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Nutrient recycling
Manure transforms from nuisance to beneficial
Farming Manure Compost
Windrows were created at a Wisconsin farm to assist the composting process for manure.

With the protection of natural resources in mind, manure composting is taking root in Wisconsin.

Jason Fuller, a rural Richland Center native, has started a consulting business, Carbon Cycle Consulting, to assist farmers with composting manure—transforming a smelly resource into a product ready to apply to crops or substitute as animal bedding.

Fuller said he happened across composting by accident. He was helping at some Madison area farms when he started looking into ways to remove the water from manure to make it easier to handle. He bought a composter, was shown how to use it and took a course on composting. Now he has established his business to help others learn of the practice and how to implement it on their farms to prevent manure run-off and create better plant food.

“I looked at it as a way of handling manure more economically,” Fuller said. “There are more benefits than I thought.”

The most noticeable benefit was the reduction of odor while processing and the elimination of odor while applying the product to the fields. The composting process adds air to the manure, allowing the bacteria to break it down quicker.

Liquid manure spread on fields has a greater chance of entering the watershed and polluting waters. The risk of environmental contamination is greatly reduced with manure in a compost form. Plus, the micronutrients found in raw manure are converted to more biologically stable compounds in a composted product. The finished product can be transported and stored without any specialized equipment and can become an unlimited, re-useable bedding source for animals.

Fuller’s research and implementation has been focused on dairy farms, but he said the process would work for any biological product. He said the city of Stoughton uses a similar process for composting leaves.

Fuller said he’s trying to find an efficient and convenient way to copy nature. He traveled to Germany and Austria to learn from their successfully established composting systems. The process he uses removes liquid from the manure by spreading it into long rows on top of carbon-based material, such as old bedding or feedstock. After the moisture levels are at 65 percent or below, additional manure is added and the process repeats until the row reaches 3-4 feet deep. The lane is then pushed together to make a 6-7-foot pile resembling a windrow. The windrow is actively turned with a tractor-powered mobile compost turner approximately 12 times in a three- to five-month period. At the two-month mark, it can be determined if the compost will be used as bedding or a crop nutrient. If it will become a nutrient, soil testing will be done to determine if anything should be added to benefit the crops it will be used for. Eventually the row will be digested by microbial activity and converted into a dark, black humus-rich product.

 “Raw manure itself is not a plant available material,” Fuller said. “When applied to fields as a liquid product, the manure has too much nitrogen and can burn the plants. It first has to be converted by microbial colonies to be used by the plants.”

Fuller has been studying the composting process and said he believes there is a direct increase in the yield where the compost product is applied, decreasing the cost of production for those crops. He said the composting method has been especially helpful for organic farmers that are limited on the products they can use to increase yields.

“Farmers already have resources,” Fuller said. “Anything that was biological can be transformed into another form. Manure has to be digested before it can be used again. The composting method mimics nature.”

It can transform manure from a liability to an asset for a farm.

“One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard is that too much manure is making it into the watershed,” Fuller said. “It’s too expensive to move the liquid manure from the source. Compost is much more economic. If you don’t have land to spread it on, it becomes a product that is easily transported and can even make the farmer a little money.”

Fuller said the composting can eliminate the need for liquid manure systems.

“Farmers are now holding manure until they have the time or the right weather conditions to move it,” Fuller said. “During that time, it continues the gather water. With an automated composting process, within eight weeks you can have a finished product.”

Fuller said the compost makes a better bedding product for animals compared to sand. The sand can be abrasive to both the animal and the equipment. The compost is also a better absorbent and is re-useable.

Fuller said the biggest hurdle he’s seen is getting farmers in a different mindset about their manure storage.

“They’ve probably spent a lot of money on a manure pit and it’s hard to believe that there is a better way,” Fuller said. “Both systems can work hand-in-hand.”

Fuller said the next step is to automate the process. There are several examples of automated systems throughout the world that can be efficiently built and economically operated. The automated system can reduce the timeline from three to five months to approximately 60 days for a bedding product.

Fuller currently works with farmers from the Dubuque, Iowa, area to the Fox Valley region south of Door County, Wisconsin.

For more information, contact him at 608-370-4926.