Why do livestock farms spread manure on wheat fields?

Posted: August 18, 2021

Answer: We grow winter wheat and harvest it in July so we have the summer months to apply hog manure on the wheat ground. We empty our manure pits and the manure provides fertility to our soils.

Northern Illinois agriculture is largely dominated by corn and soybeans – green fields everywhere you look in the summer months. However, occasionally, a field of gold catches the eye.

We drill winter wheat in September of each year, right after soybeans are harvested from the field. Then in July we harvest our winter wheat crop on Hartmann Farms.

Like other livestock producers in the area we grow winter wheat in order to have open fields to spread manure in the summer months. The straw is also used by livestock producers for animal bedding over the cold winter months.

After the wheat is harvested and the straw is baled, almost immediately, we begin hauling manure and incorporating it into the soil. On our farm, this is the main purpose of the winter wheat crop – manure ground.

It will take a few weeks to spread the manure, depending on the weather, to empty all the manure pits. We prefer to do this in the summer because of the labor and time commitment. Harvesting corn and soybeans in the fall takes months to complete. On our farm, we cannot spare the equipment or people from the harvest operation to spread manure at the same time.

All our hog buildings are built over a pit which collects the waste from the hogs, as well as water waste from pressure washing. Each pit is designed based on the number of animals the building can house and how often it will be pumped out. It is common to have an eight-foot deep pit under the entire square footage of the confinement, which is roughly enough storage for one year.

A manure spreader injects manure into the soil as a fertilizer source for row crops.

To apply the manure, we use an implement called a manure spreader (also known as a honey wagon) pulled behind a tractor. It consists of a large tank for holding liquid manure and uses large tillage knifes to open the soil, then a set of pumps to inject the organic waste directly into the ground. Incorporating the manure in this way reduces ground run off and helps keep the smell minimized.

Manure is an incredibly useful commodity in the agricultural world. Animal waste can be used as a fertilizer source for row crops, pastureland, and hay ground. It is an excellent source of Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium (N, P, & K) – the macronutrients we focus on in the application of commercial fertilizers.

On fields we apply manure, we can greatly reduce the amount of commercial fertilizer we need to apply. Additionally, manure restores many other nutrients and organic matter, helping to build overall soil fertility and quality.

If you drive by a farmer spreading this liquid gold, know they are doing great things for the soil, but we do recommend you keep your windows rolled up!