Illinois farmers will need to rely on fertilizers to replenish soils after the record 2014 crop.  Brothers Brad and Brian Thomas farm together near Oakdale, Ill., and they prefer to use hog manure from a neighbor’s barn to enhance soil fertility and profitability.

“We don’t have to use any commercial fertilizer on ground that gets manure, and we get more organic matter and other benefits from manure,” says Brad Thomas. “We just pay manure application costs, so we get cost savings compared to commercial fertilizer.”

About 15 years ago, a neighbor built a hog barn.  The hog farmer didn’t have enough local ground to take the building’s manure, so the Thomas family jumped at the opportunity to use it on nearby fields.

“We raised hogs until the early 1990s, so we understood the value of manure as fertilizer,” Thomas explains.  “We were tickled when he offered enough manure to cover between 100 and 120 acres of our ground.”

Thomas says applicators analyze the manure for nutrient value and apply it at rates to meet nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium requirements, just like urea or anhydrous.  In addition, manure adds micronutrients and organic matter that improve soil quality.

“The application is split between fall and spring.  We usually plant corn after manure, followed by wheat and then double-crop soybeans,” he says.  “We get three crops with manure before the corn and a half-rate of liquid 28 before the wheat.”

A local retailer injects manure, placing it six to eight inches deep in the soil where it stays available for the crop and minimizes odor.

undefinedThomas says nutrient loss hasn’t been a problem.  The ground with manure consistently has their highest yields.

University of Illinois Livestock Extension Specialist Laura Pepple says those higher yields likely come from improved soil quality and the complete nutrient package manure offers.  “Research at the University of Illinois Morrow Plots consistently shows higher organic matter in soil with manure, although yield response varies,” she says.  “Higher organic matter helps retain soil, which is especially valuable in southern Illinois.”

When compared to market value of anhydrous, DAP and potash, Illinois hog manure applied at nitrogen-limiting rates is typically valued at $180 to $200 per acre plus application costs. Thomas just pays about $115 per acre for application.

With high fertilizer prices and potential for future price increases, Pepple says manure is growing in popularity as a fertilizer source.  “Iowa hog farmers have been selling manure for profit as primary fertilizer for years.  I know an Illinois hog farmer who had trouble finding ground for manure five years ago.  Now he wishes he had more to sell due to increased demand,” she says.

Given cost savings and nutrient value, Thomas would use more if it were available.

“We would welcome more hogs in the area to have access to more manure for fertilizer,” he says.  “We’ve seen the benefits and would be glad to take advantage on more acres.”

Checkoff Fact:  Want Access to Manure?

Rob Shaffer, El Paso, Ill., farmer and ISA director, says manure options offer benefits beyond just the farmers involved.  Expanding animal agriculture grows the local market for soybean meal and trims transportation costs for soybean and livestock farmers and elevators.  Livestock barns bring income, jobs and tax revenue to rural communities.

For more information about checkoff-funded programs and accessing manure for fertilizer, contact Lindsey Henson, ISA animal ag lead, or 217-219-1779, or Nic Anderson, Illinois Livestock Development Group Livestock Business Developer, or 217-622-7491.

Plant-available N P2O5 K2O
Average nutrient content of manure 42 lb/1,000 gal 28 lb/1,000 gal 34 lb/1,000 gal
Commercial fertilizer costs $0.41 (NH3) $0.42 (DAP) $0.38 (Potash)

Laura Pepple estimates the value of manure based on fall 2014 fertilizer prices and average nutrient content for manure from finishing hogs.  The graph shows cash value of manure at any application rate, minus the application cost.  Manure value varies based on nutrient content, application method and agronomic requirements.

This article originally appeared in the December issue of Illinois Field & Bean. 

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