By Keith Roulston
I had to kind of chuckle at myself this spring when I, an old farm boy who edited this farming publication for many years, went to the local co-op store and bought several bags of composted cattle manure for my garden.
I live on a rural acreage surrounded by some the world’s best farmland. A beef cattle producer lives across the way and another just down the road in one direction and yet another just up the road in the other. We have a dairy farmer about a mile away. Hog and chicken barns are on the nearby sideroad. And I was buying composted manure!
I suppose at least one of my neighbours would have gladly agreed for me to take enough of their manure to fill up my little trailer that fits behind my garden tractor/lawn mower. But such is our modern prosperity that it was at least as easy to buy a few bags of non-smelly composted manure at the co-op.
There’s humour, too, in that composted manure when you think that so many protesters would prefer to get rid of all livestock because they see it as polluting our atmosphere with the ammonia that cattle burp or that manure from other livestock emits.
They ignore that manure is the forgotten ingredient in successful modern farming. When carefully applied to a field, it replaces more expensive commercial fertilizer and adds structure and essential ingredients to the soil. We had a couple of unpleasant days this spring when the cashcropper who farms the rest of the original farm on which we’ve lived for nearly half a century, had our poultry-raising neighbour spread manure on the ground where he was preparing to plant corn. Yes it smelled, but we survived.
I’m so glad that the Ontario provincial government backtracked on the plan, mentioned by so many of our columnists last month, to allow two additional homes to be built on each of our farms in rural Ontario. I can imagine in many farming neighbourhoods that at least a few of such new neighbours would have protested the smell from the spreading of that chicken manure. It would even be difficult building a new barn in an area where there are so many non-farm homes.
It is us, and non-farming people like us, who are the problems in the countryside. On the plus-side, we have kept a beautiful farmhouse alive and up to date instead of it being torn down when our neighbour needed this farm for his crops.
Still, we are residents in a house set 1,000 feet from the road. In the day when our house was subdivided from the farmland, the object was to make the process simple. The result was a property that’s 150 feet wide back to behind our house, nearly five acres. A farmer grows hay on some of that, but we also have a huge lawn which is a total waste if you value growing corn, beans and wheat.
Some people see manure as a polluting problem. Those who appreciate modern farming see it as a smelly blessing. My neighbours who have cattle, have fields dedicated to pasture and growing hay, where deep roots of the plants take the nutrients dropped by the cattle deep down into the soil. Years in pasture or hay, add nutrient structure to that land.
Manure is important for many organic farmers who avoid applying most commercial fertilizers in growing their crops. Manure, composted to seal in the valuable ingredients, is an important asset to their farm balance.
And – I chuckle at the thought – some corporation makes money while employing people to compost, bag and sell that manure to my co-op so people like me can buy it. Manure has even greater value to my neighbouring farmers but it’s not as evident as this. ◊