OMAFRA REPORT: Using the 3R’s to advance the 4R’s

A weekly report prepared by the staff of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). If you require further information, regarding this report, call the Elora Resource Centre at 519-846-0941.  Office hours: 8:30am to 4:30pm.  For technical information, call the Agricultural Information Contact Centre at 1-877-424-1300 or visit the OMAFRA website: 

Using the 3R’s to  advance the 4R’s 

In much of Europe there have been restrictions to applying manure only during the growing season. There the technology has been perfected over time to meet those needs. Wouldn’t it be fitting to bring the technology to Ontario without the same application restrictions? 

Application equipment in Europe is being fine-tuned with the potential to monitor phosphorus and nitrogen levels on-the-go and adjust them to meet pre-set requirements. Application booms have been set up to look like sprayer booms with drop hoses spread at intervals similar to sprayer nozzles on 10 inch (25 cm) spacings. They have been designed to allow manure application to occur in several different crop scenarios. This equipment in Ontario would have opportunities from early spring application onto wheat crops; or to forage crops post-harvest; to side-dress application into standing corn and even to edible bean and canola crops before or after planting. Post wheat harvest, application can occur with cover crops, including “laying down” the manure under the crop canopy for red clover stands. Narrow spacing allows greater uniformity and placement where the roots can access the manure more quickly. Manure flows through the multiple small hoses with the help of a series of macerators, capable of chopping manure solids and preventing plug-ups and time-consuming clean-outs. 

Increased precision in manure application seems like a logical investment for custom applicators. The increased options for spreading out the manure application season into the summer months would help balance the cost of the technology.

However, according to some applicators, the barrier to advancing this technology into Ontario is the garbage or debris that is in many manure storages.

Plastics contamination of some municipal waste have been a barrier to using some of these products on farm fields. But sadly, it is also an issue in the manure storages on many farms. So, in this era of one-time use plastics and waste that Canadians are slowly transitioning away from, is it time to train employees, farm staff and visitors doing work in barns to use garbage containers? Containers for plastic and glass waste should be in every barn. Signage reminding everyone not to litter: that the manure storage is the farm’s fertilizer and organic matter source, may help with changing attitudes around waste disposal. 

It’s time to use the 3-Rs (Reduce, Re-Use, Re-cycle) to help to advance the 4R’s (Right source, Right time, Right place, Right rate) of manure nutrient stewardship.

Written by Christine Brown, Field Crops Sustainability Specialist, OMAFRA.