There was a time when livestock producers considered manure as a waste problem. With skyrocketing commercial fertilizer costs in recent years, both livestock and crop producers now think of manure as a valuable resource.
"Manure used to be a waste," Andy Scholting, manager of Nutrient Advisors, LLC in West Point, told a group of producers recently at the North American Manure Expo held in Norfolk. "But now it has value," he said.
The key is understanding the actual nutrient content of the manure, said Scholting, who was part of a panel of crop and manure experts who spoke at the expo. "It can be extremely valuable, but we want to see multiple analysis results and averages over time" to determine the actual nutrient value of the manure.
"It is dangerous to only use a high testing sample and then get caught with yellow crops" because the manure did not include enough nutrients to carry the crop to harvest time, he said.
When looking at the nutrient value of manure, producers are usually considering nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, along with zinc and sulfur. They really want to know what is available to the crop during the first year after application.
"It's easy to quantify the fertilizer value of manure," Scholting said. Adding manure to crop fields also increases the water infiltration rate, so more rainfall is absorbed into the soil and less precipitation runs off the field. "Manure is an investment that will pay big dividends over time. Many of our clients are seeing 20-30 bushel yield advantages in their corn," he adds.
"You can put a value on micronutrients," said another panelist, Abe Sandquist, owner of Natural Fertilizer Services, Inc. in Woodbine, Iowa. "What goes in is what goes out. So the value of the manure depends on what is being fed to the livestock producing it."
There are cropping issues to consider, including salt content, weed seed, rocks and compaction issues during manure application. Modern herbicide programs have reduced the worries about weed pressure, Scholting said.
Crop producers who are shopping for manure from their neighbors should consider transportation costs, said panelist, Kendall Bonenberger, president of Environmental Sciences, Inc. in Lincoln. If someone else is applying purchased manure, it is important that they have competent, knowledgeable applicators, he told the group.
Farmers also need to be considerate of where they are stockpiling their manure, and if they are spreading wet manure products, they should communicate with neighbors about odor concerns and show common courtesy, said Bonenberger.
Sandquist said that farmers can figure commercial fertilizer costs from $90 up to $150 per acre, if they expect corn yields of 200 bushels per acre. So, solid cattle manure fertilizer equivalent valued at $25 per ton carries great value these days, not only for the current crop year, but for subsequent cropping seasons as well.
For more information, contact the panelists: Scholting at 402-372-2236, Sandquist at 712-592-1905, or Bonenberger at 402-423-9696.