Manure and used bedding from poultry farms can be a valuable fertilizer source. This litter meets corn’s nitrogen needs while having a liming effect on acidic soils, adding organic matter to fields, and supporting beneficial bacteria.

When surface-applied, up to 60% of the total nitrogen can be lost through ammonia volatilization. Subsurface application can reduce nutrient loss, but research has shown that planting directly into bands of spread poultry litter can result in stunted growth and poor stand establishment.

To better utilize the poultry litter, a team at the USDA Agricultural Research Station in Booneville, Ark., developed an implement for subsurface band application of dry poultry litter. A study found that the implement reduced volatilization by 88%.

Then, to determine the appropriate corn seeding distance from the poultry litter bands, another study was conducted on three sites in Arkansas and Alabama. The researchers planted corn 5, 10, and 15 inches from subsurface banded poultry litter, surface applied poultry litter, inorganic nitrogen, and a control (no application).

According to the results that were published in the Agronomy Journal, the 5-inch distance produced the greatest grain yield, which was similar to the inorganic fertilizer plots. Grain neutral detergent fiber, crude fiber, phosphorus, and potassium fractions were all favorable for the 5-inch band distance treatment. These researchers determined that subsurface banding poultry litter 5 inches away from corn rows may be a comparable, and sometimes superior, replacement for inorganic fertilizers.

This article appeared in the August 2020 issue of Journal of Nutrient Management on page 13.
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