Jon Patterson’s dairy milks 1,100 cows on a farm that’s been in the family since 1832.
Patterson will speak at the Elite Producer Business Conference Nov. 14 at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. Click here for more information.
We have always put the environment in the forefront of our business, and it is our goal to leave the land in better shape than it was left to us.
Living in the Finger Lakes region of New York where we get more than 30" of precipitation a year, runoff from fields to the lakes and streams has been a concern. That is why we have tried to apply much of our manure to growing crops and do as little tillage as possible.
When the dairy was built and we milked 350 cows, we pumped and spread manure one day a week, all year long. As we grew to 650 cows, the under-barn pit that once held one week’s manure would only hold two to three days of manure.
That, and one very wet year, led us to look into storing the manure. So, we applied for a grant to put in a separator to compost barn and manure storage. This allowed us to recycle the solids for bedding and to apply the manure at a more environmentally friendly time on a growing crop in the summer.
This just happened to be the worst time for neighbor relations, and we received many complaints from people and town officials about the odor. One custom manure applicator told me it reminded him of pig manure. This forecast led us to revert back to applying before planting and after harvest, when we could bury the manure with the soil.
We were not happy with this method, and we liked how composting took the odor out of the solid portion of the manure, which led to looking into aerobic digestion. There had been two or three digesters built in New York in the past few years, and the owners were very happy with the odor control of the liquids for land application.
I was also looking into how to cut our crop production cost. Eliminating tillage passes (minimum tillage) looked like a good option if we did not have to bury the manure. Timely application of the manure allowed us to reduce the amount of purchased fertilizer. The reduction of tillage not only saved us money in fuel and labor but is better for the environment because it allows for better water infiltration and less dirt leaving the fields with runoff.
After removing the solids from the manure, we did learn the hard way that you have to apply it at a lighter rate or aerate the soil to avoid manure runoff. With little solid content, the manure moves like water in the field and will run down spreader tracks, so we pull aerators behind the spreader to poke holes in the soil for manure to run into. We also pull an aerator with the drag hose for the same reason.
Now we can apply nutrients to a standing crop when it is the best time for the nutrients to be utilized by the plant, without getting any calls. We have also seen a jump in yields. Hay fields thrive from the nutrients in the manure put on just after harvesting hay.
Patterson’s recent prices
$21.71 (3.75 bf, 3.12 prt)
Alfalfa hay (milk cow)