All farmers know that manure is a valuable resource for crop production. It’s lower cost and availability are the main benefits.
But the problems of using manure are also well-known. Hog barns are not available in all areas, the manure can be inconsistent, soil compaction, additional tractor time, it’s available only during a limited time window and transportation is difficult.
“It’s really that transportation time that people complain about,” says Kelvin Leibold, Iowa State Extension farm management specialist. “Even though it’s cost-effective to haul it farther and utilize it better. I think often times that people just get into the idea that—my turnaround time, my field time, I’ve got to have my pump pumping into a tank all the time—I’m not making the kind of revenue I should make.
“That’s the whole challenge in the industry—you get paid by the gallon,” he adds.
Leibold says to start with a nutrient analysis.
For example, a typical hog finishing manure might test 50-35-25 pounds of nitrogen, phosphorus (as P2O5), and potassium (as K2O) per 1,000 gallons.
If the manure was injected with minimal losses and the nitrogen was readily available a 3,000 gal. per acre rate of application would provide 150 units of nitrogen per acre.
If nitrogen was valued at $0.30 a pound there would be $45 of N value. In addition there would be 105 lb. of P2O5, which, if valued at $0.40 per pound, would be worth $42 per acre. There would also be 75 lb. of K2O, which if valued at $0.25 per pound would bring the total to about $105.75 per acre. (Click here to download an Excel document to input your valuation numbers.)
There can be a considerable range in the projected prices of commercial fertilizer nutrients, depending on material type (dry, liquid, or gas), method of application, and the time of year applied. In addition, the manure would contain other components such as sulfur, iron and organic matter. This method does not take into account nitrogen losses and crop utilization.
In the Upper Midwest, pork producers are so focused on expansion that the manure from additional facilities need a place to go. “Producers are all trying to grow and find building sites,” Leibold says. “The pork industry hasn’t had much luck in capturing any of that additional value.
Manure is not a constant product, you got compaction issues and timing application issues—these all detract from that estimated per acre value that manure brings to the table.
“But even $5 to $10 per acre [from selling manure allotments] could make the difference in a profit or a loss,” Leibold adds. “These margins are challenging.”