Know Your Numbers on Animal Waste

— Written By Mitch Smith
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According to the Pitt County Soil and Water Office, there could be as many as 8 waste lagoons closures in 2024. For these operations, this means that solids and effluent will need to be removed and land applied in a responsible manner.

Before you agree to the application of livestock waste to your farm in an effort to reduce fertilizer costs, there are some things that you need to know. Specifically, while these applications can be useful in providing essential nutrients to crops, it is important to know that the nutrient and heavy metal contents in these materials. Over the past few years, reports of zinc toxicity have been diagnosed on fields in Pitt and surrounding counties.

Animal waste can be analyzed for its nutrient levels by taking a waste sample and having it analyzed through the NCDA&CS Agronomic Division in Raleigh. There is a fee of $8 for this analysis.

According to Dr. Stephanie Kulesza, Assistant Professor & Extension Specialist (Nutrient Management & Animal Waste) at North Carolina State University, waste analysis sample results are usually available in less than a week and provide valuable information regarding not only the nutrient content of macronutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium but also micronutrients such as zinc and copper. The information that is provided from a waste report is critical to understanding how much waste can be applied and also estimating how zinc and copper levels will be affected on your farm. Over application of zinc and copper can reduce farm productivity in the years to come if these numbers are not known. It is also important to have a plan and agreement with the owner and the sludge source and the applicator should something go wrong on your land.

Lagoon sludge should not be applied to land used for peanut production due to the crop’s sensitivity to zinc. According Andy Burlingham, Pitt County Livestock Agent, it is important that when waste is applied to be sure to use a licensed and bonded applicator in order to have the confidence that spreading will happen evenly and at the correct rate. There is little remediation to correct toxic levels of this metals that occur in soils.

Since zinc is used as an additive in animal feed in order to assist the digestive process and improve immune function, breeding and nursery operations can be expected to have the highest level of zinc in lagoon sludge.

Contact the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Pitt County Center at 252-902-1704 for more information.