The right amount of animal manure in the right location can benefit crops, soil, and water resources. However, too much manure or manure in the wrong place is an environmental concern. A recent survey of attitudes from farmers and their advisors on the benefits and barriers for manure use indicates that there is widespread knowledge of manure value for cropping systems, but logistical and community barriers remain. The survey also found that all respondents rated peer-to-peer interactions as the most influential on their decision-making for these topics. Thus, more extension efforts should be focused in assisting AFO managers and advisors to communicate messages on the value of manure and strategies for overcoming barriers, among their specific networks. For example, knowledge of the relationship of manure and soil health benefits is low among some segments. Farmers and their advisors all have very low opinions and understanding of manure’s benefits to environmental quality. Helping farmers, educators, and advisors articulate among themselves and to their rural communities the water quality benefits of organic fertilizers when applied to only meet agronomic needs of the crop may need expanded investments. With these needs in mind a team from the Universities of Nebraska, Minnesota, and Iowa State, and the assistance of the North Central Region Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education program developed a library to provide educators and advisors with access to recommended resources that will assist in the discussion of manure’s benefits and challenges.
What Did We Do?
Consultation among the team identified the following categories of interest for readily accessible educational or outreach materials for manure impacts on:
- Soil health and soil quality
- Economics of production and yield
- Crop fertility
- Water quality
- On-farm research
And guidance to navigating barriers such as:
- Direct costs associated with manure use
- Odor and other community issues
- Agronomic challenges (such as imbalance nutrients)
- Logistical issues of application
- Using manure in specialty systems (such as organic production)
With the categories for materials established, the team conducted an initial survey of extant educational and outreach materials via general internet searches and review of content available through the Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Community. The types of content thus assembled were varied: social media content, video, summaries of research, published extension and scientific journal articles, websites, and other content such as podcasts and decision support tools. All were included since it was intended that these resources be helpful for educators, producers, or others to converse with their own networks easily and confidently on the manure topics identified. The team anticipated that users could use the library to expand their social media activity, and thus their communication networks, or to prepare more confidently to discuss manure via a local radio presentation or discussion with a county board. Or even to add an article to local print media or a blog or personal website. All items included in the library were free to repurpose (with attribution) in local outlets or personal sites.
After consultation, the library was built using Airtable ™, a platform to create low-code databases, tools, or other apps. This platform allows the team to internally build a flexible database of content which can be sorted easily into pre-set categories (for example, topics of specific seasonal relevant), and arrange content into easily perused views to improve the user experience on a platform that could be easily embedded into existing team sites, such as lpelc.org (Figure 1).
Each entry (Figure 2) in the library has an individual entry card, which includes keywords and text descriptions to improve searchability as well as a downloadable file, or links to the resource where appropriate, and a short example of how this material could be shared in the user’s social media network (recommended twitter text). The team intended to provide library users with not only the educational content, but also the means to improve their own in-network communication on manure topics. Accordingly, when posting to social media, hashtags, mentions and links to other content help (a) reach users who are following a specific topic (e.g., #manure), (b) recognize someone related to the post (e.g., @TheManureLady) and (c) direct users to more content related to the graphic (e.g., URL to online article). For our content library, each item is accompanied by recommended text that can be copied and pasted into the post of a social media engine if desired.
What Have We Learned?
Since its launch in 2021 the library has had 343 unique users, average time that each user spends interacting with the library is 129 seconds, a solid interaction time for a website – industry standard is 120-180 seconds. However, we do not have any measure for how time spent on the library page is transformed into use of the library content. It is evident that more work is needed to improve awareness of the tool among audiences of interest. To this end, the team decided to develop a recognizable brand for library materials which might help other potential users to find their way to the site (Figure 3).
Library administrators continue to look for ways to improve the library content, user experience, and awareness of the tool among potential users. An overview of content, accessibility, re-purposing, and submission of relevant material will be shared to publicize the resource, encourage utilization of available materials, and invite submissions of new content relevant to the manure management community.
Amy Schmidt, Associate Professor, University of Nebraska
Corresponding author email address
Leslie Johnson, Associate Extension Educator, Mara Zelt, Schmidt Lab Project Director, Amber Patterson, Schmidt Lab Media Communications Specialist, and Rick Koelsch, Professor Emeritus, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Erin Cortus, Associate Professor, and Melissa Wilson, Assistant Professor, University of Minnesota; and Dan Andersen, Associate Professor, Iowa State University
The full library is accessible at https://lpelc.org/value-of-manure-library/.
This product was assembled with financial assistance from the North Central Region Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education program. NCR-SARE is one of four regional offices that run the USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, a nationwide grants and education program to advance sustainable innovation to American agriculture.