As high school graduation nears, young people tend to narrow down their career aspirations to something a tad less glamorous than becoming the next Taylor Swift or Tom Brady. When I think of my fellow dairy science classmates, most were headed down a path toward genetics, nutrition, or communications.
Few young people set their eager eyes on a career in manure handling or nutrient management, but I would argue that more probably should. It truly is an area of agriculture that is filled with potential, and it affects farms — and communities — of all sizes across the country and around the world.
This very specific area of farm management has broad implications. Of course, there is the direct storage, handling, and application of manure, but it is so much more than that. There are people studying crops and soils to determine how farms can best utilize these nutrients. Others are engineering new solutions for handling manure and updating old equipment to meet the needs of today’s farmers. People are inventing completely new ways to work with manure, and then individuals at universities are studying these new technologies. Companies are manufacturing products that reduce the volume and odor. Positions connected to the manure space tie into environmental issues and sustainability. Or, if one wants to pursue a career in regulation or law, manure certainly involves that.
This past year saw the return of more in-person events, some that had been sidelined for a while due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Meetings like the Waste to Worth conference and the Texas Animal Manure Management Issues conference were a gathering of the minds for people who work with manure and nutrients. It was energizing for me to see these academic experts come together, a small fraternity of sorts, bonded by the work they do to study this valuable by-product and help farmers make the most of it.
Some manure specialists have desks in an agricultural engineering department, while others are linked to their soils or agronomy colleagues. Some are more focused on studying the nutrients found in manure; others evaluate technology that can be used to help process it.
Like many areas of agricultural research, there are bright young minds getting into the field, but they don’t seem to outnumber the seasoned veterans who already spent a career dedicated to this area of study and will be heading to retirement sooner rather than later. New talent waiting in the wings will help keep these important positions filled in the future.
A similar assessment could be made about the area of nutrient management in general. From manure haulers to laboratory techs to manure equipment salespeople, there are many services needed by farmers, and it will require the next generation of the workforce to embrace this line of work. Those interested in this field may be small in number, but their impact is mighty.
If you know a young person trying to find their path in the agriculture world, encourage them to give manure and nutrient management a look. I can’t promise they’ll come home with clean clothes every day but there is tremendous opportunity to help farmers and be involved with exciting changes in the future. Who knows what we’ll be able to do with manure next, but what we know right now is that proper manure management is important to everyone.
Until next time,
This article appeared in the November 2022 issue of Journal of Nutrient Management on page 4. Not a subscriber? Click to get the print magazine.