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John Breker, a soil scientist from Agvise Laboratories of Northwood, N.D., speaks about manure management and testing at a livestock summit hosted by the North Dakota Livestock Alliance, on Jan. 16, at Fort Ransom, N.D. Photo taken at Fort Ransom, N.D., on Jan. 16, 2019. (Forum News Service/Agweek/Mikkel Pates)

Expert: Manure story is one of crop values, application tech

LISBON, N.D. — Crop farmers produce feed grains, which go to livestock. If used regionally, that produces livestock which can feed into the crop production system.

John Breker, a soil scientist with Agvise Laboratories in Northwood, N.D., talked about the value of manure as a nutrient and soil builder at a recent livestock summit at Lisbon, N.D., sponsored by the new North Dakota Livestock Alliance.

Many of the attendees at the event either were either agricultural producers with livestock, or service providers—agronomists or livestock consultants.

Agvise does soil testing, as well as analysis of plant tissue, water, feed, and manure. Agvise has a laboratory in Benson, Minn., that serves southern Minnesota and eastern South Dakota.

Breker said livestock producers promoting manure resource opportunities to crop producers have a lot to talk about. Manure can substitute for commercial fertilizer expenses or to improve soil quality and nutrient management on their farms, even if they are not producing the manure.

Among Breker's points:

• Manure is an extremely variable resource. "You have to test the manure to actually know what is the manure content," he said. "Every livestock operation is different. The manure from operation to operation is also very different."

• There are tools to address neighbor issues. From swine and dairy farms, the manure is often in a liquid form that is injected into the soil, which limits nutrient losses and odors. "We do have tools now," he said. "There are certain places for manure, where you have low-testing or low-fertility soils, where manure is an awesome resource. Then there are fields that maybe don't need manure."

Animal agriculture has to arrange for enough land to use its nutrients without overloading soils with nutrients, including phosphorus. This has been a problem in relative degrees in Arkansas, Iowa and Ohio, where soils are naturally high in phosphorus, Breker said.

"The concern is there," Breker said. "But in North Dakota, we are No. 1 in low-phosphorus levels. We have a lot of room for (using) manure. We have a lot of acres but we also have low soil-test levels.

"It's going to take us a long time to build soil test 'P' levels (phosphorus) before we start running into environmental concerns. In North Dakota, we have actually a lot of opportunities for large animal operations. We can put quite a few dairy cattle, quite a few hogs, quite a few poultry before we start to start running into those issues."

North Dakota produces about 20 percent of the nitrogen and 18 percent of the phosphorus from manure as the state of Iowa, according to the 2007 Census of Agriculture. Manure supplied 17 percent of the nitrogen in North Dakota farmland soils and 14 percent of the phosphorus.

North Dakota purchased fertilizer applications increased by 12 percent from 2007 to 2011, according to a Washington State University report. That compared to Delaware and Wyoming, 24 percent; Maine and Utah, 20 percent; Iowa, 16 percent; Colorado, 16 percent; Pennsylvania, 13 percent.

Whether water pollution would become a problem is in part dependent on management and time, Breker said. The state has a lot of grain production, which means crops can remove the nutrients and use them to increase production. North Dakota doesn't have the level of precipitation that some states have, which reduces the amount of loss due to runoff.

In Arkansas, poultry manure is often applied to pastures that are grazed by cattle. "There's not a lot of 'P' export in that system," he said.

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