Written by Marty Rost, Environmental Specialist
The last two manure application seasons were the most difficult seasons I’ve dealt with. Excess rains, early snow and cold made the 2018 fall one we’d all like to forget. If that wasn’t enough, the 2019 spring turned out to challenge many nutrient management plans as well. A challenging application season sometimes makes it hard to justify manure’s value, and even more so when you have two bad seasons stacked on top of each other.
Fortunately, many of the farms that I manage manure for were bailed out by the availability of applying manure to Prevent Plant Acres. This extended the application season. We’ll see how that plays out for corn prices later.
As you all know, swine manure has many benefits that help improve the soil fertility. Aside from the ever-popular discussions about nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (NPK), manure provides many other micronutrients such as sulfur, calcium, magnesium, sodium, copper, iron, manganese and zinc. Manure from a farrow-to-wean operation could generally yield $10-20/acre in value from these micronutrients.
NPK are the most commonly talked about nutrients that are needed by the crops we grow. It is important to remember that the amounts of these nutrients varies from barn to barn and region to region. Some of these reasons include herd diets, water quality, manure storage facilities and many other factors.
For instance, manure coming from an uncovered manure storage structure will have less nitrogen than if it’s coming from a covered manure storage structure due to volatilization of the nitrogen. That’s why it is critical that you test the manure and use a good sample history to determine the application rate. If you do not do this, it could result in wasting nutrients or depriving your crop of needed nutrients. Once application is complete, make sure to submit manure samples from the manure that is applied. Calculate from those results what nutrients your fields received and if supplemental nutrients are needed.
The value of NPK from a farrow-to-wean operation will generally be in the $10-$25/1,000 gallon range. Depending on soil and crop needs, the value per acre will hit anywhere from $100 to $225 per acre. Likewise, manure from finishing facilities could range from $30-$60/1,000 gallons.
As with most practices, there are a few cons that come with using manure. Some include soil compaction, wet application conditions, early application leading to nitrogen loss, inconsistent nutrient distribution, tracks and ruts, just to name a few. However, many of the cons can be mitigated by proper planning, communication, patients and working with the applicator.
If I’ve learned one thing over the years, it’s to take advantage of every pumping opportunity when it’s there. If the ground is fit and you have access to an applicator, apply some manure. You never know what the next weather pattern or challenge may bring.
Also, be patient when working with custom applicators. Applicators get held up by weather just as much as farmers. If you are fortunate enough to have your own manure application equipment, set time aside to apply manure or be prepared to hire extra help when the ground is fit to apply manure.
Keep in mind that the benefits of utilizing manure far outweigh the cons associated with using it. Benefits like lowered fertilizer costs, increased yields, building soil fertility and value as well as being part of a sustainable recycling chain, makes for a successful farmer.
In closing, remember to always keep good records. Learn from what works and what does not. Make adjustments if necessary and be open to applying supplemental nutrients if needed. I’ve found that if one has patience, works with his crop consultant and custom applicators, manure will be a huge asset to help gain a competitive advantage over the farmers who don’t have access to swine manure.
Marty Rost has been with Pipestone since 1995 serving in various roles. He currently oversees the system’s nutrient management plans. He lives just outside of Ivanhoe, Minn., with his wife and three children.