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Microbes, Manure and Better Water Quality: 10 Reasons for Applying Beneficial Microbes to Manure

Dr. Jim Ladlie, ProfitProAG Crop/Livestock Management Consultant • 507-383-1325 (cell)

When was the last time you heard anyone outside of agriculture praise farmers’ efforts to improve water quality? More likely, you’ve seen headlines that blame farming for water pollution.

 

Livestock producers, in particular, are in the crosshairs. Even as farmers have adopted more sustainable farming practices to protect water quality and control odor, there’s still a missing link. It revolves around managing microbes to put the right biology into manure.

 

Here are 10 basics to understand about microbes, manure management and the connection to profitable, sustainable, eco-friendly farming:

 

  1. Manure has two valuable components: minerals and microbes. Minerals tend to be the most obvious asset, because manure’s value is based on nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) levels. The higher the numbers, the more manure is worth as a fertilizer. The benefits of manure’s other key components (microorganisms) are less obvious. Standard manure analyses don’t measure microbes. People often give little to no thought of the value beneficial microbes have when in fact they are the most important component of manure.
  2. Minerals exist in numerous forms. Some minerals are in a solid form, while other minerals are in a gaseous form. Minerals can also be in a soluble or insoluable form. Depending on their form, minerals can be available and usable by plants, or they can be unusable. In addition, minerals can be highly leachable, or organically stable and non-leachable, which has direct consequences for water quality.
  3. Minerals can be nutrients or toxins. Minerals do not have the capacity to act upon themselves. This means they can’t randomly change into various forms. Microorganisms handle this work. The real value of manure rests with the biology of specific microbes that cause biochemical processes in the manure. These processes can be helpful or harmful. Pathogens produce toxins that destroy life, while beneficial microbes enhance life.
  4. Beneficial microorganisms make fertilizer readily available. Beneficial microbes restructure minerals in the manure into a form that’s available to plants. Beneficial microbes retain minerals like N, P, K, carbon, hydrogen, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, iron, zinc and more inside their bodies. After these minerals are in an organic, non-leachable, stable form, they can be made soluble for plant uptake. Beneficial microorganisms also produce life-sustaining compounds (metabolites) that incorporate those minerals into nutrients that nourish plants. While lab analyses of manure show levels of soluble leachable minerals, these tests rarely indicate the insoluble, non-leachable minerals held in organic compounds within microorganisms.
  5. Pathogenic microbes mean trouble. Beneficial microbes aren’t always the dominant biology in manure. Pathogens often dominate the microbial population. This is overwhelmingly true with all types of livestock manure (including cattle, hog and poultry manure), noted Dr. Ken Hamilton, owner of Utah-based Bio Minerals Technologies, Inc. Pathogenic organisms render minerals in manure unavailable to plants. Pathogenic microbes also waste mineral resources. When pathogenic microbes dominate a manure pit or lagoon, nitrogen is converted from a solid form into toxic, ammonia gas. Sulfur and hydrogen are converted to hydrogen sulfide, which is also deadly. Not only are these gases dangerous, but they allow nutrients to volatilize and escape into the atmosphere. When you smell a foul, putrid odor from livestock manure, solid minerals are being turned into toxic gases instead of providing nutrients for plants.
  6. Mineral conversion is key. The ability to convert minerals into a form that’s usable by plants is determined by the biology that thrives in a manure pit or lagoon. When beneficial microorganisms outnumber pathogenic microorganisms, nutrients don’t volatilize or disappear. These nutrients are still there, contained inside the beneficial microbes’ bodies. When manure is applied to fields, these nutrient-dense microbes go into the soil and colonize the plant root zone, promoting healthy soil and healthy plants.
  7. Microbes manage nutrient leaching. Biologically-held nutrients reduce leaching, which improves water quality. Instead of washing away into water supplies, nutrients remain in the soil following manure applications. Because these nutrients have been processed into a desirable form inside beneficial microbes’ bodies, the nutrients are held in place for a more gradual release. More nutrients available for crop uptake mean fewer nutrients in the water.
  8. Proper biology equals odor management. Solids will always be present in manure management systems, because there’s always new manure coming in. You don’t want those solids to build up and putrefy, though. This will happen virtually 100% of the time, however, unless you interrupt this process. You do this by inoculating the lagoon or manure pit with beneficial microorganisms. This is known as bio-augmenting manure. Once these helpful microorganisms are present, they can quickly out-compete pathogens. They also produce specific enzymes that aggressively break down manure solids (anything heavy enough to settle to the bottom) and liquify the material as they digest it. This process coverts nutrients into a desirable form and also controls unpleasant odors. You will experience a noticeable decline in odors around a manure system when the biology is in balance, thanks to bio-augmented manure.
  9. Biology influences a manure pit’s capacity. Odor control is a huge plus, but the benefits don’t stop there with bio-augmented manure. Preventing solids from building up maximizes the storage capacity of the pit or lagoon. Liquefying manure also makes manure hauling more efficient, since it’s faster to get full loads.
  10. You can manage manure biology. All of these advantages can only occur with bio-augmented manure. Once bio-augmented manure is applied in the field, the microbes assist beneficial soil microbe populations. These microorganisms promote and sustain all higher life forms. When good bacteria are in control, more nutrients are readily available to plants, odor is controlled, and fewer nutrients leach into the air and water. All this leads to a healthier environment.
    All this is part of ProfitProAG’s Full-Circle System. This holistic system supports healthy crops that feed healthy livestock that provide healthy food for people. The Full-Circle System also makes farming fun again, thanks to greater sustainability and higher profit potential.

 

To learn more about microbes, manure management, and water quality, let’s start the conversation about how you can put biology back into the system. Contact us at 507-373-2550.

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