Benefits of manure
When managed responsibly, livestock manure is a valuable resource rather than a waste, which can help improve soil quality and add essential nutrients to the crop production system.
Manure is an excellent organic fertilizer, which contains:
- nitrogen (N)
- phosphorus (P)
- potassium (K)
- many other essential nutrients
Manure can physically benefit the soil by adding organic matter, which improves soil tilth and structure.
Because manure is organic, there is a perception that it cannot be harmful to soil or the environment. Adding modest amounts of manure to soil is very beneficial. However, too much over time can cause problems.
Manure and the environment
If not managed properly, livestock manure and its constituents – nutrients, salts, volatile organic compounds and pathogens – can negatively affect air, soil, ground and surface water quality. In addition, nutrient losses can be costly to an operation.
Nuisances and odours generated during manure storage, handling and application negatively affect neighbours. For instance, ammonia (NH3) gases volatilizing from manure during land application create strong odours.
Manure contains salts and trace elements. Excessive manure application rates can increase soil salinity levels, negatively affecting crop growth, soil productivity and soil structure.
Ground and surface water can be contaminated by manure nutrients (for example, nitrogen and phosphorus) and possibly pathogenic micro-organisms, either through direct contact or via surface runoff from applied manure. This can be the result of:
- excessive and repeated applications of manure over several years, resulting in soil nutrient overloading and nutrient loss via surface runoff
- poor handling or application of manure; storage or application too close to water wells or other water sources
- poor timing of manure application; rainfall or snowmelt events transporting applied manure from storage sites or fields
Beneficial management practices
Proactively managing manure by adopting beneficial management practices (BMPs) helps minimize environmental risks, provide the most value from manure and ensures a farm’s sustainability. BMPs are defined as any management practice that reduces or eliminates an environmental risk. They are site-specific practices that take into consideration legislation, practicality and operational needs for a specific operation. Applicability of BMPs depends on a number of factors:
- climatic zone of the farm
- type and number of animals
- total amount of manure produced
- how the manure is handled, stored and applied
- amount of land available to apply manure
- soil types on the farm
- types of crops grown
- crop yield potential
Targeted BMPs, tailored to the needs of each farm, can be adopted to reduce the environmental impacts associated with livestock production and manure management.
For example, you can use the following self-assessment tools in conjunction with the Nutrient Management Planning Guide and the Beneficial Management Practices – Environmental Manual for Livestock Producers in Alberta to tailor targeted BMPs for your farm or operation:
- Alberta Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) is a voluntary, whole farm assessment that helps create an action plan with targeted BMPs to address any risks associated with manure management.
- Alberta Phosphorus Management Tool (APMT) is a risk assessment tool looking at on-farm P management and provides options to reduce P losses with BMPs, taking into account general economic costs and environmental benefits.
- Wintering Site Assessment and Design Tool (WSADT) is designed to identify the environmental risks associated with extensive wintering sites and BMPs to address the risks.
For more tools and resources, see Manure and nutrient management tools and resources that can identify opportunities to realize more value from manure by helping to:
- identify manure related environmental risks
- evaluate BMPs to reduce those risks
- develop plans to mitigate those risks