When you look at hog manure, do you see a valuable resource or a waste material? While more producers today see a valuable resource, chances are you still could do a better job extracting value from what’s in your pit.

Commercial fertilizer’s skyrocketing cost has changed the profitability picture for crop producers. Nitrogen costs have doubled, phosphorus is up 50 percent to 60 percent, and potash is up 25 percent. Add in more intense state and federal environmental regulations, and more producers are looking for alternatives.

That’s where hog manure can play a role. “The best way to use it is on your own land; the next best way is to sell to a neighbor with a cropping system conducive to manure,” says Ray Massey, associate professor, University of Missouri.

The key is to maximize your hog manure’s net value. That is defined as the gross value less the cost. Any attempt to maximize net value affects either the distribution cost, the nutrient value or both. Net value can increase when costs increase as long as gross value increases more.

“If you have slurry, in particular, you should be able to start marketing it -- if you think like a marketer,” explains Massey. “Make sure it’s clean, and you’ve got to get it on the crop producer’s land in a timely way so as not to cause damage. But, it is a way to bring more income into the operation that you didn’t have before.”

To determine manure’s net value, you have to consider a few factors. For starters, don’t assume that the manure’s fertilizer value is the sum of its components. Nitrogen comes in many forms and prices. (See the accompanying table.) Manure-supplied nitrogen also would be expected to have a unique value due to its form.

Another common mistake is assuming that all nutrients in the manure have value. Nutrients have value only if they positively affect crop production.

Using Iowa State University’s budget fertilizer values, Massey outlines this eccxample of slurry from a grow/finish unit that contains 40 pounds of available nitrogen (32 pounds of ammonium nitrogen and 8 pounds of organic nitrogen), 42 pounds of phosphorus and 30 pounds of potassium per 1,000 gallons of manure. It would have a total value of $36.40 per 1,000 gallons. If you apply the slurry at a rate of 4,000 gallons per acre, it would supply 160 pounds of nitrogen fertilizer and be worth $145.76 per acre.

The IowaState budgets show that fertilizer costs should be about $80.20 per acre for corn. Massey cautions that manure isn’t automatically worth more per acre than commercial fertilizer because manure doesn’t always have the same components.

There are ways to increase manure’s value. One is to apply manure to land that is deficient in phosphorus and potassium. Massey point out that those nutrients should increase the crop value during the application year, as well as subsequent years because they enhance soil quality.

You also can increase manure value by coordinating manure application to the cropping system. For example, manure-supplied nitrogen doesn’t have any value on soybean ground, but it does on corn ground. You and the crop producer can visit with a crop consultant about how much nitrogen to apply to meet the corn crop’s needs. Often, there’s no need to purchase commercial fertilizer.

In addition to looking at manure value, you have to consider the costs. “The most obvious cost is owning and operating manure-distribution equipment,” says Massey. “You need to address how much it costs and whether overall costs can be reduced.” 

The easiest way to do this is to compare your manure-application costs to a custom applicator’s rate. It may or may not be the cheapest way to apply manure. Massey notes that a producer with both hogs and crops likely already has a tractor to use for manure application. But someone who only raises hogs would need to rent or buy the necessary equipment.

The equipment needs to meet the hog and the crop businesses’ demands, and the the type of manure-storage system influences the equipment selection. A lagoon-based pork facility can own relatively inexpensive irrigation equipment, while an operation with a slurry requires larger equipment to distribute manure.

The type of manure storage also affects the manure’s value. A six-month storage structure may be cheaper than a 12-month structure, but might not be conducive to maximizing the manure’s fertilizer value.

A slurry system is a wise option, as it preserves manure nutrients better than a lagoon. The additional cost of a pit is offset by the higher manure value.

Another cost factor is your time, especially when it comes to manure land application. You have to consider application rate, which you determine by whether annual nitrogen removal, annual phosphorus removal or four-year phosphorus removal is the goal.

Massey cites a study of 39 pork producers that shows the application time is shortest for annual nitrogen applications and longest for annual phosphorus applications.

Here’s a perspective. A 2,500-head finishing unit equals 1,000 animal units. Spreading manure on an annual nitrogen-removal limit takes about 175 hours; 250 hours for an annual-phosphorus limit. That’s a difference of 75 hours or seven, 11-hour days. A system may seem profitable, but when you factor in the time commitment, it may be less desirable. The following table outlines the application limit, time and cost per 1,000 gallons of manure application for this 2,500-head finishing unit.

“To gain maximum manure value, the ideal situation is for a pork producer to control sufficient land to use the manure nutrients,” says Massey. “If enough crop ground is owned or controlled, all of the available nutrients can have value. If a producer doesn’t have enough land base, you risk losing value by having to rent or buy more land, squander nutrients or market the manure.”

Overall, the best situation for capturing manure value is for pork producers to own cropland. Either way, it’s necessary to look at all costs involved to spread your “manure wealth” across more acres.

New Approach to Nitrogen Rates

A new publication is available through the Iowa State University Extension Service that explores a regional, Corn Belt approach to nitrogen-rate guidelines.

Soil fertility specialists from the University of Illinois, IowaStateUniversity, the University of Minnesota, OhioStateUniversity, PurdueUniversity and the University of Wisconsin developed “Concepts and Rationale for Regional Nitrogen Rate Guidelines for Corn.”

Using recent nitrogen-rate trial data from multiple states, this publication illustrates a suggested approach to develop corn nitrogen-rate guidelines. The method uses an economic evaluation of nitrogen application rates, called the “maximum return to nitrogen.”

The goal of the regional effort is to explain the science behind corn nitrogen use and fertilization requirements, and develop an approach to nitrogen guidelines that could provide more consistency between states.

The publication primarily deals with nitrogen use in rain-fed conditions, with a crop rotation of corn following soybeans, as well as continuous corn plantings. It also addresses the question of determining nitrogen rates with increasing corn yields. Instead of relying on yield goals, this publication outlines an approach that uses yield-gains-to-nitrogen application and determines maximum economic return.

Another outcome is a Web-based tool called the Corn Nitrogen Rate Calculator. Producers in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin can use this tool to calculate the maximum return to nitrogen rate, profitable nitrogen rate range, net return, percentage of maximum yield and other information directly from nitrogen response trial databases for each respective state. The calculator is located at http://extension.agron.iastate.edu/soilfertility/nrate.aspx.

Copies of the publication are available on the Web through the IowaStateUniversityExtensionDistributionCenter at www.extension.iastate.edu/store/ or by calling (515) 294-5247.