Harris Report Concludes custom Sleightfoot manure application can be economically viable

Research and demonstration trials have clearly shown the agronomic benefits of the sleighfoot manure applicator (SMA). One would think that by now producers would be purchasing the SMA in droves. In reality, the response by producers has been cautious at best.

The main holdback has been financial. Rumors of outrageous costs have hurt the SMA. Even when realistic cost figures are used, producers still shake their heads and say they can spread manure cheaper the way they have been doing it for the last 25 years.

In her report on the viability of the SMA, agricultural consultant Andrea Harris set out to collect the economic facts on this system and present them back to producers in a straightforward manner.

The individual floating feet on the SMA ensure that slurry is deposited in neat bands beneath the leaf canopy of the grass.

The individual floating feet on the SMA ensure that slurry is deposited in neat bands beneath the leaf canopy of the grass.

In the end, Harris's results confirmed the hunch many producers were already feeling. An individual farmer purchasing a new vacuum tank with a SMA attachment will spend more in a year on manure management than a farmer purchasing the same-sized vacuum tank with a splash-plate attachment. But what about looking at some other options?

Using a computer spreadsheet model, Harris looked at a variety of test scenarios. For example, if a custom manure applicator offered a SMA service, would it be financially viable? Or if a farmer purchased a new vacuum tank with a splashplate attachment, would he save money over hiring a custom worker offering a SMA service?

The answers could shape the future of manure application trends in British Columbia. Though SMA ownership does not appear economically viable, manure application with a custom SMA looks very promising.

Assuming custom splashplate manure application on grass costs $15/acre, the farmer can pay up to $50/acre for custom SMA services and still save money. The difference is primarily due to the fertilizer savings a producer can expect with the SMA.

On the surface, the sensitivity analysis looks like the SMA wins in a cakewalk if you are using a custom worker. In reality, the custom worker may take up to twice the time to cover an acre with the SMA. Add to this the potential for hose blockage and the advantage is less than it seems. Still, a custom worker with a well-built SMA should be able to easily apply manure on grass for less than $50/acre.

Using the same assumptions, Harris evaluated hiring a custom SMA service versus purchasing a vacuum tank with a conventional splashplate applicator. She concluded that unless the farmer is growing over 150 acres of grass, the advantage goes to the custom SMA service.

Beyond the economic evaluation, Harris notes that some account must be made for a number on non-monetary benefits associated with the sleighfoot application system. These benefits include:

  • Reduced risk;
  • Flexibility in terms of application;
  • A reduction in odors;
  • Reduced environmental impact.

Because manure is applied in bands beneath the grass canopy, the risks associated with burning or fouling grass regrowth are reduced significantly. This provides farmers with greater flexibility in terms of applying manure after harvest. Reduced odors can be particularly important for farms located near urban areas. Finally, a reduced need for chemical fertilizers and a more efficient use of nitrogen provides environmental benefits in addition to cost savings.

Depending on the value farmers place on these non-monetary benefits, the SMA may be a viable alternative to conventional manure application methods. .

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