GREEN BAY — Several factors should be taken into consideration when determining which manure technology options would benefit your farm.
Dr. Rebecca Larson’s presentation, “Selecting Appropriate Manure Technology,” kicked off the 2019 Midwest Manure Summit, held recently at Lambeau Field. She was among speakers who addressed an array of manure-related topics at the daylong summit.
Larson is an assistant professor in the Biological Systems Engineering Department at UW-Madison and a biowaste specialist with UW-Extension.
She performs research and extension/outreach applications of biowaste management including handling, treatment and processing of biological waste streams, including manure. Her work is largely composed of manure management systems focusing on increasing profitability and sustainability of food production systems while reducing the environmental aspect.
“In the last decade or so we’re really seeing a lot of changes (in manure technology), and I think in the next decade or two we’re going to see a lot of these new systems being implemented,” Larson said. “Things are really on the cusp of changing quite a bit.”
Larson views manure systems in terms of four components — collection, processing/treatment, storage, and transfer and land application.
It’s important to determine what’s driving the desired change regarding manure-handling needs on a farm.
“You can’t just make your decisions based on, ‘Well, that thing looks neat, let me put that in.’ I see that a lot,” she said. “You really need to think about what it is that you’re doing.”
Common factors driving change include cost reduction, operational issues, expansion, facility upgrades, regulations and environmental issues.
“You had better have a good understanding of what it is you’re trying to achieve if you want that system to pan out,” Larson said.
Identifying goals shouldn’t be a vague concept, she added. Rather, be specific and identify the objective before looking at things like technology solutions and new facilities.
And consider assessing what will happen if no change is implemented.
“A lot of times, that’s going to pan out to be the option you should go with,” Larson said. “Not always is adding something going to help you get closer to your goal.”
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to make informed decisions without first gathering proper data, she added..
“Data collection is really important,” Larson said before asking the roomful of agricultural professionals in attendance who has a firm grasp of their labor costs, equipment costs, hauling costs and related expenses. “I would say the majority of people who come to me have no idea.”
Financial figures, much like the technologies available, are “hugely variable,” Larson said.
“There are a lot of farms who are tracking their manure production and know exactly what goes into it,” she said. “They know the volume, they know when they haul it, they know how much labor.
“(But) there are just as many people who can’t do that. If you can’t do that, you shouldn’t be purchasing anything. You need to first get all the data together and understand what it is you’re trying to achieve.”
Often, once farmers compile the actual numbers they’re quite surprised and may then change their thought processes on what technology to implement, Larson said.
In addition to cost issues, data collection is imperative for how the manure system flows, how far you’re hauling manure, and how that interacts with nutrient management plans.
“There are a whole lot of things you should be tracking,” she said.
Addressing the topic of collection systems, Larson said they can be difficult to change because often they’re underground or expensive to alter later on.
“So think about when you’re selecting a collection system … does it go with the collection system you already have?” she said. “It’s really important to think about how you’re going to move all this manure around.”
Also, think about how you’ll clean them out and fix them if problems arise. And take into consideration what may be required if you were to pursue an expansion project in the future.