Focus on Manure's Real Value

Now more than ever, pork producers must become astute managers of the manure their pigs produce. If managed properly in an integrated crop-livestock operation, swine manure can become a valuable asset to help offset high energy and fertilizer costs. For those with more manure than they can use, marketing the excess to nearby crop farmers offers a profitable alternative. Marketing Plan Due to increasing

Now more than ever, pork producers must become astute managers of the manure their pigs produce.

If managed properly in an integrated crop-livestock operation, swine manure can become a valuable asset to help offset high energy and fertilizer costs. For those with more manure than they can use, marketing the excess to nearby crop farmers offers a profitable alternative.

Marketing Plan

Due to increasing animal production and a static land base, a growing number of producers are looking to convert sales of excess manure into another source of revenue.

In turn, a growing number of crop farmers have become interested in animal manure because they can often get it at a minimal or a reduced cost compared to the escalating cost of commercial fertilizer, says Ray Massey, agricultural economist, University of Missouri.

Producers need to remember, however, that while the crop nutrient value of manure may appear to be valuable, you may not be able to sell it at your asking price if the crop farmer doesn't see it your way.

In Table 1, Massey shows the available nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (N-P-K) in 1,000 gal. of manure (grow-finish slurry) is valued at $36.44.

To meet the nitrogen needs of corn, the slurry would be applied at a rate of 4,000 gal./acre — implying a value of $145.76/acre.

In contrast, Table 2 shows that the crop farmer could meet all of the N, P and K needs of an acre of corn using commercial fertilizer for $80.20/acre.

The point of this contrast, says Massey, is that manure sellers should not assume that the manure their pigs produce is automatically worth $65.56 more than the commercial fertilizer ($145.76-$80.20=$65.56), and the buyer is willing to pay.

To help bridge this gap in estimated values between manure and commercial fertilizer, Massey explains livestock producers must first think in terms of what crop farmers want.

Crop farmers compute fertilizer costs in dollars/acre — not dollars/1,000 gal. They should not have to convert this value when estimating what they are willing to pay for the manure nutrients. That is the job of the livestock producer with manure to sell. Give yourself a marketing edge by converting these figures when selling manure.

As cited in the tables, manure applied to meet the N needs of a corn crop provides more P and K than is required. Crop farmers may resist paying a lot more for phosphorus and potassium if, as the examples show, those amounts appear to greatly exceed their current crop needs.

Livestock producers need to explain that the higher levels of those nutrients in manure can be used for subsequent corn and soybean crop rotations.

If the livestock producer can convince the crop farmer that his manure provides these additional benefits, he is more likely to get more than the $80/acre commercial fertilizer price for his manure, he says.

Another roadblock to manure sales comes when some crop farmers explain that their land already has enough phosphorus and potassium.

Massey suggests that manure sellers may need to haul the manure further to find land that would benefit from the additional phosphorus and potassium. The crop producer must be able to pay enough to offset the additional cost of transportation.

With the high cost of nitrogen, Massey suggests applying all needed nitrogen through manure.

He offers this scenario: A corn crop commonly needs 150 lb. of nitrogen/acre. The crop farmer may only want to apply 100 lb. of manure as nitrogen fertilizer because he plans to add 50 lb. of commercial fertilizer. While there are some reasons for doing that, it requires two trips across the field, one for the manure and one for the fertilizer, he reminds. A better plan is to apply 150 lb. of nitrogen/acre as manure and eliminate both the fertilizer expense and the cost of the extra trip.

Choose the right cropping system to achieve the best results for manure nutrients, Massey continues. Corn and soybeans provide good cropping rotation in many cases, maximizing value and reducing costs by applying only manure and not commercial fertilizer.

Targeted Manure Sales

“Remember, your manure marketing strategy should be to focus on selling crop farmers what they want, not what you have,” emphasizes Massey.

For example, don't try to sell crop farmers on the value of micro-nutrients, such as sulfur and zinc, if they aren't interested in them or don't need them.

“Take pride in the product you produce. Keep your manure free of contaminants, minimize odor and do a good job of transporting it,” Massey says.

If you are an integrated crop/livestock producer with a sizeable land base, make the best use of manure nutrients with a properly managed slurry system and apply all the manure possible to your own cropland.

Limit water usage when cleaning buildings, eliminate leakage in hog watering systems and consider using wet-dry feeders. “The drier you can get your slurry, the less expensive it will be to apply it,” he says.

A larger tanker or dragline hose system may seem like an expensive investment, but the time and fuel savings for manure application will reduce overall costs in the long run.

For producers whose manure production exceeds their land base, now may be the time to develop a manure marketing plan with the needs of the crop farmer in mind.

Massey and John Lory, nutrient management specialist at the University of Missouri, have just published a guide on maximizing the fertilizer value of manure. It can be found at

Table 1. Valuation Choices: Dollars/1,000 Gallons of Manure
Nutrient lb./1,000 gal. Dollars/lb. Dollars/1,000 gal.
Available nitrogen 40 $0.35 $14.00
Phosphorus 42 $0.37 $15.54
Potassium 30 $0.23 $6.90
Total value $36.44
App. rate 1,000 gal./acre 4,000
Value/acre $145.76
Table 2. Valuation Choices: Dollars/Acre
Manure-Supplied Nutrients Comm. Fertilizer
Nutrient Dollars/1,000 gal. Dollars/acre @ 4,000 gal./acre Dollars/acre1
Available nitrogen $14.00 $56.00 $52.50
Phosphorus $15.54 $62.16 $18.50
Potassium $6.90 $27.60 $9.20
Total value $36.44 $145.76 $80.20
1Iowa State University continuous corn budget.

Energy Costs Add to Manure's Value

The ever-increasing cost of natural gas and commercial fertilizer is making manure look more attractive to crop farmers every day.

Extension specialists across the Midwest are urging crop producers to consider manure as a viable option to commercial fertilizer, says Ted Funk, agricultural engineer and Extension specialist at the University of Illinois.

Though manure application does have challenges, it is a valuable resource and needs to be treated as such for land application.

Here are some questions farmers need to address:

  • What are your crop needs? Soil tests determine the levels of phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) in your fields. Apply P and K to nutrient-deficit areas and not to areas already rich in those nutrients.

  • What manure is available within a three- to five-mile radius? Hauling manure this distance is doable. As a rule, the cost of manure application should be kept below 1-1½¢/gallon. Funk says many commercial applicators have purchased equipment that allows them to increase the distance they can efficiently haul manure.

  • What is the form of the manure? Solid manure must be spread on top of the ground, and is sometimes incorporated or disked in afterwards. This can produce noticeable odor and a significant loss of nitrogen through volatilization until the manure is incorporated. “If you're on highly erodable land or in an impaired watershed, surface application is not a good economical or environmental choice,” says Funk.

    Liquid manure can be applied using sprinkler irrigation or injection. Sprinklers should only be used far from roads because of the intense odors released. Injection retains nutrients better and reduces odors, evaporation and runoff problems. But application by injection costs about four times as much, so be sure to place the nutrients where the crops will best utilize them, he stresses.

  • What is the sampling history of the manure? “One question a crop producer can reasonably ask the livestock producer is, how confident are you in the composition of the manure you're offering for sale? Manure differs from commercial fertilizer in that commercial fertilizer supplies the amount and ratio of nutrients you ordered, while manure supplies the amount and ratio of nutrients it contains.”

Livestock producers with a history of sampling manure over several years can provide important data for making informed purchasing decisions, says Funk.

What is your cropping system and when can you apply manure? Spring manure application is avoided because it coincides with the time fields need to be prepared for planting. Fall application is preferred, but the downside is a higher nitrogen loss over winter months, he says.