Managing Manure In No-Till A Delicate Balancing Act

Without incorporating manure, no-tillers stand to lose nutrients and pose environmental risk.

 While many no-tillers take advantage of manure in their nutrient management plans, there are several challenges associated with its use. 

Joshua McGrath, nutrient management specialist at the University of Maryland, says there is a delicate balancing act between ensuring that the environmental impact of manure is minimized, while not washing all the benefits downstream.

McGrath shared some of his insight at the 2009 National No-Tillage Conference in Indianapolis, and offered no-tillers some thoughts on what they need to consider when using manure in their operations.

“We just completed a 3-year study on issues surrounding manure and no-till and some of the environmental issues associated with the use of manure in no-till,” McGrath says. “The hypothesis we were operating under was that some of the currently existing conservation-tillage technologies could be used in a no-till system to reduce the environmental impact of manure application.”

Surface Applications. 

McGrath’s work focused on poultry litter in the Delmarva (Delaware, Maryland and Virginia) region.

“The current method we have to get litter on the field is to spread it on the surface,” McGrath says. “We have a tremendous amount of no-till in our area as well and this has led to some problems because we get a lot of phosphorus loss when we put that litter up on the surface. We get losses directly from the litter in the first rainfall.

“We say no-till is good and we say tilling is good. We are trying to figure out how to make them work together.

“But…

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