Among the biggest challenges you encounter in pork production involves managing manure. But it’s not a lost cause. You have many options available; you just have to find the one that works best for your operation.

Selling or contracting hog manure is among those options gaining in popularity. It’s not as complicated as it sounds.

But before you begin, it’s wise to work with a certified manure management specialist, your local extension agent or a representative from your state regulatory agency.

Tom Menke, agronomic and environmental consultant from Greenville, Ohio, recommends including the following information, at the very least, in any manure merchandising agreement that you develop.

  • Sale date.
  • Pricing: Money must be received for goods sold to bind the contract.
  • Amount of manure sold.
  • A statement of buyer’s responsibility.  (Note: The responsibility should transfer from you.)
  • A statement that the buyer acknowledges  and understands the manure’s nutrient content and properties.
  • A statement that the buyer agrees to use “best management practices” in applying the manure.
  • Release of your liability from manure; that it is no longer under your control.
  • Signatures of the buyer and seller.

Now, let’s take a look at four producers who are using a variety of agreements to merchandize hog manure.

Best option available
Producer Bob Morrison found a way to utilize manure from his pork operation and help keep his family’s farm at the same time.

This Dola, Ohio, producer began farming in 1969 and took over the operation in 1983 following the death of his father. It was never a full-time job; he already had an excavating business. But he needed a way to make the farm help pay for itself.

So, he decided to start raising hogs.

“Bob came to me with the arrangement,” says neighbor Ron Wyss of Ada, Ohio. “It was an opportunity for me to rent high-quality land and have the fertilizer available.”

In their agreement, Morrison is cash-renting the 320 acres to Wyss for 10 years. Wyss will continue to plant a corn and soybean rotation, with some wheat, to accommodate Morrison’s manure management plan.

“We want to make sure we have some place to spread the hog manure all of the time,” adds Wyss.

Besides the 320 acres he rents from Morrison, Wyss has a total of 1,000 crop acres that he can use to apply the manure from Morrison’s hog facilities. There is no charge for the hog manure applied to Morrison’s acreage.

Morrison built two 1,000-head finishing barns, each containing a six-foot deep pit. He plans to pump manure from the pits twice a year and estimates this will provide 300,000 gallons of liquid manure to inject each time. Morrison owns the manure application equipment and is responsible for application.

He’s also working on a land improvement project for his farm. This includes installing new tiles as well as leveling the ground to help improve the overall drainage.

Included in their 10-year contract, Morrison will buy the drainage tile for his 320 acres and Wyss will be in charge of its installation.

In the future, Morrison plans to investigate the possibility of going from an injection manure application system to
a drag-line system if he can work it out with adjacent landowners. This type of manure application requires a large landbase to make it profitable, but it’s not as potentially damaging to the soil as other application equipment.

“I’m in a unique situation with Ron taking the manure and being able to rent my land long-term,” say Morrison. “You have to be cautious when choosing a tenant. I knew Ron would be able to make the payment each year even if he had a crop failure.” 

Giving it a natural touch
If you drive along Highway 6 east of Hastings, Neb., you’re likely to see waterfowl landing on wetlands created  from treated hog effluent.

Sound crazy? It’s not. “The resource was always there, but wasn’t managed correctly,” explains Owen Nelson, general manager of Hastings Pork.

The operation is located in the Rainwater Basin in southeast Nebraska. The area is known for wetlands, but 90 percent of them have disappeared over the years. This project is one way to revitalize natural habitat, while tapping hog manure’s natural nutrients.

Nelson points out they had the land and water available, it was just a matter of putting the two together to benefit waterfowl and area wildlife.

The Hayden Thompson Wetland Project was developed between Hastings Pork and numerous conservation and government agencies. These include Ducks Unlimited, Nebraska Environmental Trust, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Natural Resources Conservation Service, JES Environmental Services and Rainwater Basin Joint Venture.

According to Don Cox, Nebraska state chairman for DU, the group chose to support this project because it’s located in the heart of the Rainwater Basin and the dollars are being put to good use. It didn’t matter that this was a pork operation.

Hastings Pork is located on an old Department of Defense ammunition storage facility. Of the 1,080 concrete storage bunkers, 400 are in use. Each unit houses 250 pigs and has a lagoon.

“Now we can take the effluent water out of the lagoons and make it safe for wildlife,” adds Nelson. “The water is clean enough for livestock to drink.”

The project evolved into a 60-acre wildlife habitat, including 18 acres of shallow-water wetland habitat with a control system that channels water into seven shallow basins.

The operation encompasses 30 miles of grassed waterways. As the hog effluent moves through these canals, vegetation filters it naturally. Attracting migrating waterfowl and shorebirds was the primary goal, but other wildlife benefit too.

Although Hastings Pork isn’t making any money from the operation’s hog manure, the benefits are unquestionable.
The operation has received no complaints from neighbors regarding manure odor.

One key was involving as many regulatory and conservation agencies as possible, Nelson notes. But the project wasn’t cheap, topping out at $180,000. Of this, $56,000 was an environmental test grant for the research and design.

Hastings Pork and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be running additional water quality tests to evaluate any potential heavy metal or pharmaceutical contamination.

Although Hastings Pork has the advantage of being in the heart of a wetlands area, many areas can accommodate the concept. You won’t likely see a monetary benefit from this type of manure utilization, but it is tough to see much fault with it either.

To collect more information on wetlands utilization ideas, contact your local NRCS representative.

Hogs are the byproduct
You and fellow pork producers face the  dilemma of what to do with hog manure, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Hog manure can be a valuable asset when used properly, contends Jack Gerhardt,  Fairmont, Minn.

In fact, it was the value of manure that drew Jack and his brother, Dick, into the pork business in the first place. The two began to contract finishing hogs in 1995.

“The reason we started finishing hogs was so we could better compete with other grain farmers who also are pork producers,” says Jack. Using hog manure as fertilizer saves the brothers about $40 per acre.

“We don’t use any other fertilizer on our corn acres, and we’ve done enough checks using yield monitors and Global Positioning System mapping to verify performance compared to commercial fertilizers,” says Jack. “We are raising superior yielding corn with it.”

Dick Gerhardt says the manure has increased corn yields by 10 to 15 bushels per acre, while soybean yields are 5 to 10 bushels per acre better.

Even after the Gerhardt’s have increased their own yields and saved money doing it, they can still use their hog manure as an asset. They sell the excess manure to other crop producers at the cost of hauling it plus an agreed upon price per gallon.

“We refuse to give it away; we might do 20 acres to show someone its value,” says Jack. “But to treat it as disposable waste is definitely not how we look at it.”

The Gerhardts apply manure to more than 700 acres of their own fields and sell enough to cover another 300 acres or so. Annual manure production comes from 16,800 pig spaces. 

The Gerhardts use a twin-disc incorporation system to apply the hog manure on their land. They use a commercial applicator to apply the manure they sell to other crop producers. They currently don’t have any written contracts with producers but have gotten repeat business from all their former customers. The Gerhardts do have enough committed acres on record with the county to accommodate their hog numbers.

Know your product
When it comes to utilizing hog manure, Scott Jeckel, Delevan, Ill., has become somewhat of an expert. He has gathered soil tests and yield information on his family’s and neighbors’ cropland for several years now. He specifically uses the soil test information to prove hog manure’s fertilizer value.

“When you sell manure to a neighbor, they have to get a benefit,” says Jeckel. “For us, the fertilizer value is roughly a penny a gallon. Our price is 3/4 of a penny per gallon. So our customers are getting a dollar’s worth of fertilizer and paying 75 cents.”

To convince crop producers of hog manure’s fertilizer value, Jeckel has only to point to previous customers. One such example involves manure applied on top of corn stalks in late fall. At planting, soybeans were drilled into the stalk-covered land. He says the manure application has raised that field’s yields by more than 5 bushels per acre.

“Hog manure is not a waste product. It obviously has value to someone, especially those who raise crops,” Jeckel says.

As part of a family-owned, 1,800-sow, farrow-to-finish operation, the Jeckels haven’t purchased commercial fertilizer, except nitrogen, for their cropland for nearly 25 years.

Jeckel began selling excess manure five years ago as a proactive step toward addressing environmental regulations. It has solved the issue of land limitations that many other producers face.

As part of the fee structure, Jeckel applies manure for the neighbors that don’t have the necessary equipment. Another of his neighbors gets the manure for free because he hauls it himself and applies it properly, according to area requirements.

Another critical point, says Jeckel, is to apply the manure where it is needed, not where it is easiest to put it. And that requires soil testing.

“For the neighbors getting hog manure, we’re dropping their input costs,” he notes. “I guarantee they are better neighbors; they’re more tolerant. If they make a little money on hog manure, it doesn’t smell as bad.”