Thursday, April 10, 2014

Hitching up the Honey Wagon

It's that season again!!

While most people get excited for baseball, cutting grass, and washing cars again, farmers are changing oil, and trying to get spring field work done.  In the case of this year, they just want to get STARTED.  In my part of the country, the fields have been too cold to plant, too wet to till, and not solid enough to pull a manure spreader across.  As the ground continues warming up and becoming more solid (less muddy) the livestock producers are eager to get in their fields because they are getting to be late on hauling manure. 

Individual practices vary by farm, and as I work on a total no-till farm, I will discuss this as we operate.  Before we can get corn planted, there are a lot of buildings that need manure hauled.  After manure is hauled, we spray burn-down on cover crops, and then finally start putting seed in the ground. 

Manure smells bad, annoys travelers and neighbors, and puts slow moving traffic on the road.  Why do we have to do things the way we do?  Great question!  Each field that has manure hauled on it is required to have soil tests pulled once every few years.  Depending on how the soil tests come back,
farmers have to plan a strategy to get rid of a ton of manure.  This is done more strategically than you may think.  Some farmers, in efforts to save time like to stay as close to the manure storage (hog house, lagoon, turkey house, feedlot, etc.) as they can.  What they have learned over time  is that to truly harness the nutrient value of "all that 'crap'" we have to view it as a nutrient source rather than a waste product. One farmer I know to has figured a nutrient value on his hogs manure at nearly $50 an acre.  This means Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium, and Potash that they don't have to buy elsewhere. 

Personally, hauling manure is one of my favorite jobs on the farm ("eww" is the typical response).  There's not a much more relaxing job than five minutes loading a tank, driving to the field, finding where you stopped last, five minutes or so to unload, and the trip back.  It's not the best smelling job, and you may walk away with some "mud" splattered on you...  I enjoy it... It's peaceful I suppose. 

Think of it this way.  Driving through the country right now may smell absolutely horrid (especially in the poultry-heavy areas of our county).  What you need to look at more importantly, is the sustainability aspect of it all.  Farmers raise livestock, use the manure to fertilize fields, grow feed crops in those fields, and continue the cycle.  Animal ag in this sense is a very circular business.

Next time you see that "honey wagon" on the road, just breathe through your mouth, and take your time because what he or she is carrying is something you really don't want to be reckless around and cause an accident.  Manure doesn't do any favors for car paint...

Have a great day and be sure to let me know if you want to hear about any topics in future blogs!
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Photo courtesy of Gilmer Dairy Farm and Will Gilmer.

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