Growing up, I was an avid reader of the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her life was filled with happiness and heartbreak as her family traveled west looking for new opportunities. While I enjoyed her stories, what I didn’t think about at the time was the true bravery of those early pioneers. They traveled by horse-drawn wagons and moved to a plot of land in an unsettled part of the country on a hope and a prayer. They were literally trying to make something out of nothing.
Today’s farmers carry on that tradition, looking for opportunities to grow and develop their farms while feeding animals and making a living off the land. While this generation of farmers is protected from some of the devastating risks the pioneers faced, the current challenges come at a greater size and scale.
One such trial is manure management. Both environmental pressure and legal regulations require farms to handle manure with care, and there is certainly a cost that comes with it. At the very least, a farm must store and then dispose of the manure that is produced. But rather than treat manure as a waste product, there is ample opportunity to turn it into something worthwhile.
Most commonly, manure is used to provide valuable nutrients for growing crops and reduce commercial fertilizer inputs. On some farms, manure becomes even more than that. From creating energy through anaerobic digestion to turning manure into dry bedding — these are uses of manure our ancestors never dreamed about.
For some, the ability to convert manure into compost, energy, or more can become an unexpected revenue stream, making use of a material on the farm that has to be handled one way or another anyway. For the dairy featured on page 14, a manure separation and water treatment system led to a side business of selling fertilizer for commercial use, and it has become an exciting growth opportunity for this farm.
A “side hustle” can become a lucrative part of an operation. Rather than milk more cows, raise more steers, or feed more pigs or broilers, money can be made from manure if the right tools are in place. A farm’s revenue does not have to exclusively come from selling milk or meat, and manure must be dealt with regardless. It can be a win for the farm and a win for the environment when we expand our manure treatment options.
As we wrap up summer and head into fall, the busy season of harvest will be followed by manure application for many. Make the most of the nutrients that you have captured, and more importantly, stay safe while working those long days and nights.
Until next time,
This article appeared in the August 2020 issue of Journal of Nutrient Management on page 4.
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