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Manure maker, or manure taker? Part II

Operators who have taken a look at their manure production systems

November 20, 2007  By Cedric MacLeod

22aIn Part I of Manure maker, or manure taker?, February 2005, page 32,
a few ideas were presented outlining options that a pork producer might consider
for adding and maintaining value in a farm's manure resources. Part II of this
series highlights a few operators who have taken a look at their manure production
systems, found them wanting in certain areas, went looking for solutions and
have made them work on their operations.

Bloxslea Farms, Burgessville, Ontario
Jim Bloxidge runs a mixed cash crop and hog operation and manure is an integral
part of the everyday operations at Bloxslea Farms. Applying manure nutrients
evenly and effectively to cropland can be expensive. Manure volume is generally
a factor that most hog producers would like to minimize in order to make the
application step as easy as possible.

Bloxslea Farms addressed this by installing water bowl drinkers in the nursery
barns. It cost $17,000 to install the system in the 4500 grower-space barn,
which included a water flow rate monitor. The first day of operation, nursery
pigs were each using four litres of water per day. Soon after, the water use
dropped to about two litres per head per day. The annual savings in manure volume
added up to about 360,000 gallons, or $3600 annual savings on manure hauling
costs, assuming a one cent per gallon custom manure application rate.


The savings did not stop there. Electrolytes and, occasionally, medication
for newly weaned grower pigs are delivered through the watering system. The
reduction in water use resulted in an overall reduction in electrolyte requirements
and the farm was on track to paying off the new watering system in just over
one year.

Bloxslea Farms has equipped a 9000 series John Deere with a 30 foot Aerway
harrow with a liquid manure distribution manifold. The 4WD tractor also pulls
a drag hose attached to the unit to deliver liquid manure from the storage to
the field. As little tillage as possible is used on the farm for crop production
so the low disturbance harrow fits right into the existing crop production system.
Bloxidge also prefers to spread manure in the spring prior to seeding, so a
high flotation tractor with a manure incorporation unit that does not turn a
lot of soil was an easy choice to make.

Manure is routinely applied to winter wheat stands first thing in the spring
wherever possible, as opposed to spreading nitrogen fertilizer. The manure soaks
nicely into the pockets formed by the Aerway unit, giving wheat a good mix of
nutrients right when it needs it. Bloxidge has had excellent yields growing
crops with liquid manure, but he also realizes the importance of balancing the
application of manure nutrients. The farm uses the phytase enzyme in its hog
rations to minimize the output of manure phosphorus. He has also been successful
in implementing an amino acid balancing program which keeps feed costs in check
and reduce the total output of manure nitrogen as well.

Manure is routinely tested during application and soil testing keeps track
of soil nutrient loads to ensure that application rates are matching up with
crop requirements.

Bloxidge's enthusiasm for the changes being made on the farm is enlightening.
Perhaps most important: he is implementing these changes not only to improve
on environmental stewardship, or to stay out in front of new regulation, but
also because these practices make him more money raising pigs.

Jomar Farms, Amhurst, Nova Scotia
Jomar Farms, located near picturesque Amhurst, has realized a number of benefits
from installing impermeable cover systems on two of its three production sites,
with plans for a third cover to be installed in early spring 2005. Joe Van Vulpen
has cited a significant decrease in manure odours emanating from the farm site
and much happier neighbours.

Relations were generally cordial before installing the cover systems, but during
certain times of the year, odour tends to drift from an uncovered storage structure
across the line fence, regardless of the level of management being practiced.
Straw cover systems can provide significant benefit in terms of manure odour
reduction, but would not stack up to the additional benefits realized at Jomar

Located in a region that receives an average precipitation of 33 inches, after
evaporation losses, the ability to exclude rainwater with an impermeable cover
system pays big dividends when it comes time to pay the custom manure hauling
bill. Van Vulpen makes use of the neighbouring producer's land base to effectively
use the manure nutrients being produced in his barns, when there is not enough
of his own acreage to handle the nutrient load. This requires the manure to
be transferred down the road a bit, and excluding rainfall from the manure storage
all year means he is not paying for moving that rainwater.

Manure storage covers also reduce the amount of ammonia nitrogen lost from
storage during those warm months between spring thaw and the fall harvest moon.
Conserving nitrogen means that every tanker load that heads down the road is
worth more for the nutrients inside. At $0.42 per pound of nitrogen fertilizer,
an increase in manure nutrient value per unit volume can start to look very
attractive in the pocketbook. A producer might also consider the phosphorus
management benefits that come with covering a manure storage and conserving
nitrogen, assuming application rates are based on the manure nitrogen concentration.

Consider the manure nitrogen to phosphorus ratio (N:P) is 1:1 in an uncovered
storage, but increases to 2:1 after installing a cover system as ammonia nitrogen
losses are significantly lower. At a N:P ratio of 1:1, if the target is a 100lb/ac
nitrogen application rate, you are also getting 100 pounds of phosphorus, but
at a ratio of 2:1, applying 100 pounds of nitrogen only gives you 50 pounds
of phosphorus per acre. In the first scenario, using manure with a N:P ratio
of 1:1, it is not hard to see how soil phosphorus reserves can accumulate rather
quickly without a cover system.

One of the more recent benefits being considered for manure storage covers
is the potential to reduce the release of manure methane as methane is the second
most potent greenhouse gas in agriculture next to nitrous oxide. Both methane
and nitrous oxide when released to the atmosphere have the ability to trap heat
energy from the sun, after being reflected off the earth's surface, before it
can escape back out of the earth's atmosphere. This trapping is known as the
greenhouse effect and results in an increase in the temperature of the earth's

Although not the main influence for Jomar Farms' decision to install an impermeable
manure storage cover, greenhouse gas management has sparked some interest both
on the farm and at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College (NSAC) where research
on the effectiveness of the covers for reducing manure odour, ammonia and greenhouse
gas emissions has been initiated. Van Vulpen has seen the benefits of covers
for reducing manure odour production first-hand, and ongoing research has proven
it scientifically.

One of the challenges to the system, however, has been the need to pull back
the cover in order to properly agitate the manure before it is removed from
storage. Van Vulpen and his colleagues at the NSAC believe they have found a
solution to installing a forced air agitation system under the cover, on the
bottom of the manure storage. When it is time to remove the manure, air is simply
forced through the manure from the bottom up, effectively agitating and suspending
manure solids. Plans for installing an air agitation system were stalled by
the Maritime fall weather, but plans are ongoing and the cover will likely be
installed in the early spring.

The cover systems at Jomar Farms are another example of how environmental stewardship
and increased profitability of the farming operation can be achieved. Although
the cover systems have been installed to curtail odour production primarily,
it is hard to discount the additional benefits that the covers have brought
to the operation.

Hytek Limited, La Broquerie, Manitoba
Hytek has been in the hog business for many years and continues to maintain
a profitable enterprise in an often unpredictable industry. The operation was
also successful in finding a good use for manure nutrients produced on the multiple
hog production sites throughout southern Manitoba. As is often the case in agriculture,
diversification is a key to managing production risk. Hytek, having established
90 percent of its hog farms on land ideally suited to forage production, made
the move to integrate a cattle herd into the existing hog operation. This provided
an opportunity for adding value to the current manure resources, and also to
improve the nutrient management efficiency by maintaining control of nutrients
from start to finish.

Constant improvements in nutrient management are an important factor in the
ever-evolving regulatory environment of the Manitoba hog industry. Hytek realizes
the importance of maintaining an intensive nutrient management system and that
efficient nutrient management makes good agronomic sense.

No matter where you farm, it is often not difficult to find golf course-like
pastures somewhere in the countryside or lackluster hay crops trying to reach
their growth potential in soils that are desperately low in nutrients. Cattlemen
often feel that commercial fertilizer application to pasture systems is difficult
to justify and, true, one must be careful to weigh the benefits of increased
cattle stocking density against the cost of fertilizers. However, a forage stand
will do nicely as a home for a few liquid manure nutrients.

Forages generally are big nutrient users. Crops like red clover and alfalfa
can reach deep into the soil to scavenge for nitrogen that has escaped the rooting
zone for annual crops. Also, the soil cover provided by a forage crop allows
for field trafficking most any time of the year, excluding winter, which provides
an excellent chance to spread liquid manure. The nitrogen in hog manure generally
exists in the ammonium form, which is readily plant available, but also prone
to ammonia loss if not injected or immediately incorporated. Incorporation is
obviously difficult in forage lands, but low disturbance coulter injection units
or aeration units, such as the Aerway harrow, allow manure to be incorporated
into a forage stand with very little disturbance to the forage crop. The phosphorus
in hog manure is, however, tied up in the organic solids and will not be immediately
available for crop use.

This organically-bound phosphorus will mineralize over time and become plant
available. Further to supplying nutrients, liquid manure tends to stimulate
soil microbial activity and as a result, the organic matter content of manured
soils will often increase over time. As such, along with the benefits of adding
forage root mass to the soil organic matter pool, manured soils will tend to
develop a healthier soil structure compared to non-manured croplands.

The nutrient management department at Hytek realizes that significant new opportunities
exist when manure nutrients are used in hay and pasture forage production systems.
Application crews are able to apply manure throughout the summer months, while
most applicators are sitting idle, waiting for the fall harvest to provide clean
stubble fields on which manure will be applied. With careful scheduling, and
Hytek's ability to design a grazing and haying strategy around manure applications,
little time during the dry summer months is consumed waiting for annual crops
to be harvested, and manure nutrients are being put to good use keeping cow/calf
pairs grazing.

Hytek's nutrient management department also works very hard at ensuring that
everything they do adds value to the overall operation in some way. They have
achieved value-added status by adopting GPS and GIS technologies and initiating
an intensive soil and manure sampling program to track nutrient levels in the
manure storage and in the field. Not only have they added value to their manure
resources through the adoption of technology, they now realize that value exists
as soon as manure leaves the barn and they work hard to make the best possible
use of their manure nutrient resources.

An innovative partnership has been spawned by the effort being put into manure
management at Hytek. A multi-disciplined team of researchers from the University
of Manitoba have partnered with the hog and cattle producer to facilitate a
detailed scientific study of the agricultural ecosystem that Hytek currently
manages. The effectiveness of manure nutrients to maintain high quality grazing
crops is being compared to unfertilized and commercial fertilizer amended treatments.
While the crop soils crew manages the manure and forage production aspect, animal
scientists are monitoring grazing cattle performance on the different nutrient
management treatments. Soil nutrient dynamics and the greenhouse gas emissions
associated with each aspect of all the grazing systems are also being monitored.

Extensive scientific knowledge and practical on-the-ground information will
be the ultimate product of this research and demonstration project. The partnership
that has been established, although difficult to manage at times, demonstrates
the potential for industry and universities to work together in solving tough
challenges and continuing to add value to the Canadian livestock sector.

Adding value to manure helps to keep costs in check for managing manure as
a nutrient source and ultimately, for raising pigs. The accounts presented here
in Part II of Manure makers present an idea of how simple management
practices and technologies can help address many of the manure management issues
that the agricultural industry deals with on a daily basis.

The key to managing these issues is to keep looking and moving forward when
it comes to manure management, both in the barn and in the field. The message
is that producers do not have to deal with a waste product in hog manure, but
can find ways to add value to an already valuable nutrient product. This thinking
is what it takes to make a farm a 'manure maker' as opposed to a 'manure taker'.

*Cedric MacLeod is Greenhouse Gas
Mitigation program co-ordinator at the Canadian Pork Council.


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