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Bargains in manure

Two firms help growers find sources of manuer

Crop farmers looking for a bargain may want to apply manure on their fields this spring. Crop experts estimate that farmers can save $10 to $20/acre using manure rather than commercial fertilizer, while maintaining corn yields. The savings include transportation and application costs.

Ignorance about the value of manure, along with the convenience of commercial fertilizer, have led many farmers away from this age-old method of soil renewal. Low grain prices, however, have forced many crop farmers to reconsider this alternative.

"Animal manure is an excellent fertilizer product," says agronomist Michael McNeill of Algona, IA. Manure provides nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in an organic form, which make them a little more available than they are in commercial fertilizer. Plus, manure contains micro-nutrients that aid plant growth.

Manure broker. To help crop farmers arrange manure applications, a Carroll, IA, firm has set up a manure brokering business. Agren arranges the transfer of manure from hog producers, who need to dispose of it, to crop farmers, who want it applied on their fields. The company arranges the application, prepares an agreement between the parties, takes manure samples, reviews soil test information and determines the correct manure application rate. Commercial applicators generally are hired to haul and apply the manure.

Stan Buman of Agren says they started the business last year after noticing that hog producers are often reluctant to approach their neighbors. Many of the producers already have manure easements. They just need help asking their neighbors to pay application costs. Agren does that for them.

Apparently, the state of Iowa saw a need for the brokering, too. Agren received a $40,000 grant from the Iowa Department of Economic Development to get the business running. Buman says Agren is the only brokering business he knows that handles hog manure. (There are some that handle poultry manure.) Agren is paid a fee based on what it saves the livestock producer.

Win-win situation. Buman explains that a hog producer with a 3,300-head finishing site needs about 300 acres on which to spread the manure. The producer will spend $40/acre to agitate, haul and apply the manure. If the producer can recoup these expenses from a crop farmer who needs fertilizer, the producer saves $12,000. The crop farmer normally spends $50 to $60/acre for commercial fertilizer on a corn-soybean rotation compared to $40/acre for manure. Thus, selling and using manure for fertilizer saves both the hog producer and the crop grower money.

Crop farmers looking for manure can contact their hog-producing neighbors on their own. Although he doesn't broker manure, McNeill helps hog producers find sources for manure. His firm, Ag Advisory, has clients in several midwestern states who sell manure.

McNeill helps write manure agreements or leases between the producers. Most of the leases are long term, running up to 10 years. The leases specify the price of manure. They base the price on the nutrient value of the manure, fixing it near the price of commercial fertilizer. Or the price is based on the cost of agitation, transportation and application. Both pricing methods usually average about $40/acre.

The highest cost of applying manure is transportation. McNeill says crop farmers should look for hog producers within about five miles of their fields. Beyond that distance, transportation costs may outweigh the benefits.

McNeill recommends working with a soil specialist when first determining manure application rates. State laws vary, but only the amount of nitrogen that a crop will use should be applied. Manure management plans are needed.

"There are so many misconceptions about the value of manure," McNeill says. "I see people who think there is no value, and others who overestimate the value."

For more information, contact Agren Inc., 312 W. 3rd St., Carroll, IA 51401, 712/792-6248 or circle 206. Or contact Ag Advisory Ltd., Box 716, Algona, IA 50511, 515/295-5513.

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