Why Manure-Based Fertilizer?
What is Manure-Based Fertilizer?
Manure-based fertilizer (MBF) is a high-quality and regenerative fertilizer produced from dried and pelletized manure. Farmers commonly source MBFs from poultry manure due to its high nitrogen content relative to other manures and their ability to use warm air from henhouses to dry manure into pellets. MBF pellets are sanitized, easily transported, and deliver organic fertilizer to your crops and gardens year-round.

How is Poultry MBF Produced?
Collection and Drying: Poultry waste is collected and dried at a temperature of 20℃, or 68℉. Some systems use warm henhouse air to dry pellets, while others use ambient driers. The drying process typically lasts several days and can reduce the moisture content of the pellets, from 80% down to 15% as the pellets move through the drying conveyor.

Dosing and Pressing: The dried manure is weighed for the appropriate dosage and pressed into pellets. Pellets have several advantages over other manure formats. For example, pellets are easier to transport and handle than wet manure. And, unlike with their wet manure counterparts, pellets can be bagged and transported year-round. Wet manure is less dense, smellier, and much costlier to transport. 

Pelleted manure also more slowly decomposes than granulated or powdered manure, creating a slower and steadier delivery of nutrients in comparison to other fertilizer formats. As pelletized manure is compacted during both the drying and pressing process, pellets are also more nutrient-dense than a simple manure format. Finally, the pelletized format allows for easy field distribution using spreading equipment.

Sanitization: The manure pellets are then sanitized. Typically, pellets are heated to a temperature of 70℃, or 158℉, for a period of one hour in order to kill any bacteria remaining in the manure pellets. This sanitation process allows the pellets to be safely handled and transported because it reduces the spread of harmful pathogens like E. coli or Salmonella. 
Cooling and Bagging: As the heated pellets are soft, the pellets are then cooled to solidify and evaporate any remaining moisture. The pellets are finally bagged and ready for transport and sale. We can compare this to the production of synthetic fertilizers, where extracted elements (like nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and sulfur) are refined from inorganic products such as petroleum and then combined with filler agents to create a synthetic solution. As mineralized fertilizers have more readily-soluble nutrients in their compositions, synthetic fertilizers contribute significantly to nutrient leaching and nutrient runoff in soils. In general, chemical fertilizers offer a more narrow nutrient profile and contribute significantly to pollution, nutrient runoff, and carbon emissions in comparison to manure fertilizers. 

Wheat field comparison
Measurable Improvement: The portion of this wheat field on the left was fertilized with pelletized chicken manure, while the section on the right received only synthetic fertilizer. The overall NPK nutrient level was the same for both applications. As shown on the left, the improved microbial activity of the chicken manure fertilizer created wheat with longer stems, better water retaining capacity, and higher protein levels.

Composition of Manure-Based Fertilizer
Three elements are essential for plant growth: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). We use the "NPK" ratio to describe the ratio of the concentration of the three elements in fertilizer. Plants also need trace amounts of other micronutrients, like magnesium, calcium, and sulfur.

The NPK ratios of manure-based fertilizer vary, but we expect the typical poultry NPK levels to be around 5% nitrogen, 4% phosphorus, and 2% potassium, or an NPK ratio of 5:4:2. Because MBFs are produced from organic waste, they also contain trace amounts of other elements such as magnesium, boron, sodium, calcium, and sulfur that are often absent in synthetic fertilizer. Plants need trace elements for proper growth and development, metabolism, and chlorophyll synthesis, too, but in smaller quantities than macro-nutrients such as NPK.

The NPK concentration in manure-based fertilizer is lower than the nutrient concentration of conventional fertilizers. In fact, a large amount of the N, P, and K in manure remains locked into the organic fractions of the fertilizer. As the microbes manure degrades over time by microbes in the soil, the essential nutrients are "unlocked" from the fertilizer and delivered to the soil in small but steady doses, which do not overload the soil ecosystem with harmful levels of core nutrients. 

Advantages of Manure-Based Fertilizer Compared to Conventional Fertilizer
MBFs provide many advantages for growers, and for the environment, when compared to conventional fertilizers. For example, MBFs release nutrients slowly over time as they decompose. This delivers a steadier and longer-lasting stream of nutrients to crops. This contrasts with conventional synthetic fertilizers, which release nutrients quickly because the mineralized nutrients are more readily available in the synthetic filler. 

MBFs minimize environmental impact. Instead of deriving fertilizer from unsustainable sources like petroleum, MBFs recycle nutrient-rich animal waste and help farmers engage in circular farming, where resources are recycled to grow crops. This is also an excellent solution for livestock ranchers to limit the expenses of manure removal.

MBFs also minimize the environmental impacts of fertilizer use compared to the application of synthetic fertilizer. The nutrients available in the mineral fertilizers are quick to wash away from the soil (nutrient leaching). They subsequently enter our waterways, delivering unnaturally high levels of nutrients to the surrounding environment (nutrient runoff). This has myriad negative consequences. High levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in waterways proliferate algae, which smell bad, reduce oxygen content in water, and degrades local watersheds, killing ecosystems with toxic algal blooms. 

Additionally, the exceptionally high levels of nutrients in mineralized fertilizers degrade soil microbial activity. They inhibit and even kill healthy microbes in soil, which is necessary for soil health, stability, and even plant growth. Overall, MBFs are a much safer, regenerative alternative that helps farmers keep local ecosystems healthy. 

How Much Fertilizer to Apply to Crops or Gardens
Determining the appropriate amount of MBF fertilizer for your crops or garden depends on several factors, including soil fertility, crop type, nutrient requirements, and application method. However, a good starting point is to conduct a soil test. A soil test is the most reliable way to assess soil nutrient levels and identify deficiencies or imbalances. It determines both soil pH and the availability of nutrients within the soil. Home improvement and gardening stores sell soil kits. (We recommend purchasing a soil test kit from Waypoint Analytical, which offers a program where you can mail in your soil sample for analysis.) 

Based on the soil test results, you can calculate the amount of fertilizer needed to meet the specific nutrient requirements of your crops or garden based on your soil test's results. For example, if you determine that you need to apply 1 pound of nitrogen for every 10 square feet of garden area, then you need to first consider the nitrogen level of the fertilizer, and calculate how many pounds of fertilizer you need to buy to deliver the required pounds of nitrogen for your garden area.
Take, for example, a field or garden of 10,000 square feet (SF). After determining the specific nutrient requirements to be 2 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet, you decide to use a fertilizer with an NPK ratio of 4-3-2. Your calculation would consider these factors:
  • 2 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 SF needed
  • Therefore, 2 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 SF equals 20 pounds of nitrogen total for a 10,000 SF field.
  • A fertilizer with 4% nitrogen would need 25 pounds of fertilizer in order to contain 1 pound of nitrogen.
  • This means that obtaining a total of 20 pounds of nitrogen requires using 500 pounds of fertilizer if the fertilizer has an NPK level of 4-3-2. 
How to Apply Manure-Based Fertilizer
Several application methods are available because pelletized MBFs are easy to transport and broadcast onto the soil.

Home gardeners can sprinkle pellets on the surface of the soil surrounding their plants and fork the pellets into the soil. Follow the guidelines included with your MBF pellets to determine the appropriate quantity of pellets according to your specific plant and soil needs. Typical guidelines for a home garden are five cups of poultry MBF pellets per every ten square feet.

As Poultry MBF is nutrient-dense, be careful to avoid overspreading. Too high a concentration of any fertilizer, even manure pellets, can nutrient-burn plants. Nutrient burns are less likely with MBFs than with conventional fertilizer, given their slow release of nutrients over time, but a good rule of thumb to avoid nutrient burn is to keep pellets three inches from roots and stems. 

For farmers using MBF pellets on an industrial scale, MBFs can be broadcasted into the soil using spreader machines. Standard spreader machines that can broadcast MBFs include poultry litter spreaders or any type of pull-type broadcast spreader. Apply the MBF pellets right before planting or during a crop's peak growing stages to ensure that plants use the released nutrients and minimize nutrient runoff. For farmers in areas that freeze, applying pellets in the Fall can utilize the winter freeze to break up compaction.

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