Using gravity to move manure and fertilize crops

Manure management project offers farms low cost phosphorous

  

A two-cell manure storage system in southeastern Manitoba. The new gravity powered system will enable farmers to safely ship phosphorous rich manure away cost effectively.
Not many people look down the road to an earthen manure storage and say “I sure wish that was closer.” Up until this year, Jake Kasdorf would have been forgiven if he thought that way because he is always looking for low cost methods of adding phosphorous to his farm land.
 
Kasdorf farms just off Highway 59 near Niverville, Manitoba. He grows corn, soybeans, wheat and canola. Like many Manitoba farms, his land is phosphorous deficient so he needs to factor in fertilizer every year, especially for his corn crop. The irony for Kasdorf is that he lives just down the road from a part of the province that has a surplus of phosphorous.
 
South and east of Kasdorf’s farm is an area that is rich in hog barns, which means it’s also rich in manure. Manure is moved  to earthen storages next to livestock barns where it waits to be used as fertilizer. While using manure as fertilizer is an older practice, the dilemma these days is the cost of transporting it in mass volume.
 
“The minute you have to move the manure farther away, it becomes prohibitive because of cost,” says Kasdorf. "It’s easy to spread the manure on land adjacent to the barns and earthen manure storage systems, but that land can only absorb so much."
 
Searching for economic alternatives
 
“We have been looking for cost effective ways for producers to redistribute these nutrients,” says John Carney, executive director of the Manitoba Livestock Manure Management Initiative (MLMMI). "It’s well known that the manure solids have high phosphorous content. Over the past two decades, MLMMI has looked at ways to separate those high phosphorous solids. It has been a very challenging problem to solve."
 
Research conducted by Scott Dick and Cliff Loewen, owners of Agra-Gold Consulting Ltd. a Manitoba company specializing in nutrient management planning for livestock facilities, has found an innovative solution.
 
Agra-Gold recently completed a research project that studied different ways to separate the phosphorous-rich solids found in manure. Looking at two-cell earthen manure storages, its goal was to find a method that could reliably and efficiently move a high phosphorous product at low cost. The company’s system used gravity to cause the phosphorus-rich manure solids to settle in the primary cell of a two-cell storage system. This project was funded by MLMMI. MLMMI is funded in part by the Canada and Manitoba governments through Growing Forward 2.
 
Gravity showing encouraging results
  

Scott Dick, co-owner of Agra-Gold Consulting
“We used a method where we decanted some of the liquid out of the primary cell and put it into the secondary cell, further concentrating the phosphorous in the primary,” says Dick.

The result was a super concentrated phosphorous product that had only 25 or 30 per cent of the original volume found in the earthen manure storage.
 
“We have created a treatment system that can segregate the phosphorous which allows you to move the heavy stuff away. It usually costs a lot to move large volumes long distances with tankers, but by concentrating it, we’re moving only a quarter of the product,” says Dick. “It’s more cost effective to do than building an advanced mechanical or chemical treatment system. We’re using gravity to our benefit.”
 
The research is a potential breakthrough solution to a very old problem. Pork producers in that part of the province have struggled to find ways to distribute manure while remaining compliant with the province’s environmental regulations.
 
“That’s always been the big quandary,” says Carney. “How do you find something that is affordable and yet it works here in our conditions?”
 
There’s another big benefit for farmers like Kasdorf who need the fertilizer: it costs less than synthetic varieties. He has done the math and figures the natural fertilizer will save his farm about $30 to $35 an acre compared to synthetic fertilizer. That’s even considering the fact that manure is less uniform in composition than synthetics.
 
“We would have fields that typically would not get manure because they were too far away,” says Dick. “Now we can bring to them a nutrient-rich fertilizer that also carries many other micro nutrients and other benefits. It enhances the nutrient profile of their land.”
 
Further details on this project can be found in the “MLMMI News” section on the MLMMI website, www.manure.mb.ca.
 
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