Wheat fields are firming up across Ohio and topdressing with nitrogen fertilizer has started. We have had less precipitation than usual, and more livestock producers may be considering applying liquid swine manure as a topdress for wheat.
The key to applying the correct amount of manure to fertilize wheat is to know the manure’s nitrogen content. Most manure tests reveal total nitrogen, ammonia nitrogen and organic nitrogen amounts. The ammonia nitrogen portion is readily available for plant growth. The organic nitrogen portion takes considerably longer to mineralize and generally will not be available when wheat uptakes the majority of its nitrogen before mid-June.
Most deep-pit swine finishing manure will contain between 30 and 40 pounds of ammonia nitrogen per 1,000 gallons. Finishing buildings with bowl waters and other water conservation systems can result in nitrogen amounts towards the upper end of this range. Finishing buildings with fixed nipple waters and surface water occasionally entering the pit can result in nitrogen amounts towards the lower end of this range.
In past years, some farmers have used sow manure to topdress wheat. Just know the nitrogen amount in sow manure will be much lower than swine finishing manure.
In university research, we have used both manure tankers and drag hoses when topdressing wheat. The concern with manure tankers is soil compaction, especially on heavy soils. The drag hose seemed to work well wherever it was used.
The typical application rate for liquid swine finishing manure on wheat is 4,000 gallons per acre. Wheat removes 0.49 pounds of P2O5 per bushel harvested. When also harvesting the wheat straw, a ton of wheat straw contains between three and four pounds of P2O5. So, a 100 bushel wheat crop with one ton of straw also removed would withdraw about 52 pounds of P2O5 per acre. This is likely about the same amount of P2O5 as 4,000 gallons of swine finishing manure would contain but review your manure test to make this determination.
When applying livestock manure to wheat it’s recommended to follow the NRCS #590 Waste Utilization Standard to minimize potential environmental impacts. This standard includes a 35 foot wide vegetative strip setback from ditches and streams. Applicators in the Western Lake Erie Basin also need to look at the weather forecast to be certain there is not greater than a 50 percent chance of a half-inch of rain in the 24 hours following manure application when surface applying. Print this forecast so you have proof in the event of a surprise rain downpour.