Guest Post: A Good Organic Fertilizer Plan Starts with Manure

Nutrient management and supporting fertility is important for any operation, whether you’re growing organic crops or farming conventionally. 

And even though synthetic products aren’t available to use on your organic acres, you still have a variety of organic fertilizer options available to you. These range from delivering nitrogen naturally through rotation practices and planting cover crops to—you guessed it—using animal manure.

How to use animal manure on your organic acres

While it might be possible to run an organic operation without it, manure is still the most effective way to reach optimum yields and see long-term success in your fields.

Need help building a well-rounded plan for your organic crops?

Organic farmers primarily use two types of animal manure: hog and poultry. Hog manure has high levels of readily available ammonium, while most of the nitrogen in poultry manure will take a little time to become available. And you’ll likely find that the greatest fertilizer success comes from using a combination of the two.

Cattle manure can be used in organic farming, too, but its nitrogen levels tend to be too low for the primary nutrient source. It takes 8 to 12 tons of cattle manure to get the same amount of nutrients contained in 2 to 4 tons of poultry manure. 

PRO-TIP: Cattle manure is an excellent choice for alfalfa, because it is typically higher in potassium and lower in phosphorus than hog or poultry manure.

When using manure, take soil samples every four years to ensure phosphorus levels don't get out of hand. If your goal is to build your soil, consider applying manure at higher than removal rates. 

A manure analysis is key to understanding what nutrition your crop is actually getting, as well as where your costs should be. Some retailers charge a premium for composted manure even when the nutrient content and nutrient concentration is similar to raw manure sources.  

It might make financial sense to purchase fertilizer in advance and store it if you can secure a better price. You won’t typically encounter significant nutrient loss during storage, but you’ll still want to analyze another sample before application. Also, keep in mind that the nutrients in some manures can settle over time, so agitation may be necessary to redistribute the nutrients prior to using it in your fields.

The ideal time to apply manure is in the spring. If that isn’t possible, aim for a time between fall and spring. The soil microbes make nitrogen available to the plant slow down in the fall.

Another way to protect nutrients is to incorporate the manure directly into the soil. This helps capture the ammonium nitrate before it volatilizes. Poultry manure incorporated within the first 12 hours after application can release more than 70 percent of the available nitrogen in the first year. If incorporation takes place after 96 hours, the rate drops significantly. 

Taking the next steps for your organic fertility

Successfully providing nutrients for your organic crops requires planning and management, but AgriSecure can help you develop a nutrient management plan that helps your bottom line. If you’re ready to develop an organic fertilizer plan for your farm, contact AgriSecure for a free consultation.