Expanding the Understanding and Adoption of Composting Bedded Pack Manure to Reduce Manure Applications on Frozen and Snow Covered Fields around the Yahara Watershed

Final report for FNC18-1121

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2018: $22,500.00
Projected End Date: 02/28/2020
Grant Recipient: Endres Berryridge Farms, LLC
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Jeff Endres
Endres Berryridge Farms, LLC
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Project Information

Description of operation:

This project includes Endres Berryridge Farms (Farm 1), Maier Farms (Farm 2), Hoffman Farms (Farm 3), YPF, Yahara WINS, Dane County, Clean Lakes Alliance, and the Soils Department at UW-Madison.

Endres Berryridge Farms milks 500 Holstein cows, raises 400 heifers and manages 1100 acres of cropland. The farm has liquid manure storage for all animals older than six months of age; animals six months and younger are housed in-group pens bedded with corn stalks or straw along with some wood shavings; and all cattle six months and older are housed in free stall barns with sand bedding. The farm uses cover crops on all fields that are not alfalfa (about 600 acres) and uses conservation tillage, strip tillage and no till depending on the land. Jeff Endres, serves as YPF President and Endres Berryridge Farms co-owner, and is experienced in practices that reduce nutrient loss from farms and improving innovative farmer-led solutions specific to the Yahara watershed.

Scott Maier is a dairy farmer, owner of Maier Farms and Treasurer of YPF Board. Maier Farms operates 1,286 acres of cropland in a rotation of corn silage, corn grain, alfalfa, wheat and small grain cover crops. The farm has approximately 800 dairy cows and some heifers. Maier Farms has been a host site for the composting project and uses the compost for bedding pack.

Jeremy Hoffman, of Hoffman Farms is a dairy and livestock farmer who operates land in and around the Yahara Watershed. Hoffman Farms operate around 1,000 acres of cropland in a rotation of corn for grain, corn silage, alfalfa, wheat and a mix of cover crops harvested for forage. The operation has dairy cattle and finishes about 300 steers. All the steers and the heifers from the dairy are raised on a bedded pack. Hoffman Farms has also been a host site for the composting project and uses the compost for bedding pack.

YPF is a farmer-led, not-for-profit organization working to improve soil and water quality, through:
- Mechanisms to recognize farmer-led environmental sustainability, rewarding farmers for good stewardship, tracking collective progress in conservation and demonstrating watershed advancement;
- A farmer network sharing information with the agricultural industry of new water quality rules, laws and issues; and,
- Earning the trust and respect of farmers, private citizens and government through project engagement and educational programs demonstrating the agricultural industry’s commitment to its role in improving the watershed.

Summary:

Yahara Pride Farms Inc. (YPF) will expand the headland stacking/composting project in the Yahara Watershed. The primary environmental benefit of composting is reducing the acreage of winter-applied manure (highly vulnerable to runoff), apply a lower soluble phosphorus (P) product and redistribute manure from high P fields to fields that are deficient. YPF is working with 11 farms and has calculated the reductions in soluble phosphorus based on not applying manure during the critical runoff period. This project continued to build upon stronger databases to better evaluate changes in nutrient availability and the risk of loss. The study has multiple collaborators including Yahara WINS, Dane County, Clean Lakes Association and U.W. Madison Soils Department. The funding from SARE supported the implementation of an outreach and education program, providing the lessons learned from this project throughout the Yahara Watershed and to other watersheds. In collaboration with this project, Endres Berryridge Farms provided a compost turner, and offered interested farmers, timely turning of compost windrows. The goal is to encourage additional farms to begin composting manure. YPF has also tested the completed compost material for nutrient value including water-soluble P levels (fraction of P that is most easily lost to the environment).

Project Objectives:

The study to determine the benefits of composting solid manure verses spreading it directly on the field will begin in 2018. This grant supports a complimentary effort for an outreach and education program that:

  1. Increase farmer’s understanding of the negative impacts of spreading pack manure on melting snow (in and around the watershed);
  2. Increase the knowledge of the benefits to composting bedded pack manure;
  3. Promote the economics of composting verses spreading on snow;
  4. Provide information on composting to farmers in other watersheds; and,
  5. Share findings through field days, website and social media and conference presentations.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Pat Murphy (Researcher)
  • Dennis Frame (Researcher)
  • Maria Woldt (Educator)

Research

Materials and methods:

 

DATE

PROJECT ACTIVITY

WHO PARTICIPATES

January 2018

Project planning meeting to finalize farm participants.

Meetings were held on each farm to explain the goals of the study as well as the services provided by YPF (testing, turning and spreading).

YPF – Frame, Endres, Murphy

UW Madison –  Good, Porter

Farms – Berryridge, Maier, Hoffman

February 2018 – September 2018

Education and training for farms on Implementing the practices 

Discussions were held with each farm as the study progressed.  Site selection and conditions on some farms were challenging because of wet conditions.  A lot was learned about site selection and handling compost both under roof and outside.

Name Farms -  2 – 4 CAFO’s and 7 - 9 small/medium sized farms.

April 2018 – October 2019

Data Collection and analysis

Sample collection is done on each pile when it is stacked and when the compost is complete.  Additional sampling is done to monitor temperature and the composting process.

YPF

UW Madison

April 2018 – October 2019 

On-Farm meetings with Farms to discuss data and evaluate what is working or needs improvement

There were wide variations in compost analysis.  Some of this was due to the inability to turn as frequently as desired based on weather conditions.  But some was based on the manure provided. Discussions about bringing in other sources of nutrients available in the watershed (biosolids from Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) were held on farms.   Some of the farms are experimenting with the addition of biosolids to improve the nutrient concentrations and add value to the product.

Improving the nutrient analysis is probably as important for compost marketed for horticultural purposes.  However, for compost being sold and spread on agricultural fields improving the nutrient analysis can add significant value and demand to the product.

YPF

Cooperating Farms

May 2019 – December 2019

Share findings through field days, website and social media, conference presentations. 

There have been many meetings with MMSD and other sources of biosolids to discuss improving the value of these products in the watershed.  Data collection will continue throughout 2019 and the results will be shared with farmers in the winter of 2019-2020.

YPF - Woldt

UW Madison

Research results and discussion:

Improved Market Opportunities

A long-term goal of the composting project is to increase the number of farms stacking and composting bedded pack manure, thereby reducing manure applied on frozen and snow covered fields.  As the numbers of farms implement this practice, demand for compost turning will increase and additional custom compost managers will be required. There is already demand by landscapers for properly composted manure and markets for off farm sales are available if a quality product can be produced. Methods to track changes in market opportunities include:

  • Number of farms seeking cost share for composting,
  • Number of farms selling compost to other farms or industries,
  • Number of custom compost managers in the watershed,
  • Acres with winter application of bedded pack manure.

Improved Water Quality   

The main environmental benefit of composting bedded pack manure is the improved water quality.  In the Yahara Watershed we measure reductions in risk of phosphorus loss to nearby water bodies with the phosphorus index.  Water quality measurements include:

  • Track 500 tons of manure composted for 11 farms over two years. 
  • Measure reduction of raw manure applied to 400 acres of cropland. 
  • Measure the reduction of the risk of phosphorus loss – goal of 800 pounds in 2018. 
  • Complete an analysis of the effects of using compost versus applying bedded pack on an operation. 
  • Compare modeled results to the USGS water quality analysis collected near the farms.

Interim Progress Report:

Yahara Pride Farms has successfully completed the first season of the Winter Bedpack Manure Composting Trial. During the fall of 2017 through the summer of 2018, a total of 3,582 cubic yards of bedded pack manure were diverted from late winter land application and processed into compost on pre-approved in-field windrow sites.

The goals established in the grant proposal was to work with 9 farms with an average of 220 cubic yards of bedded pack manure per farm (a total of 1980 cubic yards).  In the first year of the study the project was implemented on 9 cooperating farms, which was a goal outlined in the initial proposal. The amount of material composted greatly exceeds the goals of the program (3,582 cubic yards actual verses the 1980 cubic yard goal). The composting windrow sites were reviewed and approved using the Natural Resources Conservation Service Temporary Manure Stacking conservation practice standard to minimize the potential for negative environmental impact. 

Bedpack manure was aerated (turned) multiple times until a stable compost product was produced OR the windrow would no longer generate heat. Compost was land applied according to a Nutrient Management Plan between July and November. The following is a summary of the lessons learned during the first year of late winter composting:

SUMMARY:

  • Bedpack manure can be successfully composted in the field during late winter. 
  • Composting under less than ideal conditions does require additional attention to detail when siting, creating and managing the compost windrow.
  • Late winter outdoor composting takes at least twice as long to complete when compared to composting under a roof and results in a less uniform product.  
  • Winter composting of manure is more expensive for the farmer when compared to winter spreading of manure. The cost of additional carbon material (bedding), building the windrow and turning the compost increases manure handling costs when compare to direct land application.

The following table summarizes the before and after nutrient and moisture content of the each compost windrow.

2018 Compost Analysis

Raw Compost Finished Compost

Farm

Moist.

N

P

K

C:N

Moist.

N

P

K

C:N

1

73.6

11.3

5.2

14.8

--

39     

- 34.6

19

+7.7

10.3

+5.1

27.4

+12.6

17:1

2*

35.9

6.5

4.2

11.7

22

62.3

+26.4

11.5

+5

+1.8

19

+7.3

25:1 

+3

3*

76.8

12

4.9

15.5

--

67.2  

-9.6

7.8    

-4.2

6.8 

+1.9

8.2    

-7.2

37:1

4

64.1

9.3

6.6

8.7

42:1

51.1   

-13

10.6 

+1.3

+2.4

14.5 

+5.8

24:1  

-18

5

69.7

11.9

8.7

9.3

--

56     

-13.7

6        

-5.9

8.3    

-0.3

10.1 

+0.8

23:1

6**

50.1

20

12.2

20.5

19:1

50.1

+/- 0

10.1  

-9.9 

8.5    

-3.7

13.5  

-7

19:1  

+/- 0

7**

74.7

13.2

7

3.1

58:1

62.2 

 12.2

13.4 

+0.2

15.4 

+8.4

21.3 

+18.2

23:1  

-35

8

54.6

13.8

5.7

14.7

23:1

64.4 

+9.8

10.8  

-3

7.4 

+1.7

20.8 

+6.1

--

9

70.0

11.9

3.7

10

--

71.2 

+1.2

11.5  

-0.4

6.3 

+2.6

12.1 

+2.1

--

  *Raw compost windrow failed to reach full maturity.

**Raw compost sample collected after composting process had already been initiated.

Year 1 Data Observations:

  1. During the composting process we anticipated that moisture and nitrogen levels would decrease and phosphorous/potassium levels/C:N ratios would increase. Compost windrows that fully matured during the sampling period typically demonstrated these trends.
  2. Compost windrows that failed to mature or those not sampled early in the composting process did not reflect the anticipated results. Sampling errors (too few subsamples) may have also contributed to data inconsistencies.
Participation Summary
6 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

14 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
2 On-farm demonstrations
7 Published press articles, newsletters
7 Webinars / talks / presentations
2 Other educational activities: Every June, Yahara Pride Farms has a large educational tent at the Dane County Breakfast on the Farm. More than 600 kids come through the tent to participate in the “Plant a plant to take home” activity. Composted manure is used as a fertilizer and explained as the kids and their families use the finished product to fertilize the plants. The 2018 breakfast was held on June 9 and in 2019, it was held on June 8.

Participation Summary:

250 Farmers
300 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

March Watershed Conference: Held every year in early March, the Watershed Conference is a chance to bring the entire Yahara Pride Farms community together. The timing falls before the cropping season begins and content includes discussions on best-practices, points of learning from the season prior and an overview of YPF programs.

More than 100 farmers, agribusiness professionals, agency representatives and media attend this event. The event runs from late morning to early afternoon and includes lunch. There is no cost to attend thanks to generous grant funds and sponsorships. Select exhibit space is available for organizations supporting the event. The conference is also used as a platform to distribute checks to farmers who enroll in the Yahara Pride Farms cost-share program.

The 2018 conference was held on March 7. There were 120 farmers, officials, agribusiness and agency reps in attendance. In addition to educational sessions, elected officials Joe Parisi, Keith Ripp and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch spoke to the benefit of groups like Yahara Pride. The purpose of the conference is to share information and research on the different steps being taken to decrease the amount of phosphorus in the Yahara watershed and to celebrate the groups’ successes. 

 

Breakfast on the Farm:  Yahara Pride Farms, in collaboration with the Farmers for the Upper Sugar River, provided an educational exhibit at the Dane County Breakfast on the Farm held on June 9th at Hensen Bros. Dairy in Waunakee. 

The “Farmers protecting water quality tent” was an opportunity for farmers in both groups to explain the conservation practices that are currently taking place in Dane County and answer any questions that people had.   

One of Yahara Pride Farms’ goals is to build relationships with members of the community and help them understand what conservation practices impact water quality in the Yahara watershed. Since Breakfast on the Farm is a big event with large public attendance, Yahara Pride Farms created a fun activity for kids and families to draw parallels between farming and gardening. 

New this year, Yahara Pride Farms provided a seed planting station where attendees could plant their own seed to take home. Volunteers sprinkled composted manure on the top of the freshly planted seed and explained the benefits of fertilizing a plant with compost. The activity was a huge success with more than 600 plants taken home to families across Dane county and the surrounding areas. The 2018  Dane County Breakfast on the Farm was hosted by Hensen Bros. Dairy. Owner Will Hensen serves on the Yahara Pride Farms board of directors.  

Farm Tours

Yahara Pride hosts numerous stakeholder groups to view manure and conservation technology on farms in the watershed. On March 28 2018, Yahara Pride hosted a group from the Door Kewaunee Demonstration Farm network to view the composting facility at Endres Berry Ridge Farms.

Yahara Pride hosted a tour of the composting facility for the Dane County supervisors. Finally, Yahara Pride hosted a group of staff from The Nature Conservancy on Nov. 7 2018 to talk about manure composting.

August Twilight Meetings – Aug. 14 & 21, 2018

Yahara Pride Farms held two Twilight meetings this past August: The first in the southern part of the Yahara watershed at Badgerland Grain Farm in Evansville, and the second in the northern part of the watershed at Henry Farms in Dane. Both Badgerland Grain Farm and Henry Farms have completed the YPF certification program which helps farmers document how their farm protects soil and water quality and identify high-risk situations and practices that need to be modified.

The Twilight meetings were organized to encourage new farmer participation in both the northern and southern areas of the watershed, to update currently involved farmers on new projects and to have candid discussion about conservation practices. Current projects were discussed such as the composting pilot program, manure equipment rental and the upcoming paid for performance program. 

Between the two meetings, more than 100 farmers and allied partners engaged in discussion about conservation practices and opportunities to grow participation in Yahara Pride Farms’ cost-share and certification programs. 

A key takeaway from the meeting was that results from conservation practices will vary from farm to farm. It takes a bit of trial and error to find out what practices suit each farming system. Having farmers come together to have candid discussion to share experience and expertise provides the opportunity for growth within each farmer’s conservation plans and ultimately keeps the nutrients, such as phosphorus, in the farm fields and out of waterways. 

Farmers learned about specific practices currently included in the cost-share program such as strip tillage, low disturbance manure injection (LDMI), cover crops, headland stacking, composting manure and stacking of multiple practices.

10/10/19 DNR CAFO Permitting Staff Tour

16 DNR employees affiliated with the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) permitting process toured Endres Berry Ridge Farm to learn more about bedded pack manure composting methods and equipment. For most of the participants it was the first time they had seen a purpose built compost turning machine and composting shed. A presentation on the in-field manure composting trial was also included. As a result of the visit a representative of Yahara Pride Farms is scheduled to meet with technical leadership from state and federal agencies to discuss development of technical standards for the composting process and relaxing current siting requirements based on data collected during the trial.

  

Communications Activities

Forward Farmer Newsletter: Yahara Pride Farms’ newsletter The Forward Farmer is produced quarterly and mails to more than 300 farmers in the Yahara Watershed. The newsletter includes original feature articles as well as guest columns from Dane County UW-Extension, Yahara WINs, the Clean Lakes Alliance and other stakeholders. There are currently 319 farmers on the mailing list. Only farmers receive a printed copy of the newsletter. The newsletter was mailed three times in 2018.

Forward Farmer E-News: An electronic copy of The Forward Farmer is emailed to 560 valid email addresses. Farmers, community members, agribusiness, state agency and media receive the Forward Farmer E-News. The electronic version is also available at yaharapridefarms.org. The E-News platform is also used to send important emails about what's happening in the county, partner events etc. This is the platform of choice for time-sensitive information. 

Social Media Channels: Yahara Pride Farms leverages social media to promote internal events and media mentions. Social media is also used to cross promote allied activities in the ag community that align with the YPF mission. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are the platforms of choice for the organizations. More than 1,000 people follow Yahara Pride Farms on social media.

Media Relations: Yahara Pride Farms maintains relationships with 60 members of the media. These individuals represent state and national agriculture news outlets, Madison and Milwaukee-market mainstream media, local community news groups and the AP. Print, electronic, radio and television media outlets are engaged to promote Yahara Pride Farms news and accomplishments. In 2018, seven media releases were sent to media on behalf of Yahara Pride Farms.

18 YPF Brochure 18FF_Fall_WEB 18FF_Spring_WEB 19 FF Spring_WEB YPF Compost Handout

Website: Yahara Pride Farms maintains yaharapridefarms.org to promote news, events as well as technical expertise. A significant portion of the site is used to explain conservation farming techniques with photos and videos. Contact information for general information and media inquiries are hosted on the website. The majority of requests and inquiries come to Yahara Pride Farms using search engine searches that list our website as the first search result. We use Google Analytics to drive management decisions with content on our site.

Learning Outcomes

200 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Lessons Learned:

Lessons learned:

  1. The raw compost recipe (composition) is critical in the late winter/early spring period. The compost must have a substantial amount of carbon (straw/cornstalks) in the windrow to improve aeration and minimize saturation. Windrows with appropriate carbon levels heated quickly/consistently driving off moisture and resisted saturation by rain.
  • Adding additional carbon early in the composting process could stimulate the heating of windrows. 
  • Compost windrows that were allowed to go dormant were difficult to revive if the material was allowed to collect moisture. Adding carbon to improve aeration and reduce moisture did revive dormant windrows.
  • Once warm weather arrived it was possible to quickly revive dormant windrows that had adequate (visible) carbon in the mixture (Rule of thumb: if the compost looks like a manure pile with some bedding mixed in there is not enough carbon).
  • Semi-liquid manure can be mixed into an actively composting windrow with management. This method allowed greater flexibility for the farm to manage manure when access to fields is limited by crops or weather. One participant created side by manure lanes with semi-solid manure that would not remain in a stack when placed for composting. The “loose” manure was allowed to age for a week and carbon material was then added to each windrow and turned. After adding 2 batches of carbon and 2 turns the adjoining manure lanes were solid enough to be built into a single windrow.

 

  1. Timely turning (aeration) of windrows results in a more consistent composting process. Windrows that could not be turned due to site wetness did not mature into compost as fast and resulted in a lower quality final product.

    3. In-field composting sites should be placed on level, firm sites (preferably a hard surface or sod cover). 

  • A windrow with a slight incline became difficult to turn after the frost came out of the ground due to the slippery soil surface. 
  • If a windrow is placed on an irregular plowed surface cold/wet soil material can be picked up and mixed into the windrow reducing the compost temperature/decomposition rate.
  • When wet soil conditions exist near and/or under the compost windrow delay turning to prevent rutting of the site which will make future turning at the site more difficult.
  1. Compost windrows pose a lower environmental risk than long term stacking of raw manure. 
  • If composting windrows are built with sufficient carbon and immediate heating occurs there is little to no liquid discharge from the site. 
  • Even dormant windrows lost minimal amounts of leachate (liquid) if some heating had occurred prior to going dormant. 
  • A soil nitrate test of a site with prior composting history yielded 3-5 ppm. 
  • Nitrate N in the top 6 inches of soil (10 ppm or higher is typical for corn fields).
  1. Compost with a Carbon to Nitrogen Ratio (C:N) of 20:1 or less was considered mature and ready for land application.
  • Use of mature compost did not display any signs of crop stress resulting from nitrogen immobilization. When composted bed pack manure was applied immediately following alfalfa hay harvest the plants showed more rapid and healthy regrowth compared to untreated areas (immediately available potassium and phosphorus likely caused the plant response).
  • Most windrows were able to achieve this C/N ratio, which ensures that Nitrogen will be available to crops when the compost is land applied.
  1. Composting of bedpack manure reduced the volume of the windrow by 50-60% (visual estimate). 
  • Mature compost windrows were noticeably smaller and easier to load into the spreader due to the loose/friable texture of the material. 
  • Windrows that did not fully mature typically had fist size balls of material. 
  • The immature compost “clods” of material did not spread as uniformly when compared to mature compost.   
  1. There is an opportunity cost that encourages farmers to winter spread solid manure.
  • Hauling manure to a temporary storage or a composting site will require the manure to be handled again during a time of year when more tasks are demanding the farmers attention. 
  • The increased nutrient density and reduced weight/volume of composted manure were deemed as enough of a benefit by some farmers to overcome the benefits of immediate winter land application. The improved handling characteristics of composted manure allowed several farmers who participated in the grant to haul manure (nutrients) to outlying fields and in some cases out of the Yahara Watershed. 
  • To achieve widespread adoption of composting in lieu of winter manure spreading some form of  incentive payment will likely be required.

Project Outcomes

235 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
2 Grants received that built upon this project
3 New working collaborations
Success stories:

As a result of a tour by Wisconsin DNR staff Yahara Pride Farms will be meeting with state and federal agency staff to discuss the use of composting to reduce pathogen content in manure. This is especially important to farmers and citizens in areas where land application of manure can have a direct impact on water quality. The collaboration will also look at updating the current siting restrictions for composting to reflect the reduced risk for soil and groundwater contamination. The siting restrictions are based primarily on the risks associated with stacking raw manure.

This winter a participant in the demonstration funded by the grant called to discuss continuing to work on composting. The farm is viewed as an opinion setter in the local farm community. In prior discussions the farm seemed non-committal about continuing with in-field manure composting. The demonstration proved to the farm that manure is easier to handle following composting and has enhanced nutrient benefit when applied as a fertility source.

Information Products

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.