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By Megan Wittmeyer
  • Animal Science
  • Agriculture
  • Field Crops
  • Dairy
  • Soil

In 2022, Cornell CALS’ Nutrient Management Spear Program (NMSP) initiated on-farm manure evaluation studies to help farmers better understand the nitrogen value, yield and soil health benefits of manure for their farm. Learn more about the studies and hear from participating farmers about why the results matter. 

Farmers recognize that manure is an excellent plant food source. It is rich in nitrogen and other essential nutrients, plus it supplies organic matter that can boost soil health. But the amount of nitrogen in manure depends on a number of factors, including manure storage and application method. Cornell implemented a nitrogen crediting system for different manure sources over 25 years ago. With advances in animal feeding and updated manure treatment systems, NMSP looks to re-evaluate the crediting system for different manure sources. 

In 2022, NMSP received grants from the New York Farm Viability Institute and Northern New York Agricultural Development Program to conduct on-farm research to answer questions about manure management.

Those questions include...

How much can manure application reduce nitrogen fertilizer use in corn?
What economic benefits does manure provide compared to nitrogen fertilizer?
How does manure affect crop yield and quality? 

“This project allows us to support data-driven decisions on farms and learn from farmers about challenges and opportunities for optimal manure management," says Juan Carlos Ramos, on-farm research coordinator of NMSP and leader of the Value of Manure project. "The project also increases our understanding of manure fertilizer value in New York for a future update of our nitrogen crediting system.”

In the first year of the study, three farms across New York participated. Andy Miller of Osterhoudt Farms, one of the study participants, says many farmers he works with question what they’re getting out of their manure. “This study helped us put a number on the value of manure for a certain field, but we can also generalize the results to other fields.”

Miller adds that the study was straightforward and well-designed.

“For us it was a very easy trial to do. I particularly liked how scientifically sound it was without taking away my time. Manure, soil and plant samples were collected and analyzed by the team and results were tied to the yield data, giving us some really meaningful numbers.” -Andy Miller, Osterhoudt Farms

Osterhoudt Farms will participate in the study again this year. “Both of the farm owners are eager to continue with this study. They recognize how important the results are for the farm’s manure and fertilizer management.”

Analysis of first-year results on two farms showed a corn yield response to manure beyond what was obtained with fertilizer alone. Results from the third farm showed no yield response to manure or nitrogen, reflecting that there was already enough nitrogen in the field. 

“The results show how variable manure is and reinforce the importance of this research,” says Quirine Ketterings, director of NMSP and professor of nutrient management in the Department of Animal Science in Cornell CALS. “To get a better grasp on how manure behaves as a fertilizer and soil health enhancer, we need more data from more farms. This project helps us collect those data. Once more trials are completed, we can draw conclusions across farms and help farmers make decisions about manure and fertilizer use in support of whole-farm economic and environmental sustainability.”

“Manure is a highly valuable nutrient resource and its use can lead to an increase in productivity of agricultural land. But, we need decision tools to manage it sustainably. This project is an excellent opportunity to develop those tools," says Ketterings.

The project is currently looking for participants for 2023. Farmers can participate and obtain valuable insights about the use of manure on their farm. More details about the project can be found on the NMSP website.


Megan Wittmeyer is a writer for the Cornell Nutrient Management Spear Program.


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