Either commercial fertilizer or hog manure can be applied to land incorrectly. One is n°t inherently better than the other. Both can have negative effects on water quality, and in some cases, even damage crops.

Unlike commercial inorganic fertilizers, manure contains live microorganisms that can pose additional hazards to water resources if it’s mismanaged. Also, applying manure to land can release odors that make life unpleasant for neighbors.

Calculating the best use of your hog manure may seem like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube. But if you take the time to play with the numbers, you can use manure to its fullest advantage.

Animal manure has value as a plant fertilizer and as a soil amendment. Plants use the nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, secondary nutrients and trace elements in manure just as effectively as if the compounds where supplied through commercial fertilizers. Manure’s organic matter provides additional benefits to the soil, such as improved tilth and water-holding capacity.

If all the manure produced in Illinois could be collected and distributed where needed, it could replace 25 percent of the nitrogen and 15 percent of the phosphorus removed from crop production. Look at it another way: The annual manure production of 1,000 hogs would have a fertilizer value of more than $7,000 even when you assume normal collection and application losses.

What benefits does a manure management plan offer? You shouldn’t view manure planning as a nuisance. If you have a top-notch management plan, you can:

  • Improve crop yields.
  • Protect water quality.
  • Use the plan to train employees.
  • Create an emergency response strategy.
  • Calibrate manure spreaders and irrigation equipment.
  • Price manure to neighboring crop producers and strengthen your defense in case of a pollution complaint.

Writing a manure management plan isn’t terribly complicated. It does take some time and effort to gather all the information needed on animal inventories, manure storages, soil tests and crop rotations.

You can get help with your comprehensive manure management plan from at least three sources:

  • Private manure management consultants offer varying levels of assistance, from helping with the manure nutrient/plant nutrient balance to developing a comprehensive manure management plan.
  • University extension offers regional manure management workshops throughout the year to teach ways to create, maintain and update manure plans.
  • USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service has a long-standing commitment to helping you develop plans. 

Where to start? Start by gathering basic information about the hog and crop production systems involved. A manure management plan involves making a thorough inventory of your hog operation as it relates to manure use. Keep specific records so that you have an account of the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium that your hogs produce and your crops use.

The finished plan is only as good as the information that goes in. A properly prepared plan is a dynamic
document. It should become more refined over time, as you get better data and more experience using the plan.

If you don’t have manure or soil test results, you can still create a plan. You can use book values for manure and soil as a starting point. However, you should work to get actual data from the
facility as soon as possible, to replace the book values and refine the plan.

Here are key components of a manure management plan:

  • Animal and facility inventory. Make a complete inventory of your hogs (the number, production stage and average animal size). Describe your facilities, including buildings and manure storage systems.
  • Manure storage inventory. If you have a slurry or solid manure system, calculate the dimensions, which include working depth and estimates of sludge you can’t remove. Estimate the number of days of available storage capacity. If you have a lagoon or holding pond, determine your system’s capacity by measuring the top waterline dimension and estimate the side slopes and depth (with and without sludge). If you have any other water source, such as feedlot runoff, which may contribute to your manure storage, you need to assess that too. Describe your plan to pump the system’s liquid onto cropland.
  • Manure analysis results. In the first year of your manure plan, you can use book values to estimate manure  nutrient values. But as you spread the manure, collect and test samples. It will give you a more accurate idea of nutrient values.
  • Maps. With the help of aerial maps or plan drawings of your farm and facilities, diagram setbacks where you cannot spread manure. You need to calculate the exact acreage where you will use manure. Potential setbacks include neighboring residences and other populated areas, potable and nonpotable wells, streams and other surface water, and 10-year floodplains.
  • Field information. To manage manure efficiently, it is important to determine the crop’s nutrient needs, and the existing soil fertility. Here’s what you need to know: last season’s crop, the next year’s planned rotation, 5-year proven average yields, soil types, soil tests (every four years), nitrogen credits from legumes and previous manure applications.
  • Two more components that you should include in your manure management plan are the calibration of application equipment and manure lease agreements. If other producers use your hog manure, a written agreement is required.

     The underlying principle of manure management is accountability: You need to take responsibility for where the manure goes, at what times and in what amounts. It’s simply part of doing business today.

Ask Yourself These Questions

Bringing the parts of a comprehensive manure plan all together can be challenging. But if you can answer the following questions in writing, you will collect all the important points of a comprehensive plan.

  • Who’s responsible for ensuring that the system complies with the law, protects the environment and is a good neighbor?
  • Where is the manure? Inventory the facilities, the manure, collection and storage systems, as well as the animals.
  • How much manure is there? How do you know? How many days storage capacity do you have?
  • What nutrient levels does the manure contain? How do you know?
  • What feeding strategies do you use to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus excretion? What other manure treatment systems do you use?
  • What nutrient losses are expected during storage?
  • What do you do with dead animals?
  • What happens during rain? What provisions exist for keeping clean water clean? How much manure storage will be used to hold runoff water?
  • What systems are used to remove the manure from storage and land apply it?
  • Where is the surface water, and where are the water wells? Are there other environmentally sensitive areas?
  • How much nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium will the crops need? What’s the plan to use manure to accommodate those needs?
  • Where are the neighbors located in relation to the hog facilities, manure storage and fields that will receive manure?
  • Where are the setback areas where manure will not be spread? Do different conditions affect the setbacks?
  • Which fields require special land management to control erosion and manure runoff? What control practices will you use?
  • Will some manure move off the farm? Where will it go? What written agreements do you have to ensure all parties are considered and protected?
  • What is your manure spreading equipment’s land application rate? How do you know?
  • Plans notwithstanding, where did the manure actually end up?
  • What emergency response strategies do you have for manure spills, abnormal odor release, personal injuries and so on?
  • Do your employees know the parts of the plan that affect them? Have you documented procedural and safety training efforts?