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Animal manure can be useful fertilizer

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By David Harrison

With the high costs of fertilizer, animal manure is an excellent product to provide nutrients to crops and reduce fertilizer bills at the same time.

Using animal waste not only adds nutrients to the soil but also helps build up organic materials and can increase crop yields.

To correctly apply animal waste to the land requires you to know the manure’s nutrient content, best application times and methods, availability of nutrients to crops and how to balance crop nutrient needs using manures, fertilizers and other nutrient sources.

The first step is to take a soil test so you’ll know what nutrients the crop field needs. Next, you need to have the manure tested for its nutrient content (both services are available through the Extension Office).

Nutrient content of manure varies depending on the type of animal, type and amount of bedding used, manure’s moisture content and time and method of storage.

It is important to note that some manure nutrients are not as readily available to crops as commercial fertilizer’s nutrients are, especially nitrogen. Its availability depends on the crop being grown, type of manure used and when and how the manure is applied.

Growing crops have the greatest ability to take up nitrogen, so manure applied during crop growth will have the least risk of nitrogen loss.

The availability of phosphate from manure in the first year’s crop after application is somewhat less than with commercial fertilizers while potash in manure is comparable in availability.

The Extension Service can help producers navigate through the ins and outs of using manure as fertilizer. Several publications are also available to assist producers. Extension publication, “Using Animal Manures as Nutrient Sources” (AGR-146) and a computer spreadsheet (http://soils.rs.uky.edu/manureprogram.htms) are available to help determine application rates and fertilizer credits.