Researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service in collaboration with a researcher from the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment successfully tested a new application method for poultry litter in no-till corn on a Western Kentucky farm.
PHOTO: Jason Simmons, USDA-ARS
Farmers often use poultry litter as an alternative to chemical fertilizer in pasture and row crop production, as it provides nutrients and organic matter for plants and soil.
“When used wisely, poultry litter is a valuable resource,” said Edwin Ritchey, UK extension soil scientist. “It provides nutrients to the soil, eases environmental concerns and, in many cases, is cost effective.”
Current surface broadcast application methods, however, leave an unpleasant smell and pose environmental concerns.
The new method injects dry litter directly into the soil by using a subsurface litter application implement developed by USDA-ARS researchers. Karamat Sistani, a soil scientist and research leader with the USDA-ARS in Bowling Green, has worked on developing this poultry litter subsurface application technology for the past 10 to 12 years with fellow USDA-ARS scientists.
“It is one new method of how to apply poultry litter that has environmental and agronomical benefits,” Sistani said. “Previous research projects have focused on using the technology in pasture and cotton. This is the first study on a large-scale plot of corn.”
A two-year study conducted by Sistani, USDA-ARS biological science technician Jason Simmons, USDA-ARS soil scientist Dan Pote in Booneville, Ark., and Ritchey, found the subsurface application of poultry litter had a huge advantage over the traditional application methods in terms of improved air quality and runoff nutrient reduction.
“It reduces the amount of ammonia being released into the atmosphere by 90% to 95%, and nutrients stay in the soil where plants can get them and are not lost through surface runoff,” Sistani said.
Researchers tested the application against the traditional dry poultry litter broadcast application and an application of a commercial fertilizer.
Simmons found that the grain yields and biomass yields when the plants were at full maturity were similar in all three applications. When the corn reached the V5 growth stage, the subsurface application had a greater biomass yield and nutrient uptake than the traditional broadcast method.
“This technology could be used in sensitive areas such as land bordering residential developments or watersheds,” Simmons said. “It also provides a more uniform application of the litter and could result in reduced rates of fertilizer.”
Researchers conducted the study in Daviess County, where poultry litter is readily found, which contributed to site selection.
Ritchey said the new application method “is really a win-win situation for all involved.”