Project transforming manure, mulch from ‘waste to worth’

· 2 min read

Project transforming manure, mulch from ‘waste to worth’

Backhoe in manure

A University of Nebraska–Lincoln project to transform manure and cedar mulch from “waste to worth” has received an $81,949 grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust.

Amy Schmidt

Crop fertility and soil management decisions are often based on a goal of maximizing crop yield. While achieving maximum yield is a worthwhile aspiration, increasing inputs, such as fertilizer, to a system at a cost greater than the value of the incremental yield improvement is a poor financial decision. It also can be a major contributor to nitrate leaching into groundwater and nutrient runoff to surface waters. Where soil has not received organic amendments for many years, soil health and productivity are likely to decline, making nutrient use by plants less efficient and soil less resilient to erosion, crusting, ponding and pests. Microbes and organic matter in carbon-based amendments are critical to maintaining good soil structure and function.

Two soil amendments known to benefit plant productivity — manure and mulch — are often not used in crop systems due to economic, social and behavioral barriers, said Amy Schmidt, associate professor of biological systems engineering and project lead.

“Demonstrating the value of manure and mulch to cropland under varying management regimes and soil conditions, telling a compelling story about profitability versus yield alone and delivering consistent educational messages around these topics are critical to increase stakeholder confidence in identifying situations where profitability can be maximized and soil resilience improved with manure and/or mulch addition,” she said.

The Nebraska Legislature created the NET in 1992. Using revenue from the Nebraska Lottery, the trust has provided more than $349 million in grants to more than 2,400 projects across the state. Anyone — citizens, organizations, communities, farmers and businesses — can apply for funding to protect habitat, improve water quality and establish recycling programs in Nebraska. The NET works to preserve, protect and restore the state’s natural resources for future generations.

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