Farmers traditionally apply manure to the soil surface, where manure nutrients are vulnerable to volatilizing to the atmosphere or washing off to streams and rivers when it rains. New technologies now provide farmers with the opportunity to inject manure into the soil. In Piedmont regions of the Bay where most of the region's dairy farms are located, placing manure below the soil surface reduces the loss of nitrogen by 12 percent and phosphorus by 36 percent compared to surface application. In this way, injecting manure addresses the "right placement" component of the 4R's of nutrient management.
Manure injection provides multiple benefits to farmers, in addition to improved water quality. Because nitrogen is conserved in the soil, many farmers can avoid the time and expense associated with supplemental commercial nitrogen fertilizer when manure is injected, rather than surface applied. On fields where phosphorus-based nutrient management plans limit manure application rates, injecting manure allows farmers to make the most of their manure nutrients. Several of our agribusiness partners are also demonstrating the value of drag hose application systems that use long hoses to transport manure from the storage area to the field, avoiding the soil compaction that can occur when manure is transported to the field with heavy tankers. Last but not least, manure injection reduces the odor associated with manure application. This is an important benefit for many farmers and landowners in our region who want to use manure but worry about how odor will impact their neighbors.
For these reasons, Sustainable Chesapeake has spent the last six years working to expand the adoption of manure injection on farms throughout the region. To achieve widespread adoption, we are leading collaborative efforts that include conservation districts, land grant university researchers, Extension agents, custom manure applicators, nutrient management planners, as well as federal and state agencies. This collaborative approach allows us to share lessons learned, research results, and equipment options across state lines.
Our goal is to make manure injection the new norm.
— Jeff Zimmerman, Owner, Agri-Applicators, Inc.
Custom manure applicators now offer manure injection services in the region
Conservative number of farmers now injecting manure
Our custom manure applicator partners have been key to the success of this effort. To date, we have partnered with five custom manure applicators who have agreed to invest in commercial-scale, low disturbance manure injection equipment and encourage their clients to give it a try. Using an approach first pioneered by Dr. Rory Maguire of Virginia Tech, we secured funding to pay for implementation on a per acre basis, giving our manure applicator partners the confidence they needed to invest in new equipment and to allow their clients to try manure injection at no additional cost.
Land grant university and USDA Agricultural Research Service partners laid the foundation for success by demonstrating the nutrient management and environmental benefits of manure injection, as well as documenting financial benefits such as improved forage quality and yields. They are also leading outreach and education efforts to share information about manure injection with farmers in the region.
Our conservation district partners have helped to secure funding to allow farmers to try manure injection at no additional cost, and are also key partners in hosting field day events and sharing information with farmers. As a result of the Shenandoah Valley and Headwaters Soil and Water Conservation District leadership, manure injection cost share is now available in Virginia. In Pennsylvania, we helped the Lancaster County Conservation District secure funding from the Campbell Foundation that in turn was used by ELS Manufacturing (an Amish equipment manufacturer) to develop the first horse-drawn manure injection unit in the nation.
Nutrient management planners are also key to the success of this effort. They are helping to educate farmers about how manure injection can improve their bottom line and make better use of manure nutrients. For example, Peter Hughes, Owner of Red Barn Consulting and his team surveyed their clients and found that most would be interested in trying manure injection if their custom applicator offered the service. Eric Rosenbaum (Owner, Rosetree Consulting and Executive Director of the PA 4R Alliance) worked with Jeff Herring (Owner, Herring Farms) to help Jeff eliminate 4 trailer loads of nitrogen through manure injection.