There’s a new way to do an age old farm chore — spread manure. Most Vermont farmers use sprayers on tank trucks. But long hoses can now take manure from its source to the fields. It's a high-tech method that yields many benefits recently demonstrated at Vermont Technical College in Randolph.
Manure may be good for crops, but it can be bad for the environment. Heavy gas-guzzling tank trucks carry the fertilizer to farms, often on fragile back roads, driving slowly through fields as they spray. Excess phosphorous and nitrogen can cause air and water pollution. But now farmers can apply manure more efficiently with less runoff using what's called a drag-line.
At a tour for local farmers a large pump slurps up manure from a holding pit. It shoots into bright yellow hoses. They snake to a sprayer pulled by a tractor in a distant field. Pete Howe, the farm operations manager at Vermont Technical College who demonstrated the technology at the Randolph Center campus, says in the future he hopes to inject the manure directly into the ground.
“That will allow us to get the manure from this pit to the field in the ground having less volatilization, more nutrient uptake and less environmental damage due to run-off,” Howe explains.
Howe says VTC got a grant to buy this equipment from an Iowa-based company called Bazooka Farmstar. Salesman Steve Pittman shows it off as visitors tramp through the grass, following the hose from the pit to the field.
Pittman says on an earlier dry run the system applied 45,000 gallons of manure in just half an hour —much more quickly than tank trucks would.
“It would take them half a day with trucks. [As well as the] fuel,” he says.
And heavier manure trucks, he notes, compact soil, costing a farmer up to 15 bushels an acre of crop. The hoses are not as damaging.
To end the demo Charlie Dana, the crop manager for the VTC farm, starts up the tractor. He can activate the spreader using a cell phone, and a computer keeps track of the flow rate and pressure. It's a far cry from the way his family used to pull a manure spreader — with horses.