Grain and oilseed growers are cutting their production costs by exercising the recycling option and using livestock manure to displace some of the commercial fertilizer normally applied to boost crop quality and yield. With strong prices for most crops, growers are anxious to maximize yields. However, dramatic increases in the cost of commercial fertilizer, especially nitrogen and phosphorus, have tempered that enthusiasm. Many growers are considering trimming application rates to save dollars while others are looking more favorably at using the nutrients contained in swine manure.
Bruce Dalgarno, who runs a grain and oilseed operation near Newdale, Manitoba, accesses liquid hog manure from a sow barn located on land adjacent to his. The sow barn operator covers the cost of hiring a custom applicator to apply the manure to land owned by Dalgarno and other neighbors according to the nutrient requirements of the crops to be planted.
Manure: Cost Effective But Requires Higher Management
“We pay a percentage of the nitrogen that’s put on and then he pays for the application cost so, in our instance, yea, we’re saving some money compared to commercial fertilizers,” says Dalgarno.
However, he points out, “You have a little bit more management that’s required.”
On Dalgarno’s farm the manure has to be applied in the fall. Attempts at spring application of manure were unsuccessful due problems with soil compaction.
Commercial Fertilizer offer Greater Flexibility than Manure Fertilizers
“Depending on mother nature,” Dalgarno observes there’s not a very big window for fall application. A lot depends on the availability of the custom applicator, where he is and how much work he has.
“If the hog producer doesn’t get there in the fall then you have a problem in the spring. You’ve got to go back and put commercial stuff on in the spring.”
Crop Rotation Considered Crucial
As well, Dalgarno notes, you have to know what crops will be planted on the manured field to allow the custom applicator to apply the correct amount of manure to meet the crop’s nutrient requirements.
Bryan Karwal, the Iowa Pork Producers Association District Five Director, feeds out about three groups of 1,500 to 1,800 head of feeder pigs each year on his operation located in southwestern Iowa. Most of the manure generated by the operation is used to fertilize crops grown by his brothers.
Depending on how much is needed, the liquid manure is injected into the soil in the spring and in the fall with most of it being applied to row crops and the rest applied to pasture land.
Manure Use Provides Cost Savings
“It definitely is a savings in fertilizer,” Karwal observes.
“If you had more gallons to put on then, of course, you could do more acres and it would be a larger saving.”
He concedes his operation isn’t large enough to justify tremendous numbers of acres but it’s a benefit to get the manure spread and it saves his brothers a little fertilizer.
“I think they cut back all of the P and K (phosphorus and potassium) on the corn and they may add just a little bit of nitrogen but not too terribly much. On some years they don’t need to.”
Sinnett Pork Farm at Leroy, Saskatchewan is a 2,600 sow farrow to finish operation which finishes half of the pigs it produces, generating around 6,000,000 gallons of manure per year. The manure is applied in the spring and in the fall using drag hose lines which can move the manure up to three and a half miles from the site.
General manager Jay McGrath explains, “Typically we try to put it on where we’re going to seed oilseeds. The rotation is a three year rotation which works good for our oilseed rotation as well because we have three years before we go back to that crop. Six thousand gallons an acre is what we’ve typically been going at and that seems to be working quite well.”
Manure and Soil Testing Key to Maintaining Proper Balance
Manure and soil analysis help ensure proper nutrient balances are maintained.
“We do soil samples and we also do samples per field of manure so, as they’re applying the manure, they’re collecting a sample for that particular field.”
The samples are then sent away for analysis.
Manure nutrient analysis and soil testing not only ensures the crops will have access to the nutrients they need. Testing also helps avoid the over application of certain nutrients.
Potential Phosphorus Loading Raises Environmental Concern
“The thing to watch out for in some manure sources is the nitrogen to phosphorus balance,” says Dr. Jeff Schoenau a soil research scientist with the Department of Soil Science at the University of Saskatchewan.
“If you’re applying manure to meet all of the nitrogen requirements and the manure is high in phosphorous you will end up over applying phosphorus year after year and you’ll end up with some loading issues. And it’s under those circumstances, where you build up that available soluble phosphorus in the soil, that you can run into problems with water moving across that soil carrying the phosphorus into water bodies. And that’s why paying attention to the balance of all nutrients is important.”
Brandy Street, the executive director of the Manitoba Livestock Manure Management Initiative (MLMMI) notes, “Like any system, when managed properly, you minimize the potential for problems but improper management techniques can lead to environmental risks.”
She explains, most of Manitoba soils are low to medium in phosphorus and will benefit from manure application but the risk of phosphorus loading has increased in areas of the province where livestock concentration is dense. In those livestock dense areas if manure is applied to meet nitrogen requirements of the crop, more phosphorus ends up being applied than the crop can remove and that results in a buildup of phosphorus and it could increase the risk of phosphorus loss to surface water. So for that reason the Manitoba government has introduced new regulations that will require, at high soil test phosphorus levels, manure application to be based on phosphorus removal by the crop.
Dalgarno uses a combination manure application and commercial fertilizer applications to address the environmental concerns.
“We try to do this application once every two years or once every three years so you’re doing commercial fertilizers in between. You’ve got to make sure that you’re not going to end up with a high level of one type of nutrient over the other,” he says.
“We’ve got two or three fields that are right close to the hog barn so they essentially do one field every year. You can rotate your crops on it accordingly.”
Manure Offers Results Equal to Commercial Fertilizer
As for the effectiveness of swine manure fertilizer compared to commercial fertilizer in terms of crop production, Dalgarno observed, “No difference in crop quality and yield.”
“We had applied some commercial fertilizers on that same field and had test strips and there really wasn’t any difference in build-up of nutrients. They (crops) had all used it according to what they should have so that worked out quite well,” he says.
“We’ve got a yield monitor on our combine and map the yield as we go across and there was no difference when we went across the area that had the commercial fertilizers applied compared to the manure that was applied,” he adds.
Dalgarno notes the economics will vary from farm to farm but he estimates displacing commercial fertilizer with hog manure saves dollars per acre on his farm.
More Manure Would Create Higher Cost Savings
McGrath agrees, “It’s very valuable. We could sell this to our neighbors but we want it because it’s good stuff.”
Sinnett Pork Farm actually buys as much manure from neighboring hog operations as possible in recognition of the value of it.
"We don't have enough manure to do all of our land. We have a fairly big size grain farm so it only does a portion of it."
Karwal says, in Iowa, the producer that is getting the manure usually pays for the hauling in exchange for the fertility value.
He notes, “There’s even some talk about possibly selling the hog manure because the price of fertilizer has gone up so much. It’s actually worth a little bit more than the hauling. I think the hauling probably is now running 45 to 50 dollars an acre for a full rate. It’s not cheap to haul it but then, your fertilizer is going to be over 100 dollars per acre.”
Livestock and Crop Partnerships Create Win Win Situation
Dalgarno considers the use of manure to fertilize crops to be a win win for the grain farmer and for the hog farmer. The hog producer is selling his weanlings out of the one end of the barn and he has another product, manure, coming out of the other end.