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Aeration works for no-till, rocky hill farm

Shallow incorporation of manure is good for soil, crops, costs, and a college thesis.
Martha and Richard Place operate Hohl Acres in Central New York. Daughter Anne is including manure incorporation research in her master’s degree thesis at Cornell University. Together, they are evaluating the value of shallow incorporation on the rocky hillside fields at their Oxford, NY, farm.
Hohl Acres is one of 10 farms statewide that are working with Cornell University to compare the use of aeration, chisel plow and surface application of manure for conserving purchased nitrogen.  The research is funded by the New York Farm Viability Institute.
“We want to learn ways to reduce fertilizer and fuel costs while maintaining crop yield in our reduced-till system,” Richard says.
The Places manage 95 acres of corn and hay crops for both conservation and yield. They feed 34 milking cows and 32 Scotch Highland beef cattle.
“We like the overall efficiency of the aerator, says Martha. “The aerator is twice as wide as a chisel plow, so you cover a larger territory, while gaining the added benefit of incorporating manure without the aggressive tillage of conventional equipment or the additional nitrogen losses from no-till.” 
Anne, who will complete her thesis in Soil Science with a minor in Economics in May 2010, used the Manure Value Calculator (Cornell Nutrient Management Spear Program: to determine the manure credits available from the manure.
“The Calculator uses values from the manure nutrient analysis plus the application rate to provide N, P and K estimations for different manure application methods and timings,” Anne says. “This can be used in combination with soil test results to help determine optimal manure management on a field-to-field basis.”
Liquid manure trucked in from a neighboring farm was incorporated within one hour of application at a rate of approximately 8,000 gallons/acre.
“A large farm about three miles away supplied the liquid manure as we do not have storage. Because of the nutrient benefit of last year’s application and the application this spring, we did not need to buy fertilizer. That saved us about $1,000,” Martha says.
The Places applied 8,000 gallons of the neighboring farm’s manure to the research strips in spring 2009. Anne adds, “The basic soil test, ISNT (Illinois Soil Nitrogen Test) and end-of-season corn stalk nitrate test are the best indicators of soil N supply to help determine the need for additional nitrogen, or not, for next year’s crop.”
“We realized cost savings not only through using the manure as a nutrient resource but also by discovering our 100 horsepower tractor (instead of 150hp) was sufficient to pull the aerator,” Richard says. “Quantifying potential savings is hard since we have not used conventional tillage for a while now; however, the aerator pulls easier than the chisel plow so it would take less fuel per hour to operate.”
“As a small farm we cannot afford to maintain large equipment,” Martha says, “but aeration is certainly something we would contemplate in the future. The more you can do at the lowest cost to save time and fuel and not lose yield makes sense to do.”
The shallow incorporation research, with additional funding from the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program, continues through spring 2010. For more information, contact Anne Place, (607) 255-4822, or Quirine M. Ketterings, Cornell University Nutrient Management Spear Program, (607) 255-3061.



By Kara Lynn Dunn, NYFVI contributing writer

A version of this story appeared in the October 2009 issue of American Agriculturalist magazine.


Contact: Rebecca Schuelke Staehr, NYFVI communication specialist
                T: (315) 453-3823 extension 103

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