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Educating the Uneducated

Like many in the U.S. heartland, Ontario's Northumberland County has a long tradition of agriculture, and new residents trying to escape the city.

Like many in the U.S. heartland, Ontario's Northumberland County has a long tradition of agriculture, and new residents trying to escape the city.

Sitting just an hour east of Toronto, Canada's largest city, apple orchards abound. Dairy and beef operations nestle side by side with cash crop farmers and a series of hog operations.

A steady stream of new residents who wish to exchange city life for the space of the country, are now moving into the region. Many have trouble coming to terms with some of the less attractive sides of 21st Century agriculture. So far, newcomers and farmers are adjusting to each other without any great animosity.

For that, much credit lies with Kevin Brady, part owner of Pork 2005, the area's largest hog producer. Brady and fellow owners, Keith Allen and Don Winslow, have not waited for opposition to arise. They developed a proactive campaign that keeps neighbors and local politicians educated about their activities.

“We haven't got the perfect industry,” says Brady, “But I believe if you are up-front with normal, intelligent people and explain what you are doing, most will understand.”

A Decade of Experience

Pork 2005 was established in 1992 with a goal of marketing 1,000 hogs weekly. Pigs are weaned from their three farrowing units, placed in one of three segregated early weaning (SEW) units, then moved on to stock 20 finishing barns. Most of the finishers have 1,000-head capacity, although a few house only 500 head. Typically, each finishing barn provides sufficient manure for approximately 500 acres. Brady owns 300 acres and operates another 200 acres on rental agreements or land swaps.

Brady is responsible for the dispersal and use of the manure. “I always believed a hog unit should be a fertilizer plant for the land on which it sits. Properly handled manure is an asset,” he states philosophically.

Brady has a simple method of determining the manure's value. “We apply enough manure to produce a 130-bu./acre corn crop. To produce a 130-bu. crop using artificials (commercial fertilizer) would cost about $70/acre,” he explains. “So, if I need 2,500 gal. of manure to achieve the same result, my manure is worth $28/1,000 gal.”

Put another way, the value of the manure produced per pig is $3.72. On face value, that doesn't seem like a lot. But, when you consider a throughput of 3,000 pigs/year in the larger barns, the 400,000 gal. of liquid manure under each barn has an equivalent cash value of $11,200.

Naturally, there are hauling costs. “You can only apply to fields close to the barns,” he says. “Once you start trucking this stuff any distance, you are into real cost.”

And, there is a less obvious cost — compaction — which Brady believes is one of the most misunderstood concepts crop growers must deal with.

Brady switched to a dragline (umbilical hose) system to eliminate heavy tankers. He modified an older, 20-ft.- wide Aer-Way aeration toolbar to incorporate the manure with a 165-hp. tractor. The tractor is equipped with 8-lb. tires to minimize compaction.

Gravity draws the liquid manure into the top 1½-2 in. of soil. “I don't want to go deeper because I believe on our rolling land no-till is the way to go. Deeper injection just makes no-till more difficult and it is difficult to monitor the speed of the tractor,” he explains. “A patch of hard ground can lead to wheel slippage and at 5 mph you don't need much of that to suddenly find your application rate has gone from 2,000 to 4,000 gal. an acre.”

Monitoring Manure Values

“All manure is not equal,” warns Brady, so careful monitoring is essential. To achieve the 130-bu./acre corn crop goal, you may need 2,000 gal. of finishing barn manure/acre. The same yields would require 7,000 gal./acre with manure from the SEW unit.

“It depends on what the analysis tells us,” he explains. There are variations even within the tanks, the bottom being more concentrated than the top. “We sample at the 2 ft. level, the middle of the tank and the bottom.” (See Table 1.)

To avoid phosphorus buildup, Brady spreads manure to provide the required phosphorus level. If additional nitrogen is required, he resorts to liquid nitrogen.

The manure data bank has led to lower application rates. Brady claims they are covering 50% more acreage now than they were nine years ago with the same amount of manure.

“Spreading costs are about 2½ times the cost of artificial (commercial) application,” explains Brady, noting he has found ways to cut the cost. “We follow a corn crop with soybeans. Normally you would need extra P (phosphorus) and K (potassium) for the following soybean crop, but we combine the applications.”

Table 1. Manure Analysis from Finishing Barns (Various Levels) and SEW Barns (Quantities Expressed in lb./1,000 gal. of Manure)
Finishing Barns SEW Barns
Top of tank Middle of tank Bottom of tank
Nitrogen 24.0 30.9 57.4 15.9
Phosphate 11.0 15.6 35.0 6.4
Potash 9.7 14.0 36.7 8.9
Laboratory analysis by Stratford Agri Analysis, Stratford, Ontario

Recognizing Brady's cropping success, neighboring farmers are lined up to take part in land swaps with Pork 2005. “We take a parcel adjacent to our barns from a neighbor in return for an equivalent acreage from us which grew corn the previous year. We fertilize his acreage and take our corn crop, while he grows beans on our land. The second year he plants beans on his own land. In effect, he gets two bean crops without any fertilizer costs,” Brady explains.

“We'll also fertilize neighbors' land at $30/acre,” he adds. “We're not making money but we are building goodwill. In our business that's important.”

Educating the Uneducated

Building good relationships with fellow farmers is one thing, but what about the uneducated city worker who has moved to the country?

“It comes down to education and explaining what you are doing,” claims Brady. “The first year we spread I received a number of calls complaining about the smell.”

Brady visited the complainants. “I was really surprised at the amount of misinformation and lack of understanding these people had. Most people thought spreading was a disposal method. They were very surprised when I explained we were putting nutrients into the soil, true organic farming. The experience left me worried about the long-term implications of that level of ignorance.”

Brady decided to invite all local, municipal and township politicians to tour the operation. “We had them here a full day and took all their questions.

He prepared and distributed 400 leaflets to the surrounding mailboxes. The leaflets read: “Hi neighbors. It is that time of year again when we spread manure. This provides organic fertilizer for the crops we grow to provide feed for our livestock. My staff and I will be working long hours to try to do this job as fast as possible. We will also incorporate the hog manure as we spread. This helps to reduce odor and allows us to capture all the fertilizer value. Unfortunately, we all know that manure application creates odor. It is our hope that you will be understanding in this matter, knowing in advance that, to the best of our ability, we will get the job done quickly.

“Hoping for your understanding,”(signed) Kevin Brady.

Muted Complaints

The simple message seems to have worked. “The first year we put the brochures out we got five calls, all of them to thank us for letting people know. Last year we got three calls in the same vein, including one from a man having a wedding at his place and asking me not to spread near him that day.”

This proactive approach seems to have muted complaints. It also led the local township council to recruit Brady as a member of a working group set up to define new regulations for intensive farming operations.

Those guidelines call for separation between buildings and existing homes. Operators must produce and file a management plan showing how manure will be handled and demonstrate they have sufficient land, either owned or leased, to utilize the manure.

Brady is worried senior legislators will be unable to resist the temptation to impose legislation. “That is not the answer. A group of politicians in Washington or Ottawa will only complicate things. The problems are local in nature and must be solved locally. I cannot stress enough that the answer is education. We have to teach people where their food comes from. The majority of people want their food to be of high quality, produced safely with a minimum impact on the environment. That's exactly what I want as well.”