American families are reeling at grocery store prices, and it doesn’t look to be letting up anytime soon. Farmers and ranchers are also being greatly impacted as their costs have increased dramatically. Meanwhile, American families, farmers, and ranchers are not seeing an increase in income to offset the high expenses.
Using a diverse supply of fertilizers is important from an economic standpoint. Even before the war in Ukraine, fertilizer prices were predicted to be abnormally high due to supply chain disruptions.
Food security is simply defined as “the state of having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.” As the human population grows, increased demands are placed on food production.
Even under the best circumstances, maintaining a reliable supply chain that provides affordable, abundant, and nutritious food relies on many industries and individuals working together. When one or more of these industries has a disruption, it affects the supply chain as a whole
Advancements in livestock farming, including manure handling technologies, offer opportunities to meet these demands and lessen disruptions. Composting, methods of storage and spreading, and biogas digestion are making it possible to maximize the benefits of organic matter for long-term crop production.
Just like people and animals, plants need nutrients to grow and thrive. Fertilizer adds nutrients to the soil just like a vitamin or mineral supplements a human diet. When plants grow, flower, bear fruit, and produce seeds, they absorb the required nutrients from the soil.
When nutrients are scarce, plants will not reach their full potential. In the case of agriculture, unhealthy plants produce fewer fruits, grains, or seeds and grow slowly or abnormally. They do not thrive due to unhealthy root systems and poor photosynthesis.
Nutrients in the soil are limited. When plants extract these nutrients in their growth cycle, they need to be replenished. This can be done at the end or beginning of a growing season to prepare for the next crop.
When fields are fertilized properly, studies have shown yields have an increased production between 30-50%. As it has been for generations, manure is a perfectly natural complement to today’s farming systems.
Livestock manure is an organic, workable alternative to manufactured fertilizers (petroleum-based), which have become extremely expensive. The prices have gone up for multiple reasons that involve political issues, global trade disruptions, and economic stresses. Inorganic fertilizer (like urea, nitrogen, and potash) prices have also gone through the roof and accessibility is limited.
Methods of managing manure not only make livestock byproducts useful but also keep our current food system more affordable. Without these alternatives, farmers and distributors would be forced to increase food prices to reflect the rising costs of production. Manure can help to “insulate” this effect and stabilize prices.
Digesters are another way to use these byproducts from animal production. Biogas digesters are designed to remove toxic gasses from manure and convert them to energy. In the process, the manure solids are concentrated and “cleaned.” This allows the product to become even more nutrient-dense with less wastage when spread on an open field. This type of manure is also easier to transport to farms where it is needed.
Poultry litter is an excellent and low-cost fertilizer. It is the organic matter left over from raising meat and egg production birds. The litter is known for being highly concentrated in nitrogen and has many benefits if used correctly. This quality makes it a great alternative or supplement to costly conventional applications.
These are just a couple of the many valuable byproducts from livestock production that are often overlooked and even criticized. Many types of livestock manures are used by fruit, vegetable, and grain growers. Livestock manure is a unique organic form of fertilizer that benefits everyone, even vegans who don’t purchase food products provided by animals.
Now more than ever, farmers are appreciating the value of livestock manure as a fertilizer that is accessible, affordable, sustainable, and valuable. Consumers may not be aware of these products, but they are also being impacted by their use. Without these products, food prices would be going even higher.
Manure is rich with the macro and micronutrients plants need to grow and become nutrient-dense foods. Unlike inorganic fertilizers, manure holds organic carbon, which increases the organic matter in soil. This in turn improves the soil’s water-holding capacity, cation exchange capacity, and composition.
About 70-80% of nitrogen, 60-85% of phosphorus, and 80-90% of potassium found in livestock feed are excreted in manure. By using a combination of organic and inorganic fertilizers, farmers can become more sustainable and efficient.
Crop farmers often use soil specialists (agronomists) to choose fertilizers. Agronomists test the soils to determine what is needed, then they work on finding the right balance of nutrients based on availability and cost. An agronomist may help a farmer stabilize the cost of production by reducing the need for inorganic fertilizers. Inorganic fertilizers have become very expensive due to the conflict with Ukraine and Russia (major suppliers of fertilizer ingredients).
The cost of production through the entire food supply chain (including manufacturing and trucking) is reflected in prices on store shelves. Livestock manure offers crop growers the opportunity to do their part in curbing price hikes.
In addition to helping keep food available and affordable, manure fertilizer helps farmers grow crops more sustainably. Manure added to soil helps increase organic matter. When manure is added to soil, organic matter is increased. This not only increases soil quantity but soil nourishment too. When this is done, the soil is like a sponge. The spongy soil functions as a carbon sink to safely store atmospheric carbon removed by plants in photosynthesis.
This creates a win-win-win-win situation for American families, livestock farmers, crop farmers, and the environment in a perfect cycle.
Learn more about nutrient composition HERE
Learn more about fertilizers HERE and HERE
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