One of my first farm calls in my Michigan State University Extension career was unforgettable. I tagged along with another agent to work with an older producer to talk about starting a new bookkeeping system. When we asked him what he was currently doing, he jumped up, pulled down the attic door, and retrieved his current record keeping system. It was a bent coat hanger with every receipt of every farm item speared in chronological order. We all have our “comfortable” routines, but eventually we have to confront the need to implement new ways of doing things. Some special recordkeeping is necessary for farms to comply with Right To Farm Guidelines. They aren’t very difficult but there are 3 key items you need to have on hand if a RTF complaint is ever lodged against your farm.
A copy of your manure test(s). Manure must be tested at least once/year so you will need to make sure you have a current (within the last 12 months) test result on file. Plus, knowing the nutrient content of your manure will help you determine application rates and on which fields to apply.
There are many laboratories that do nutrient testing of manure. Be sure to ask for the regular test as well as ammonium N test (usually an extra charge) and organic N. Tests normally run around $30/sample for these. The total nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and sulfur content of manure and other organic materials is determined for the sample. An estimate of first year availability is listed for manure samples when the animal species has been provided.
The test is only as good as the confidence you have in pulling a representative manure sample. The University of Wisconsin is just one laboratory in the area that tests, but it has good information on how to pull a sample from various types and forms of manure. Go to their lab site to learn “how to” on sampling and interpreting your test results.
All manure applications must be recorded; these records will also be requested if a RTF complaint is lodged against you. It’s important that all persons, employees and owners both, have an understanding and commitment to keep accurate and thorough records. Writing each load down on a calendar is fine or keep a small notebook in each tractor used for manure application. Be sure to record date, and rates of manure application for individual fields. This can be tick marks of how many loads per field plus field acreage, and size of each load.
Soil tests are the third set of records that you will need to provide. All fields must be tested within the last three years. If soil tests are older than that, you may not apply manure on them until they are updated.
Following Right to Farm guidelines provides nuisance protection if and when a complaint is filed on your operation if you are following RTF recommended practices.
A special note; no matter why the RTF complaint was lodged against you, whether for odor, noise or whatever, these three records will be among the first the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development representative who investigates the complaint will ask for. Having these three key records can save you headaches down the road; plus they are also key pieces of management information that will enable you to make better decisions for increased profitability.