IF you're looking for a cheaper source of N, P, K fertilisers West Beef feedlot director Carl Davies, Kalannie, says you should try the company's West Beef Cowpower.
Carl, along with his brothers Matt and Nicholas, have developed a system of turning cow manure into fertiliser and West Beef is now ready to sell the product on a commercial basis after several years of use on its own Kalannie farm, growing pastures, crops and ameliorating soil scalds in erosion-prone paddocks.
Several other local farmers are already using it as a part replacement of chemical fertilisers for cropping programs.
With between 10,000 and 15,000 head of cattle in the feedlot during the year, the brothers have a ready source of cow manure, with private sales to metropolitan garden centres and farmers.
The manure is harvested at an optimum stage and stockpiled, ready for spreading.
Once it is stockpiled it will stay moist and friable with any lumps easily dispersed by spinners on a spreader.
With the garden market in decline, the brothers see it as opportune to beef up (pun intended) the rural market, at a time when farmers are looking to reduce input costs on all aspects of farm operations.
"Our first grade manure costs $35 a tonne and you get the two-pronged benefit of providing nutrients to crops and pastures while conditioning the soil," Carl said.
"That's an enormous cost saving when you consider an equivalent NPK mix could set you back at least $800 a tonne.
"And we know it works because we're using it on our farm and we've had other farmers buying it from us who are achieving good results.
"Some are using it solely, replacing chemical fertilisers in their cropping programs.
"We mainly grow pastures, grasses and oats, and simply applying the Cowpower produces consistent and excellent growth, without the addition of any other chemical fertiliser.
"This summer we grew an opportunity crop of millet after a good rain event, using the Cowpower only and the crop performed above our expectations.
"In winter crops, we've found the nitrogen in the Cowpower is a slow release so crops don't tend to burn off if there's a tight end to the season and if you've got moisture, crops will hang on longer.
"It also works well to ameliorate soil scalds so we don't have to use any clay.
"Because it is so cheap it could be a clay replacement, which would alleviate a lot of costs associated with digging clay pits or carting from an outside source."
According to Carl, a one-off application of Cowpower won't achieve long term benefits.
"You do get results in the first year but we've found it is a compounding process and the more you do it the more soil improvement you get," he said.
According to Queensland consultant Dr Peter Wylie, feedlot manure is a valuable source of nitrogen and phosphorous for farm soils.
"Feedlot manure can supply a balanced mix of nutrients in a slow-release organic form while adding organic matter to the soil," Dr Wylie said.
"There is about five kilograms of phosphorous in each tonne of feedlot manure, with the nitrogen content about 16kg a tonne and potassium at 17kg/t."
Phosphorous and potassium should be available in the first year after application if the manure is incorporated into the soil.
The problem is predicting the release of nitrogen to decide how much nitrogen fertiliser is needed to supplement nitrogen from manure.
"The nitrogen in manure is an organic form, which has to be decomposed for it to be released for a crop," Dr Wylie said.
"Under dry weather situations, nitrogen should be applied at close to normal rates in the first year after application of manure.
"Under better moisture conditions, between 30 and 40 per cent of the nitrogen in manure may become available in the first year, provided the manure is incorporated several months before the crop is planted."
An application of 7.5t/ha of manure might have a total of 120kg of nitrogen, with between 30kg and 50kg available to the next crop.
Depending on conditions in the first year, less than a third of the nitrogen is likely to become available in the second year and only 15pc in the third year, requiring an appropriate top-up of nitrogen.
p More information: Carl Davies 0409 454 068.