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Manure Nutrient Management


One form of equipment to apply manure to fields.

Manure management has become a hot topic over the last few years, mainly due to mandated stewardship programs. If managed correctly, however, manure can be a key part of your crop fertility program and help reduce input costs. Below are key manure nutrient management reminders and resources.

Manure Type and Nutrient Levels
Nutrient analysis of a manure source can vary greatly depending on the animal source, how it is stored and the diet of the animal. It is always recommended to have the manure source tested by a laboratory to know the nutrient levels. However, there are resources available that show averages and ranges of nutrient and moisture percentages of different animal manure sources. It is very important to know the moisture percentage of a manure source to accurately calculate the nutrients applied based on the manure application rate. The University of Minnesota Extension provides recommendations on how to adequately take a manure sample along with resources to aid in estimating NPK availability from the manure in future seasons based on the test results. See below for a broad analysis of nutrient contents of various animal manures.  

Nutrient ranges of different manure types from nutrient analysis (Wilson, M., University of Minnesota Extension)

Manure Nutrient Efficiency
In general, nutrients from manure may not be as readily available to plants as inorganic forms of fertilizer. Nutrients like potassium and nitrates can be released rapidly, but it can take years for some manure nutrients to be totally available to crops. Research indicates that depending on the nutrient form, it can take up to 4 years for nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to be fully available for crops. One of the critical factors driving the manure’s nitrogen availability to the crop is the carbon to nitrogen (C:N) ratio of the soil. If the C:N ratio is greater than 30:1, soil microorganisms will immobilize soil nitrogen, making it less available for plant uptake. Over time, the carbon-based organic material is consumed by microorganisms and the nitrogen will become available to the crop.

Fall application of beef cattle manure to a field.

Manure Management Cautions
If you have fields that test high for phosphorus or potassium, caution should be used in applying excessive amounts of manure. Excessive levels of phosphorus can interfere with the uptake of copper and zinc, which may lead to limited plant uptake and deficiency symptoms.

  • Copper, along with potassium and manganese, is a key nutrient for strong stalks at harvest.
  • Zinc is needed for crop water uptake and can assist the crop during periods of drought stress.

Excessive levels of potassium can interfere with the uptake of boron and magnesium, leading to limited plant uptake and deficiency symptoms.

  • Boron is important for crop cell structure, pollination and grain fill.
  • Magnesium plays a key role in chlorophyll and enzyme production. A deficiency can lead to stunted crop growth.

Manure Management Checklist:
An effective manure management program will likely consist of the following:

  1. Perform a soil test
  2. Send in a manure sample for nutrient content analysis
  3. Determine proper application timing
  4. Determine optimal application rate(s)
  5. Ensure manure spreader is adequately calibrated
  6. Determine and apply inorganic fertilizer as needed for supplementation
  7. Maintain conservation structures (i.e. waterways, ditches, buffer strips, etc.)
  8. Re-visit nutrient management plan as needed

Manure Management Resources
In the digital age, excellent applications have been developed to assess manure types, nutrient analysis, application rates, the amount of manure nutrients applied and the subsequent additional inorganic fertilizer that needs to be applied based upon the crop yield goal. A couple examples of digital applications include the Illinois Manure Calculator and University of Wisconsin’s NPK Credits - Manure & Legume Nutrient Credit Calculator.

For more information on manure nutrient levels and efficiencies, contact your local Golden Harvest Seed Advisor.

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