “up close and personal” with new techniques and new equipment. The day also allows community members to learn about conservation techniques that their neighbors are using to protect the land, water and air of their community Endres added.
The main focus of Yahara Pride Farms throughout the year is reducing phosphorus delivery to the Madison chain of lakes and the Yahara River through innovative agriculture techniques – among them -- Low Disturbance Manure Injection, cover crops, waterways and harvestable buffers.
In 2015, farmers in the program reduced phosphorus delivery by 8,642 lbs. Since 2012, farmers have documented a total phosphorus delivery reduction of 15,872 lbs.
Yahara Pride Farms has also developed a certification program where farms undergo an extensive voluntary audit process and achieve a specific passing score. In all cases, farms are provided with prioritized feedback on current conservation practices as well as areas for improvement.
Yahara Pride Farms has engaged the community, public utilities, environmental groups and agribusiness. More than 25 organizations contributed to the field day through sponsorships, grants and in-kind donations.
Established in 2012, Yahara Pride Farms is a farmer-led 501c(3) non-profit organization that strives to preserve agricultural heritage while encouraging farmers to engage in proactive environmental stewardship within the Yahara Watershed.
Participating farms employ practices that result in the preservation and enhancement of soil and water resources for today, and for generations to come. For more information, visit yaharapridefarms.org.