Harvest is just around the corner, and that means pork producers and grain farmers soon will prep for fall field nutrient applications.

The Illinois Pork Producers Association reminds pork producers to pay attention to details, as they pump manure that will be applied on crop acres as a sustainable fertilizer option.

"Manure is a good crop fertilizer product. We have better tools, better methods and training and better science than ever for using this valuable resource," said Ted Funk, retired University of Illinois Extension specialist and pork industry consultant. "America’s Heartland has a fantastic infrastructure for growing grain, and several benefits exist for using manure for Illinois crops."

Funk said those benefits include supplying nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to feed growing crops. Manure also supplies micronutrients and organic matter that enhance crop production.

"Water holding capacity in the soil increases and infiltration rates improve, combining to reduce water runoff," Funk said. "All these benefits add up to quite a nice package when manure is applied at the right time, with the right method, and at the right amount."

The favorite time for livestock producers to pump manure storages and apply manure is in the fall when soil conditions are generally good for getting on fields with machinery without causing soil compaction.

Today's application methods, such as injecting manure into the soil, also greatly reduce manure odor, according to Funk.

"Livestock producers attend regular training on environmental protection and state regulations regarding manure management. 'No-fly zones' for manure spreaders protect surface water, water wells and other local features. Operators monitor their manure applications carefully to prevent water pollution and minimize nuisance to neighbors," he said.

Funk offers the following tips to pork producers as they prepare for fall applications:

  • Prepare manure sample kits before you need them. Manure should be sampled every year, so contact your lab to obtain the paperwork and kits early. Use the results to update your manure management plan during the winter.
  • Soon after harvest, record moisture-adjusted crop yields on fields where you regularly spread manure so those yields are entered into your updated nutrient management plan. 
  • Work safely. Prior to pumping, Funk said, agitate the manure to mix for uniformity. Be careful of gases that may be released. Avoid "rooster tails" above the surface when you first start to agitate. Take pigs out of the building, if possible, and run ventilation fans and fresh air into the building. Watch foam for methane explosion hazards.
  • Review your emergency response plan before you make applications. Know the process and have phone numbers and a pocket guide for response easily accessible to everyone involved with manure pumping.
  • Observe biosecurity protocols when pumping and transporting manure. Equipment can carry pathogens such as porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, so exercise caution when moving from farm to farm.
  • Streamline the application process. Print out one field map per page, and indicate where setbacks exist and what rates to use. Drivers can sketch where applications start and stop in each field. In case of a farm inspection, regulators appreciate simple maps with clear indications of such information.
  • Calibrate your spreader and record the results. Do an equipment check early in the application process. A volume and area check is good, especially if you are unable to get tanks full because of foam at the top. Adjust and keep track of volume spread on a complete field to calculate gallons per acre used.
  • Spread carcass compost. Once the compost bins are empty, fall is a good time to repair any leaky joints in the back of bins. Get compost carbon supplies locked in for the winter, including securing corn stalk bales or other sources.
  • Get a convenient depth measurement instrument for manure storage. Consider mapping the solids depth in pits with a laser device. You can put a pocket laser on a PVC pipe stand and carry through the building to measure in between the slats. If you can pump to the bottom, you can see if solids built up or if your agitation was a success.
  • Consider installing water meters. Put meters on buildings to track water use for early detection of disease if water use falls off, or to monitor leaks related to manure storage. Water meters can tie into other building systems and be managed remotely.

More information on manure utilization is available at www.manurecentral.illinois.edu.