Nutrient Management for Dairies

Zeolite will play an important role in the nutrient management plan of the future. We at IDA-ORE have worked closely with the Idaho Department of Agriculture and the EPA to have many Zeolite practices approved for better management practice points. We are currently working with the University of Idaho, Idaho Department of Dairy and Agriculture, CAFO, NRCS, Idaho Animal Health Laboratories, and the Idaho Association of Soil Conservation to proceed through the necessary studies needed for Zeolite to become recognized for all of its environmental benefits.

Much of the Nitrogen entering a farm as animal feed ends up as ammonium in manure, which is either volatilized as noxious ammonia or leached as nitrate. Zeolite captures this nitrogen. Environmentally, this improves the fertilizer efficiency of manure compost, as well as reduces nitrate leaching by inhibiting the nitrification of ammonium. Economically, Zeolite is conservatively capable of holding 4.3% by volume of Nitrogen, and 5.7% by volume of potassium and will exit the cow as fully bound and ready to be released though plant mineralization onto pastures and crops while adding value.

It should also be noted that nitrogen cannot be sequestered like carbon can, so reducing the emissions of nitrous oxide can play a large role in Agricultural Soil Management. Nitrous Oxide released from agricultural soils currently contributes almost 70 percent of the total nitrous oxide emissions in the US. Reducing Nitrogen losses from agricultural soils and manure has the potential to significantly reduce agricultural GHG emissions.

Although it remains a challenge to accurately measure the amount of nitrous oxide being emitted from farm fields due to many variables. We do know that nitrous oxide is roughly 300X more powerful than carbon dioxide in terms of GHG emissions and qualify for carbon credits. We also know Zeolite will bind and hold nitrogen in the manure, which in turn reduces the amount of nitrous oxide is released. As stated earlier, “Zeolite will play an important role in the nutrient management plan of the future.” Additional testing is needed to quantify this benefit for GHG credits.

Composting with Zeolite:

Zeolite has two methods of holding cations such as ammonium and plant nutrients:

1. Absorption into the porous matrix
2. Adsorption by cation exchange (CEC)

Zeolite holds ammonium and other nutrients in the crystal structure where they are not water soluble but are plant accessible on an as-needed and time-release basis. As discussed, Zeolite has a high affinity for the ammonium ion, is a plant usable form of nitrogen.

Zeolite adds value to manure and compost:

The introduction of Zeolite with the manure, compost, or lagoon water has many added benefits:

• Increased water retention
• The holding of nitrogen and micro-nutrients in the root zone
• Provides a medium for future capture of nitrogen
• Increased ion exchange capacity in the soil
• Enhanced infiltration and aeration of the soil

Water Retention:

Zeolite has numerous advantages in the area of water conservation and nutrient leaching prevention.

• Zeolite is capable of holding up to 50% of its weight in water.
• Tests have shown Zeolite can increase water infiltration by 7%-30% on gently sloped land and up to 50% on steeply sloped land.
• Soil moisture can be increased by 0.4%-1.8% in drought conditions and 5%-15% in general water situations
• Consequently, overland surface runoff is reduced, in turn protecting lands from erosion.
• Use of soluble N fertilizers is a major cause for groundwater contamination.

Zeolite reduces nitrate leaching by inhibiting the nitrification of ammonium to nitrate. The bound nitrogen has the capability to triple the number of nutrients actually being used by the plant instead of lost to volatilization and leaching. This affinity to nutrients can add significant amounts of nitrogen and potassium to soils.