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Hi-Tech Harmony

Hi-Tech Harmony

GPS and high-volume application help this farm fit in with woods and streams

GPS and high-volume application help this farm fit in with woods and streams.

Clinton County, Indiana is home to some of those beautiful black prairie soils that lend legendary productivity to the Corn Belt. But the fields here are anything but flat and featureless. In fact, you'll find a state-owned forest preserve smack dab in the middle of Meadowlane Farms.

Creeks border about half of the fields on which the Beard family grows corn and soybeans. That's why buffer strips and grass waterways are featured in this Frankfort, IN, operation. “Grass borders help hold the stream banks in place and help us make sure we maintain proper setbacks,” says Mike Beard. “It's a way we can be sure we are not farming too close to these protected areas.”

Crops and hogs are so tightly integrated at Meadowlane Farms that it may be difficult for a visitor to figure out whether this is a hog farm that raises crops, or a crop farm that raises hogs.

Both enterprises are pursued at a very high level, and there is considerable synergy between the two. For example, the farm's production of approximately 33,000 finishing hogs each year results in 6 million gallons of manure nutrients. Even a conservative economic analysis shows that swine manure replaces at least $80,000 worth of commercial fertilizer each year on the farm's 1,600 acres of corn and soybeans.

“We recently picked up some additional land to farm, and soil tests called for it to receive a significant amount of fertilizer,” Beard recalls. “We didn't have manure nutrients available, so we had to purchase commercial fertilizer. That experience reminded me why I am such a fan of swine manure.”

Contract Opportunity

Meadowlane Farms began in 1972 as a 200-cow dairy, but in 1987 that operation gave way to feeding beef cattle and farrow-to-finish pork production.

The hog operation expanded to 450 sows, but pseudorabies (PRV) breaks led to a need to repopulate on a couple of occasions, the last being 1998. “The equity drain in that period reminded us of the inherent risk associated with our position in this changing industry,” he says.

A new wean-to-finish contract unit was constructed in 2000 to compliment the farrow-to-finish enterprise. “Experiencing this new technology encouraged us to dispense with our old operation and grow our wean-to-finish facilities,” he adds.

Meadowlane Farms now operates 15,000 finishing spaces under contract with TDM Farms of North Carolina. Pigs are brought in at about 13 lb. and housed in the barns until they reach market weight at 270 lb. Manure is stored in deep pits for application each fall.

Those changes opened up opportunities for son, David, and son-in-law, Chris Pearson, to join the farm. With more manure nutrients available from the added pork production, the family began to look for a hi-tech system to apply the nutrients to additional acres of cropland. Putting together this high-volume handling system then led the family to start a new business, helping other pork producers apply nutrients in an environmentally responsible way.

Dragline Technology

The family chose a soft-hose dragline as the technology for application of manure nutrients. Liquid manure is fed to a tractor-mounted injector through a flexible hose connected at the storage facility to a supply pump capable of delivering up to 1,000 gal./minute. The injector uses a power distributor that helps assure even distribution over the width of the toolbar. No-till injector sweeps place the manure about 4 in. below ground with a minimum of disturbance to the soil surface. Injecting nutrients into the soil helps prevent odor and keeps nitrogen from escaping through volatilization.

Satellite technology helps guide application and record site-specific information. A flow meter provides gallons-per-minute rates to mapping software so “as applied” maps can be produced. And a GPS-aided automated guidance system allows the tractor to make a precise track across the field.

Not all of the farms' fields are located within the 1¾ mile reach of the available feeder hose, so a fleet of aluminum tankers haul manure nutrients where needed. These four tankers allow a constant flow of nutrients to distant fields, offloaded by a pump set near the field where nutrients are being delivered.

Being able to move large amounts of manure nutrients in a timely fashion, and doing so with low-impact, closed-handling technology, has caught the attention of pork producers in neighboring counties. A manure-handling business, managed by David and Chris, injected more than 25.5 million gallons of manure in 2006.

“Much of this work is highly technical,” Mike Beard says. “It allows the boys the opportunity to use their skills and expertise.”

Comprehensive Plan

Meadowlane Farms recently completed a comprehensive nutrient management plan (CNMP) in cooperation with USDA-NRCS. Soil sampling on 2½-acre grids helps identify areas high in nutrients, such as phosphorus. Maps are generated to drive variable-rate application of manure. Since the CNMP is a platform for recordkeeping, it will also serve as a full field history of all nutrients applied, including those from commercial fertilizer.

The farm has always followed a nutrient management plan. As the expansion in hog numbers took place, the family took a more focused approach to manure application.

Manure was high in phosphorous and not in the correct ratio with nitrogen to provide a balanced fertilizer for crop production. So feed rations were carefully adjusted to meet the pigs' needs at each stage of growth. Phytase was added to diets to reduce the amount of phosphorus in the manure. Meadowlane also uses feed additives to help control odor and increase microbial activity in the pits.

Mike's work with the Indiana USDA-NRCS state technical committee helped establish additional opportunities for livestock growers by adding a new component to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Financial assistance is now available to Indiana producers who want to establish a CNMP separate from qualifying for other EQIP practices. And livestock growers who need to use emergency environmental threat mitigation practices are eligible for cost-share aside from other EQIP qualifications.

Future Plans

Meadowlane Farms has installed a number of waterways and buffers over the past 10 years, as well as repairing and rejuvenating others. The family is now focused on providing wildlife habitat as a compliment to the native forest that is a centerpiece of the farm.

“We are concentrating our efforts on establishing grass around this forest perimeter, as well as planting food plots,” Beard says. “We are also working to establish the last few miles of creek-bank buffers in some of our rented fields.”

His view of environmental stewardship is that “it is everyone's responsibility to do what they can to preserve, protect and restore the land on which we live. We want to preserve what we have, so my children and their children can use the soil and water to produce crops, livestock and wildlife in a manner friendly to the environment.”

A Message from National Hog Farmer

The Environmental Stewardship recognition program is co-sponsored by National Hog Farmer and Pork Checkoff. The program is for pork producers with all types and sizes of production systems who demonstrate a positive contribution to our natural environment.

A national selection committee of experts from various pork industry and natural resources disciplines selected this year's winners. Nominations were scored in eight key areas: general production, manure/nutrient management, soil and water conservation, air quality and odor control strategies, wildlife management, environmental management innovations and a short essay on the meaning of environmental stewardship.

National Hog Farmer is proud to partner with Phibro Animal Health and Pork Checkoff to deliver the positive environmental management stories contained in these pages. It is our hope that this recognition of the 2007 class of Environmental Stewards will serve to inspire the nation's pork producers as they work hard to be environmentally conscious citizens.