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March 25, 2011

The Cost-Effective Smell of Money

By: Loretta Sorensen
Farm Journal

A dragline system from Puck Custom Enterprises uses 8" hose and high-horsepower motors to pump 2,000 gal. of liquid manure per minute. How does it make applying manure that much more cost-effective?

Manure lost some of its displeasing odor in 2008 when soaring fertilizer prices pressed crop producers to find more economical ways to apply nutrients. Prices are on the rise again, and this time, manure may be even more attractive due to efficient and cost-effective application methods.

Puck Custom Enterprises (PCE) of Manning, Iowa, recently developed a dragline system for liquid manure that pumps 2,000 gal. per minute (gpm) and uses a computer program called MobileStar to monitor and operate the pumps. A monitor screen in the tractor allows the operator to view each pump’s oil pressure, water temperature and fuel consumption and, if necessary, shut it down in seconds. The system requires one operator instead of several.

"The volume allows applicators to keep rates competitive and do the job more efficiently," says PCE’s Jeremy Puck. "MobileStar actually provides better control than having an individual at each pump."

Ben Puck, Jeremy’s father, has been distributing manure in Iowa since 1979. Jeremy says their company expects to offer equipment with an application rate of 2,400 gpm in the near future.

Exponential gains. MobileStar was developed to provide remote control for a variety of agricultural and construction equipment. The Lemmenes family of Wisconsin has reduced fuel consumption and labor costs and improved time management with the technology.

"We went to a five-mile dragline to reduce field compaction," says Ike Lemmenes. He combines PCE’s equipment with field-mapping and GPS tools for efficiency and accuracy. Charles Wortmann, a soil scientist at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, says that’s good news for farmers.

"Commercial fertilizer is a good nutrient source," he says. "Combining it with manure provides additional benefits because you get a soil amendment effect. Yield in many cases is higher than with fertilizer alone."

One of the benefits is increased aggregation, meaning the soil retains more water. Erosion and crusting are reduced and filtration is improved.

Manure doesn’t provide a consistent nitrogen supply throughout the growing season. Combining it with commercial fertilizer resolves that issue.

"Making up nitrogen availability with commercial fertilizer gives the benefit of soil amendment and some cost savings while obtaining optimum yield," Wortmann says.

Variability in manure nutrient quality can be an issue. Testing soils and manure samples helps determine appropriate application rates. Applying manure in a uniform manner also supports optimum yield.

"Use common sense in applying manure. Heavy application in one area and strips with little or no manure won’t provide high yields," Wortmann says. "Calibrating equipment to apply fertilizer is fairly easy. With a spreader it’s more complex, although technology has improved that process."
Environmental concerns about nutrient runoff are also improved through manure application due to reduced erosion and sediment loss. Manure from feedlots may contain lime, which can help reduce soil acid levels.

"Most farmers who are close to a manure source will benefit from using manure," Wortmann says. "On hilly land, you’ll definitely see an improvement in yields. That’s true in sandy soils or any soil where organic matter is limited."

Global demand and the push-pull of supply and demand are two of the factors behind rising fertilizer prices. "With strong commodity prices, commercial fertilizer costs are likely to rise," Wortmann says. "Appreciation for manure’s benefits will probably increase as well."