After years of hauling liquid manure from their Fairfield County beef operation, Robert and Andy Wolfinger decided they needed to do something different to spread their nutrients over more ground.
“We talked to our agronomist and he had a friend who had started composting. We went to see him and see what we had to do to get in the business. We had the manure and we had trouble getting enough places to haul it every year close enough to home,” Robert Wolfinger said. “We started composting and we can scatter it out over more acres. We went from putting it on 100 acres to 500 or 600 acres and it takes some relief off of finding a place for our manure.”
The pen pack manure with corn stalks and wheat straw for bedding is hauled out in the spring and piled in windrows on a heavy use pad designed by and funded through the local Natural Resource Conservation Service Soil and Water Conservation District. The pad has a catch basin to collect any runoff from the composted manure.
The windrows are turned twice a week for 15 to 16 weeks to break down the manure into a rich, concentrated compost.
“We turn it a couple of times a week and when it gets really dry we’ll add water to it,” Wolfinger said. “We took soil samples this last year and part of our ground has enough nutrients that we didn’t have to put any more on this year. We buy commercial fertilizer for 800 acres of row crops but we almost have enough compost to cover all of it now. We put on 1,000 to 1,500 pounds of compost per acre. It is about the same analysis as a 10-10-10 or 12-12-12 fertilizer. We have a lime fertilizer cart and we broadcast
with it. With that cart loaded we can get over 10 to 12 acres.”
The soil quality is improving, yields have held strong and now they can more easily and efficiently transport the nutrients from the manure to the more spread out locations of the farm to benefit more ground and the environment.
“I think the soil is improving and our agronomist says the soil will get looser as we go along. We put dry fertilizer on the field with about the same analysis as the compost and the yield was the same. We can’t really tell any difference,” Wolfinger said. “We run about 400 cattle through this facility and we compost the pen pack from the winter. We bale 500 to 600 big round bales of straw and corn stalks. I’d say we save $50,000 to $70,000 a year in dry fertilizer. It was a big investment up front for the equipment but it has paid off.”