The spreading of cattle manure has been a key part of a farmer’s work for centuries.
However, the world is changing. Increasingly larger volume of manure are being spread, at increasingly longer distances and at an increasingly faster pace. Changing farming practices and growing unit sizes make it necessary to view traditional work methods from new perspectives.
Efficiency has its flipside, and farmers avoid receiving manure on occasion, or attempt to get rid of it in the easiest possible way.
Farmers are familiar with the key challenges related to the use of manure. The nutrient content in relation to the work contribution is regarded as low, the time of spreading is often less than optimal, and the equipment used for spreading may be harmful for the structure of the soil. Weeds and the risk of disease give raise to concern.
Providing guidelines for manure use often poses challenges, as the types of manure and their availability in different parts of Finland vary a great deal.
With regard to arable farming, there is a clear division between the part of Finland where crops are cultivated and those parts where grass is grown, with the different parts of the country exhibiting highly varied agricultural production and different practices related to manure. The soils in cattle raising areas are naturally and clearly more organic than in Southern Finland.
How, then, should such differences be taken into consideration when planning the nutrient cycle? While the recommendations for mineral fertilisers and the fertilisers themselves are fairly similar across the country, the use of manure and recycled fertilisers must always be assessed on the basis of local conditions, soils and the types of manure.
Manure often produces the best fertilising effect in such fields where it has been used sparingly over the years or the natural fertility of the soil is low in other respects.
The use of manure sometimes produces surprisingly negative reactions. Manure has even been regarded as the primary reason for the eutrophication of waterways.
However, research and statistics do not appear to support this argument, as the risk of nutrients leaching into waters is primarily caused by other factors such as the degree of clayness of the soil, the volume of fertilisation, a large amount of phosphates in a soluble form in the surface layer, the gradient of the field and its susceptibility to erosion.
The use of mineral fertilisers can be adjusted – they can be spread in smaller or larger quantities – but manure production cannot be adjusted – animals produce manure whether or not we want it. The most sensible solution is to take maximum advantage of manure and then decide whether additional fertilisation is required.
Regarding the problems of manure use referred to in the beginning of this article, the government now offers an excellent helping hand. One of the priority projects of the government provides significant support and new solutions to the sector. Anyone interested in the issue is welcome to contact us.
Published in Finnish in Maaseudun Tulevaisuus on 3 October 2016.