Attendees were checking out manure application demos at the 2023 MSR.

Manure in a changing world

By Mary Wicks

It used to be that manure management technologies were a shovel, pitchfork, and wagon. And application was on the fields closest to the barn. But as the value of its nutrients and organic matter has become better understood, the focus has been on applying manure to best meet crop needs and capture more of the manure nutrients. Development of solid and liquid manure application equipment has allowed more even distribution, while toolbars that can inject manure minimize nitrogen loss from volatilization and protect the environment by reducing risks of nutrient runoff. The use of dragline hose systems that pump liquid manure from storage ponds or semi-trucks reduces manure tanker traffic on roads and in fields.

Recent technological advances in precision agriculture, which have focused on optimizing fertilizer use, are being applied to manure application. Grid mapping of soil test data, in conjunction with GPS and variable rate technology, allows manure to be applied at different rates across a field depending on soil characteristics, planned yields, and other factors. However, manure nutrients and dry matter may vary considerably throughout application, limiting the effectiveness of this method.

Fortunately, the latest technology, which uses near infrared sensors to measure the N, P, K and dry matter content of liquid manure in real-time, can further fine-tune application rates. And more advances are on the horizon. These ongoing efforts include development of sensors to measure soil characteristics in real-time. This technology will be more accurate and less costly than grid sampling and will further improve variable rate application. Another development underway is the conversion of manure to biochar, which has the potential to improve soil characteristics, release nutrients more slowly, and sequester carbon. While biochar has been made from manure, at this time the process is expensive and possible only in small-scale batches. One can only imagine how AI might someday affect manure management.

Learn more about manure . . .

The annual Manure Science Review (MSR) is a great place to learn about old and new manure management practices. This year’s program will be held Tuesday, August 6 from 8:50 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Molly Caren Ag Center near London, Ohio. A panel will discuss a new technology, the RAIN 360 autonomous irrigation system, including research on using it with liquid manure. There will be field demonstrations of the system and its base station operations. Presenters will also share the latest information on the H2Ohio program, best practices for manure application, and manure placement with subsurface drainage. Other demonstrations will include what to do in case of a manure spill, how to calibrate a solid manure spreader, and an autonomous tractor.

MSR registration is $25 by July 19 ($30 after that) and includes lunch. Continuing education credits have been approved for Certified Crop Advisors, ODA Certified Livestock Managers, OH Fertilizer Recertification, and Indiana State Chemist certifications. For details, go to or contact Mary Wicks (; 330.202.3533).

Mary H. Wicks is a Program Coordinator in the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering of The Ohio State University. E-mail: Phone: (330)202-3533. This column is provided by the OSU Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, OSU Extension, Ohio Agricultural Research & Development Center, and the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

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