While milk prices appear to be headed up for 2022, so too are the prices of needed inputs on the farm. Perhaps no supply chain has been more disrupted than the market for inputs like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
These inputs may be up as much as 80 percent according to a recent Texas A&M Agricultural and Food Policy Center (AFPC) study. With input costs rising, manure injection can become a feasible option for many producers to lower costs as well as elevate crop yields. On top of that, the practice is an exceptional environmental solution that has become a focus area for Maryland & Virginia’s sustainability team.
Nitrogen Costs on The Rise
Nitrogen is having an exceptionally volatile 2022, with the Texas A&M study showing that prices crossed the $1,000/ton mark earlier this year. The same study found that this year’s costs could increase the average costs per acre at a feedgrain farm by about $39 an acre.
Courtesy Kristen Hughes Evans, Sustainable Chesapeake
With the costs of inputs up, manure injection may offer the chance to help farmers utilize resources they already have. First, injecting manure can help retain the full amount of the input instead of losing some to the atmosphere. Secondly, the injection process may remove the need for side dressed nitrogen, which will have much higher costs this year.
“Injection captures nitrogen that is essentially nitrogen they’ve already paid for on their farm,” said Dr. Heather Karsten, a researcher and Associate Professor at Penn State. “And rather than lose a significant portion of the nitrogen that is in that manure to the atmosphere, they can inject it to capture more of it.”
Karsten says rough estimates at some of the farms summarized in the Penn State Agonomy guide find that up to 30 percent of the nitrogen already in dairy manure is lost to the atmosphere by broadcast spreading without incorporation compared to injecting.
The injection process can even provide better yields despite lowering the total amount of nitrogen applied in a growing season because of the better utilization of the banked elements already in the soil. Fields that use cover crops and legumes may especially benefit from injection, particularly if manure is applied prior to cover crop planting in fall or to growing cover crops in spring.
Maryland & Virginia member David Doody has been injecting manure for more than seven years. Each year, he moved around 700,000 gallons to his crop acreage. Doody grows corn and soybeans on more than 100 acres.
“It doesn’t go anywhere. It’s there,” he said of the manure after injection. “You’re getting it all with this program and not losing any to the rain or the wind blowing it around”
Doody said his yields have increased since beginning injection on his farm. “We’re going to be 100 percent injection this year because that [injector] is a nice piece of equipment. And you know you did a good thing for the environment. It’s a good deal all the way around”
Karsten does caution that each individual farm may have different results. She suggests looking at an individual nutrient management plan or even doing early season nitrogen availability assessments to determine how manure injection may benefit a certain farm. Farms that have had manure applied at consistently high rates in the past may not see a change in crop yields.
But for a farm using no-and-reduced till, rotational perennials, and cover crops, Karsten says there’s a high likelihood that they have a large pool of organic nitrogen and nitrogen cycling, eliminating the need for side dressed nitrogen in the high-priced environment of 2022.
“When we sample some of these farms, we find they’re often nutrient rich soils, both in nitrogen and phosphorus,” she said. “Buying additional fertilizer is often not cost effective, especially now as nitrogen fertilizer prices are so high.
“Injection captures nitrogen that is essentially nitrogen they’ve already paid for on their farm"
The Sustainability Advantage
There is an additional advantage to manure injection that goes far beyond the boundaries of the farm. Manure injection can be a boon for the environment too.
The nitrogen that ends up being lost to the atmosphere also becomes a problem for estuaries like the Chesapeake Bay.
“The unfortunate problem is that nitrogen comes back down somewhere in the watershed or in another nearby watershed in precipitation,” said Karsten. “But that’s not really a good thing because it’s coming back down and contributing to water pollution somewhere”
Manure injection can also help keep waterways clean by preventing surface water pollution due to runoff.
“When it runs off, what’s very prone to loss is phosphorus in the manure,” Karsten adds. She says that contributes to algae blooms and nutrification of the waterways. Down the line, this affects fish and aquatic organisms when there’s not enough oxygen in the water for them to survive, among other reasons.
Thanks to the growing research on the positive environmental impact, injection has received increasing attention – and funding — from local and state level groups. Many are supporting the practice to benefit the environment, the farm and the crops themselves.
“Maryland & Virginia’s sustainability partners, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and Sustainable Chesapeake, have been working diligently to access grant funds and to aid members in utilizing current funding options,” said Janae Klingler, Manager of Animal Care and Sustainability for Maryland & Virginia. “Both the state of Virginia and the state of Maryland have cost share programs that will help to reduce the out of pocket cost for manure injection and Pennsylvania has the REAP tax credit program.
Costs To Consider
There are still costs to consider with manure injection. Injection will require a custom applicator in most situations. Overall, that will command a higher cost than surface application with needed fuel and additional labor costs.
And time may vary in how long injection takes. Some farms may find that it takes longer to inject the field compared to surface applying.
But with resources available to help offset additional labor costs, combined with the crop and environmental benefits, the chance for producers to explore the practice may not come at a better time.
Doody has taken advantage of programs from the Maryland Department of Agriculture and from the cooperative.
“Maryland has got great programs to help transport manure and they kick in for the injection,” he said.
Doody adds that his out-of-pocket costs are limited thanks to these programs.
Options For Amish Farms
Manure injection is also expanding into farms in Lancaster County, Pa. The Lancaster County Conservation District (LCCD) worked with the Campbell Foundation to secure a grant to cover some manure injection costs. As part of those costs, ELS Manufacturing helped fabricate a horse-drawn unit that is targeted towards use on Amish farms. Right now, the unit can be rented. And it even has advantages over the normal costs to consider, specifically relating to time.
“As far as we know, no other unit exists,” said Shelly Dehoff, the Ombudsman at the conservation district.
“What farmers are finding is that if you use the dragline injection unit compared to the surface application, you’re saving significant time even on a few acres”
Dehoff said one Plain Sect farmer she spoke with usually took about a day and a half to spread his manure on seven acres. With the injection rental unit, it took just one morning.
She adds that odor reduction can also lend itself as an added bonus to manure injection.
“It’s not something you can put a dollar value on, like you can the price of nitrogen,” Dehoff said. “But from needing to exist in your neighborhood and wanting your neighbors to support you in the future — if they can’t smell it much, it makes life for a farmer a whole lot easier.”
Not only is it a potential advantage when dealing with neighbors, but manure injection can also help a member increase his or her quality of life.
“Manure injection has the potential to provide both time and financial savings,” said Klingler. “That allows you to focus your efforts on other areas of your farm or allowing you some much needed family time.”
Opportunities for Members
Maryland & Virginia is proud to partner with organizations to supply our members with opportunities for manure injection grants and cost share programs. Look for your states or area’s resources below. Your sustainability specialist will also be a top resource to find potential help with manure injection.
Virginia offers cost share funding to reimburse manure injection at .$45/acre. Alternatively, producers can seek a state tax credit around 25%. To participate, you will need to update your nutrient management plan to reflect manure injection application. No-till planting methods are required on any fields receiving injection. To sign up, contact your local soil & water conservation district.
MDVA also received a grant of $1 million from the National Fish and Wildlife’s Innovative Nutrient and Sediment Reduction grant program. The Commonwealth is matching that with an additional $1 million. Part of this funding will be allocated for manure injection. To sign up and explore options relating to injection, producers should contact MDVA sustainability specialist Marisa Little at firstname.lastname@example.org or 240-549-9795.
The Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) offers cost-share grants to hire custom applicators, rent or lease equipment, or offset operating costs relating to manure inject. The rate is up to $45/acre. To apply, contact your soil conservation district.
Working alongside the partners of the Giant Clean Water Partnership and Sustainable Chesapeake, MDVA’s Maryland producers are eligible for funding through an MDA Animal Waste Technology Fund grant. To learn more about the program, contact sustainability specialist Marisa Little at email@example.com or 240-549-9795.
In Lancaster County, producers can apply to an incentive payment program with the Lancaster County Conservation District (LCCD). To apply a farm must
- be located in Lancaster
- have any necessary Conservation or Ag E&S plans and appropriate Manure Management Plan or Nutrient Management Plan or Manure Balance Sheets
- Rent the equipment from ELS Manufacturing in Kinzers, Pa. OR
- Hire the custom application services of approved companies who are partnering with LCCD for this grant, for the purposes of manure injection on your farm fields.
Reimbursement for up to $40/acre for custom application or $50 for equipment rental will follow after the required invoices are filed to LCCD. Contact Shelly Dehoff at the Lancaster County Conservation District for an application at firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-880-0848.
The Pennsylvania Resource Enhancement & Protection grant program is a statewide first-come, first-served program that enables farmers, businesses, and landowners to earn income tax credits to offset the cost of implementing conservation practices. Members must have an up-to-date Agricultural Erosion and Sedimentation (E&S) Plans and Manure/Nutrient Management Plans for all acres farmed. For more information and the application, visit their website.
Serving farmers in Pennsylvania counties: Lebanon, Lancaster, Berks and Chester
Allegheny AG LLC
Serving farmers in Pennsylvania counties: Franklin, Fulton, Adams, Cumberland and York; and in central Maryland
Bio Spread Inc.
Serving farmers in Chester, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and the Maryland Eastern Shore
Elam Stoltzfus, Jr.
Serving farmers in Pennsylvania counties: Lancaster and Chester with a horse-drawn rental unit *Limited spots for Spring 2022 still remain for the rental unit
Jones Agri Applications, LLC
Serving farmers in Maryland in Carroll, Cecil, Frederick, Harford and Washington counties; and in Pennsylvania in Adams, Cumberland, Franklin and Perry counties
Juniata Custom Farming, LLC
Serving farmers in Pennsylvania in Juniata, Mifflin, Perry, Huntington, Snyder and Center counties. Farmers needing service outside this area are free to inquire if service is available.
Lauver Agri Service
Serving farmers in Pennsylvania in Berks, Bucks, Chester, Lancaster, Lehigh, Northampton and Montgomery counties
M.H. Manure Hauling
Serving farmers in Pennsylvania in Lancaster, York, Adams, Chester, Dauphin and Lebanon counties
McMichael Custom Spreading
Serving farmers in Pennsylvania in Chester and Lancaster counties; Delaware; and the Maryland Eastern Shore
Rockview Farm Service
Serving farmers in south central Pennsylvania; central Maryland and some areas of Virginia
Shen-Valley Custom LLC
Serving farmers in Virginia
Spring Valley Spreading LLC
Jay and Kerri Shaiebly;
Serving farmers in Pennsylvania in Lancaster, York and Chester counties; and in Maryland in Cecil and Hartford counties