Dane County, supporters offer farmers better way to spread manure

Jan Shepel
 Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, at podium, and Jeff Endres, chairman of Yahara Pride Farms, a farmer-led conservation non-profit organization, showed farmers a Low Disturbance Manure Injection system being purchased by the county and other supporters so farmers will have it available to more safely inject their manure and protect the watershed.

WAUNAKEE - A coalition of government, farmers, businesses and clean water advocates have come up with plan to help more farmers in southern Wisconsin apply liquid manure more effectively without disturbing the soil so other conservation practices can be protected.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced the partnership July 13 at Carl F. Statz and Sons machinery dealer in Waunakee, another partner in the project.

The effort will make available a Low Disturbance Manure Injection (LDMI) toolbar – a way to apply liquid manure while cutting down on soil erosion, odors and the amount of phosphorus leaving their fields, Parisi said during a short ceremony.

“Our partnership reflects a unified effort between local leaders and businesses to ensure the Yahara Watershed stays clean and healthy while providing farmers with innovative tools they need to succeed in an environmentally friendly way,” he said.

Dane County and the Yahara Watershed Improvement Network (Yahara WINS) will each allocate up to $60,000 to purchase a manure tanker and the toolbar. Yahara Pride Farms will rent a tractor from the Waunakee-based implement dealer to haul the tanker and LDMI toolbar on each participant’s fields.

The county’s share of the deal is contingent upon approval of the allocation by the county board.

Brian Peterson, with Field’s, a Mt. Horeb-based manure handling business, said it makes sense to him to have a specific tractor dedicated to using the manure-injection equipment.

“That will give it uniformity from use to use,” he said. “They wanted to have something that any farmer could use.”

The unit which was at the press conference is one that is being used on a Waunakee area farm, Henson Brothers Dairy, and several other farmers in the watershed are using the technology. Field’s will supply a new manure tanker, toolbar and unit once the deal is finalized.

The technology was shown to farmers at a Yahara Pride field day and it created a lot of interest, Peterson said. “Farmers like it because you can’t see a lot of disturbance after it goes over the field – not like you’d see with a shovel-type injector.”

The flow is based on a pump and PTO speed as well as tractor speed, he explained and the unit coming for Yahara Pride will have a flow meter which will indicate to the driver how many gallons are going on.

“This system, once it was showcased in this watershed, built interest further away than just right around here,” Peterson said. “It has been building interest through the county and the region.”

Partners in conservation

Yahara WINS is led by the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District and will use funds from the Clean Lakes Alliance to finance its share of the cost under the agreement.

Yahara Pride Farms is a farmer-led, non-profit organization which brought the minimal-disturbance manure injection technology to Wisconsin. Jeff Endres, a dairy farmer who chairs the farmer organization, said the technology was invented by Iowa farmer Phil Reed, and his group was instrumental in bringing it here.

“It puts manure under the soil surface without much tillage which is important because tillage can cause erosion,” Endres said. “It also reduces the amount of nitrogen that volatilizes and it minimizes odors.”

It’s more important than ever to promote and test new conservation technology especially given the more-frequent and heavier rainfall events that seem to be part of the weather patterns today, Endres said. “It’s nice to have the support of the county and WINS to help us look for some answers. The whole idea is to get this into the hands of more farmers.”

Since Yahara Pride Farms first brought the LDMI toolbar to the area three or four years ago, Endres said other equipment manufacturers have built similar units.

Bob Uphoff, a YP board member who farms in the southern part of Dane County and uses a similar toolbar to inject manure, explains that the large coulter which hits the ground first is 22 - 24 inches in diameter and digs down about eight inches into the soil. The manure is then injected at that level and a smaller fluted coulter closes the soil back up.

Works with cover crops

Yahara Pride was looking at this technology, Uphoff said, because they have been advocating for other conservation measures like cover crops “and this can really go hand in hand with cover crops.”

He envisions a dairy farmer taking corn silage off the field and immediately drilling in a cover crop (or having had it planted from the air before the corn was harvested) and then spreading manure with this toolbar right into the cover crop. “The old type of injection system just disturbs the cover crop too much,” he added.

Cover crops and this kind of manure injection system, says Uphoff, are a win-win program. “When we run the numbers through SNAP, we can consistently see the benefits.”

Last year Dane County implemented and tracked over 300 conservation practices resulting in more than 18,000 pounds of phosphorus reduction in the Yahara Watershed.

Under this new partnership, the manure injector is projected to reduce phosphorus losses by 1.5 pounds per acre of land per year.

Farmers using the new equipment will be charged a fee to cover some costs of operation.  Dane County has also developed a cost share program for farmers and custom haulers to purchase LDMI toolbars. Currently two cost share agreements have been approved for purchase of this kind of equipment.

Parisi said the project is part of a comprehensive look at phosphorus issues in the watershed. Those are aimed at cleaning up Madison’s lakes which have phosphorus levels that lead to algae blooms.

“Cow manure is a good soil amendment with needed nutrients and this is one of many efforts we’ve undertaken to make the best use of that manure,” Parisi said.

Many efforts are underway to prevent new phosphorus from getting into the watershed and the lakes, he said, and there are also projects to remove “legacy” phosphorus that entered streams and lakes earlier. “Much of that got into the lakes before farmers began to use conservation practices that are common now. We’ll continue to do that conservation work upstream and look for long-range solutions.”

Paul Dearlove, with the Clean Lakes Alliance said managing manure and runoff are a big part of the road map for cleaning up the lakes and his group is happy to support these types of collaborative solutions to help farmers in their own efforts to reduce phosphorus runoff.

Kathy Lake, with the Yahara WINS group, said the region “is very lucky to have really progressive farmers.” They came to the county and to her organization with the idea for this cost-share on equipment.