Manure is a valuable and commonly used source of fertilizer in the Chesapeake Bay region. However, it is also vulnerable to being washed into streams because almost all manure and poultry litter nutrients in the region is applied to the soil surface, where rainfall can wash valuable nutrients into streams and rivers. Surface application also increases the risk that manure nitrogen will be lost to the air, where it can form fine particulate matter – an air pollutant. In contrast, research conducted in the region has demonstrated that manure injection technologies that inject manure below the soil surface can reduce the loss of nutrients by as much as 90 percent compared to surface application.
Of course the flip side to reducing nutrients lost from the land is that more manure nutrients are available to growing crops. That may mean that farmers who use manure injection can reduce or even eliminate additional application of nitrogen fertilizer later in the season.
In this video taken on an Eastern Shore farm in Maryland, you can see how a drag hose vertical tillage manure injection system used by Tim McMichael, owner of McMichael’s Custom Spreading, is used to inject manure into corn stubble. Manure is injected with minimum soil disturbance and after injection, you can hardly tell that manure has been applied. Not only does this approach reduce potential loss of nitrogen and phosphorus to nearby surface waters, increasing nutrients available for crops, but it also reduces odor. That’s a win for both farmers and the Bay.
To expand the adoption of manure injection, Sustainable Chesapeake is working with partners throughout the Chesapeake Bay region using innovative financing approaches to encourage custom applicators like Tim McMichael to invest in new equipment and to offer farmers new to manure injection the opportunity to try it at no additional cost. With funding from the Maryland Chesapeake & Atlantic Coastal Bay Trust Fund and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, our custom applicator partners have purchased seven new manure injection units and worked with over 70 farmers in the Maryland and Pennsylvania region to inject manure on over 11,000 acres. Our Extension partners have held four field day events that featured manure injection equipment and highlighted the nutrient benefits of manure injection.
While technologies for injecting liquid manure are well established and ready for widespread adoption, technologies than can inject dry manure like poultry litter are still in the R&D for large-scale commercial systems, and the very early phase of commercial deployment/ R&D phase for experimental or farm-scale units. Nevertheless, the potential environmental and agronomic benefits of poultry litter injection are so high that Sustainable Chesapeake and our partners are committed to demonstrating the value of this approach.
From 2013-2017 Sustainable Chesapeake collaborated with partners throughout the Chesapeake Bay region for the Chesapeake Bay Subsurface Application of Manure (SAM) Initiative to not only expand the adoption of liquid manure injection, but also to develop technologies capable of injecting poultry litter. The United States Department of Agriculture Conservation Innovation Grant Program, the U.S. EPA Innovative Nutrient and Sediment Reduction program, and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation provided support for this partnership effort. Links to the project fact sheet and report are provided below:
Currently, Sustainable Chesapeake is working with partners in the Shenandoah Valley to build on lessons learned and improve the performance of a farm-scale poultry litter injector owned by Virginia Tech. With funding from the Virginia Conservation Innovation Grant Program, Virginia Tech has contracted with a local agricultural equipment machinist to make the modifications. When completed, the unit will be deployed on a farm in the Valley, where the farm’s nutrient management planner can develop a before and after scenario to track how much money in avoided nitrogen fertilizer costs the farmer can save by injecting manure instead of applying it to the surface.