Making Money With Manure

Larry Den Hartog Midwest Farmers Coop

The old adage, “He fell in a pile of it and came out smelling like a rose” is very apropos right now for ag retailers who offer manure application services. The skyrocketing price of commercial fertilizer has driven demand for manure to unprecedented levels as producers seek ways to cut their input costs while meeting crop nutrient needs. Ag retailers who’ve fallen into it are enjoying the sweet, rosy smell of profit. 

As more and more growers seek alternatives to commercial fertilizer, there is potential for more service providers to enter the manure application market. In addition, environmental considerations which limit the amount of manure applied per acre, as well as efforts which may limit application to spring only, could require more applicators in order to meet market needs.

However, making money in the manure application business isn’t as simple as one might think. It has become highly sophisticated, involving advanced technologies, high-tech equipment, discriminating farm operators, careful attention to detail, and a thorough understanding of environmental rules and regulations.

Midwest Farmers Cooperative (MFC) in Sheldon, IA, ventured into manure application in the late 1970s after a less than satisfactory experience with custom applicators who spread manure from the co-op’s 4,000-head beef confinement operation.

The decision was led by Larry Den Hartog, who is now the agronomy operations manager.

“At that time, manure was a waste product they just wanted to get rid of. The manure applicators were taking up to two weeks and were giving our manure a bad name,” Den Hartog remembers. “Hog units were beginning to expand rapidly, and I expected we would begin to lose fertilizer business. We got into manure application to handle manure from the feedlot, generate service income, and protect our fertilizer business.

“We started with one machine, and by fall, we had so much business, we purchased a second TerraGator,” he continues. The application fleet currently includes two TerraGator NMS 9105s equipped with 23-foot toolbars and a TerraGator NMS 9205 with a 30-foot bar.

Poultry Litter Began As ‘Waste’

More than a decade ago when VanTilburg Farms — a family farming, crop production, and excavation company, first applied manure to its own fields, poultry litter was simply a waste product to be gotten rid of. Livestock operations in the southern half of Mercer County, located in the Grand Lake/Lake St. Mary’s watershed, were to the limits of what they could apply and needed somewhere else to go with litter.

At the suggestion of Joe Beiler, the local Extension agent, VanTilburg Farms began using poultry litter as a nutrient source for crops on their 4,000-acre operation near Celina, OH. With experience on their farm and requests for poultry litter coming from customers, VanTilburg Farms started offering custom application in 1999. Today, VanTilburg’s phone is ringing off the hook with calls from growers who want to buy poultry litter. It has become a high-demand alternative to commercial fertilizer, and VanTilburg is “essentially sold out.

“Demand for poultry litter is going way up, outpacing supply, and the price has gone up as well,” VanTilburg says. “I believe the price will go up considerably for next year as well.”

More Than Application

Today, MFC manure application services are a component of the company’s agronomy program and include soil testing, nutrient management planning, as-applied maps, manure nutrient analysis, tendering to the field, manure procurement, application, and a complete report following application.  This comprehensive approach to the business keeps the phone ringing even though MFC is the most expensive applicator in the area.

The co-op charges a minimum of $61.20 per acre up to 3,600 gallons per acre, which covers the full spectrum of application-related services. For more than 3,600 gallons, rates increase 17 cents per gallon per acre. Tendering to the Frac tank is in addition at $7.50 for 2,800 gallons hauled 3 miles. Each additional mile is one-tenth cent per gallon.

VanTilburg Farms generates income through brokering litter and through custom application. Like MFC, its service includes grid soil sampling, nutrient management planning, litter tendering, and application. Beiler, who helped them get started, is now a full-time employee, responsible for procuring litter from a 70-mile radius, handling the soil sampling on 2.5-acre grids, keeping abreast of Ohio Department of Agriculture rules and regulations as well as all needed paperwork.

Depending on distance from the poultry barns, growers are charged approximately $40 per ton for a typical application of 3 tons per acre which covers tendering and application. Application only is $8.50 per ton. The operation also makes a markup on the litter it brokers.

Equipment Important

Litter application wasn’t always smooth sailing for VanTilburgs Farms. Finding the right spreader system took four tries.

“We started with a regular dry fertilizer spinner box, but that didn’t work well at all, particularly for large volumes because the gate hole was too small, and the manure would bridge up, plus the box would not hold enough volume,” VanTilburg says. “We went to a Hydra-Spread next, but to apply 3 tons, we had to drive really fast. The spread pattern wasn’t very accurate, and the machine didn’t have the capacity we needed.”

Spreader No. 3 still posed problems with wet litter or straw bridging up, and it had a narrow spread pattern. For some applications it worked, for others, it didn’t. The company then turned to a Tebbe box on a TerraGator 3104 chassis which handles the manure well and provides a wide, even spread pattern.

“Farmers like to see a consistent application pattern across the entire field, and the consistency of this applicator has helped us establish our business,” VanTilburg says. “The spread pattern also helps the litter dry quickly, which is important to being a good neighbor and helps us maintain our business.”

Annually, the company applies around 50,000 tons of litter, serving operations in a 60- to 70-mile radius and running around the clock during the busy fall application season. To make this process easier for the operator, the machine is equipped with an autosteer guidance system. Litter is stockpiled 300 feet from the edge of the field and loaded with a pay loader. An application rate of 60 tons to 70 tons per hour is a top pace.

Moving Manure ‘Through The Knives’

In Den Hartog’s experience, the only way to make money in the manure application business is to “have manure moving through the knives.” To make this Northwest Iowa operation work, Den Hartog’s goal is to apply 1 million gallons of liquid swine or cattle manure per day with a 50-million-gallon-per-year goal. He knows the first 27 days of application generate no profit — only cover his expenses. Each day, the company must apply 750,000 gallons to cover expenses.

To meet these aggressive goals, having the right equipment and “a heck of a crew” is key. On a good day, the MFC team will make the 1-million-gallon target using three TerraGator NMS machines tendered from field-side Frac tanks. Semi-tankers haul from barns where a tractor and pump is working in every pumpout station — sometimes six per building.

To stay ahead of three applicators, tankers must haul 100,000 gallons per hour. Depending on the distance to the field, as many as 10 tankers may be in use at one time. High speed pumps allow them to offload in as little as three minutes.

“The operation is labor intensive, but it has to be since you don’t make money when the applicators are sitting.  We have a heck of a crew that often runs from 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.,” Hartog says.

Precision Approach From Pit To Field

The operation is much more than pump, haul, and spread; precision application is an approach which delivers “extra value” and allows MFC to be at the top of the market on application charges.

Tyler Jorgensen, a dedicated full-time precision agriculture and manure management specialist, joined the team in 2005 and is responsible for lining up grid soil sampling, manure sampling, and developing manure management plans, including running a Russell II and the newly instituted phosphorus index.

MFC has found the nutrient analysis of manure varies because rations and barn management vary. Rather than relying on a standard analysis, manure samples are taken from each barn prior to spreading as well as at the field during spreading. A database of sampling results is kept on file for DNR documentation and nutrient management planning. In addition, it is used to more closely match nutrient content to nutrient needs of each field. 

The company believes thorough agitation is critical for uniform application of nutrients at the field and for good removal of solids in the pits. If not agitated properly, a variation of as much as 20 units of nitrogen (N) has been seen from the top to the bottom of a pit in Den Hartog’s experience.

With soil test results, manure nutrient content, and often yield maps in hand, an application rate is determined for each field. Most often, rates are based on the nitrogen content. Many of the swine in the area are fed phytase to reduce phosphorus in manure below what is needed for a two-year corn/bean rotation. On a field allowed 180 units of N, MFC will typically apply enough gallons to supply 150 units. 

The additional 30 or 40 units of N needed are often applied in the spring with preemergence chemicals, to jumpstart the crop. Using the Falcon controller in the TerraGator, the operator calibrates each load to apply the appropriate rate. 

“Once the machine is out of manure, the map won’t print, so the operator has to lift the toolbar and go get more manure,” Hartog explains. By combining as-applied maps, grid maps, and yield maps, the fertility experts at MFC also have the opportunity to push manure application rates higher based on proven crop removal rate. Using these tools they often go over the field again to variable-rate apply phosphorus, potash, lime, zinc, and sulfur — generating more service income for the coop and helping growers push yields to optimal levels.

VanTilburg points out that success in the manure application business also requires staying on top of environmental regulations and being a good neighbor. Talking to neighbors before spreading, being cognizant of wind direction, and treating litter for the black beetles typical in layer houses are their standard practices

Leave a Reply

One comment on “Making Money With Manure

  1. I am going to need manure removed from our property
    in the spring. We have a small hobby farm. The
    manure is a mixture of steer, goat, chicken and llama. There is hay and corn cob bedding in it
    also.

    If there is anyone who can help or give me advice
    on what do I would appreciate it.

    I am a greenhorn at all this, so serious inquiries only.

Fertilizer Stories

FertilizerThe Fertilizer Institute: New President, Renewed Energy
February 3, 2014
Chris Jahn relishes the opportunity to lead the organization through the challenging times ahead. Read More
FertilizerA New Cycle For Fertilizer Demand
January 2, 2014
Changes in the corn market could have a major impact on the crop nutrients sector in 2014, say experts. Read More
FertilizerOSHA Hammers West Fertilizer With Over $100K In Fines For April Explosion
October 10, 2013
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is fining the parent company of the West Fertilizer plant, Adair Grain Inc., $118,300 for 24 violations. Read More
FertilizerTFI Appeals Chesapeake Bay TMDL Ruling
October 10, 2013
The Fertilizer Institute joined a coalition appealing a U.S. District Court ruling on the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for nitrogen and phosphorus. Read More

Trending Articles

Green Valley Ag facility
Retail FacilitiesGreen Valley Ag Adopts A.J. Sackett’s Precision Fertilizer Blending® Technology At New Facility
July 8, 2014
Sackett's Precision Fertilizer Blending® Technology is making huge strides around the world. Green Valley Ag adopts the technology at its new facility to support its advancing agronomic needs. Read More
Retail FacilitiesWaconia Manufacturing Builds Facility Designed For Speed, Efficiency
July 7, 2014
To make its new hub facility more efficient, Cooperative Elevator enlisted the aid of Waconia Manufacturing. Read More
EquipmentSummer Show Preview 2014: Superior Sprayers Take The Field
July 3, 2014
In this final installment of our coverage of the major categories of Big IRON that retailers can expect to test-drive at this summer’s events, here is a look at 19 sprayers. Read More
Scouting a soybean patch at Green Valley Ag.
EmployeesCropLife Compensation Survey: Battling Talent Drain
July 2, 2014
Retailers too often lose employees to companies outside of agriculture, while recruiting efforts are most often limited to competitors and other ag-focused organizations. Read More
HerbicidesDow AgroSciences Introduces SureStart II Herbicide
June 16, 2014
The enhanced formulation has improved viscosity and increased stability under heat and controls more than 60 high-anxiety grasses and broadleaf weeds found in corn fields. Read More
HerbicidesBASF Investing $270 Million To Expand U.S. Herbicide Production
June 11, 2014
BASF has invested more than $270 million to expand herbicide production capacities in the U.S., including more than 20 new products to be launched over next two years. Read More

Latest News

StewardshipMonsanto Joins Panel Of Innovators To Advance Research …
July 30, 2014
Monsanto Co. and The Climate Corp., its division, recently joined a roundtable of experts at the White House to share ideas and research approaches to help the world’s farmers manage and adapt to the impact of climate change on the global food supply. Read More
Crop InputsSoybean Checkoff Produces Big ROI
July 30, 2014
Under the soy checkoff program, all U.S. soybean farmers contribute a small percentage of their gross soybean sales for research and marketing projects that maximize their profit potential. Read More
CropLife 100Learfield Sports, CHS Agree To Football-Centric, Colleg…
July 30, 2014
CHS Inc. will embark on a highly integrated collegiate sports sponsorship platform with 24 Division I universities in 19 states designed to reach the farmer-owned cooperative's rural owners and customers. Read More
LegislationUSDA Implements Key Farm Bill Crop Insurance Provision
July 30, 2014
The new Supplemental Coverage Option, available through the federal crop insurance program and set to begin with the 2015 crop year, is designed to help protect producers from yield and market volatility. Read More
CropLife 100Wilbur-Ellis Forms New Organizational Structure For Its…
July 30, 2014
The new structure will provide more responsive internal support and will allow regional vice presidents and area managers to spend more time with customers, on talent development and on operational excellence across branches. Read More
Palmer pigweed in cotton
HerbicidesNew Training Modules On Herbicide Resistance Now Availa…
July 30, 2014
The Weed Science Society of America has announced the availability of three new education modules on herbicide resistance in weeds. Read More
HerbicidesWillowood To Market Glufosinate
July 28, 2014
Willowood USA recently announced that Federal EPA has approved its technical registration for glufosinate. Read More
InsecticidesHow To Scout For Corn Earworms In Corn
July 28, 2014
In her weekly report, University of Missouri Agronomy Specialist Jill Scheidt discusses what to look for when scouting for corn earworm. Read More
Crop InputsDuPont Pioneer, Weyerhaeuser Enter Technology License A…
July 28, 2014
The agreement brings together agricultural and forestry know-how to sustainably improve crop productivity for corn growers around the world. Read More
EquipmentAGCO Launches Global iPad App
July 28, 2014
The free AGCO Global iPad App can be downloaded from the Apple iTunes Store and features the full family of RoGator self-propelled sprayers and TerraGator high-floatation spreaders. Read More
Eric SfiligojYuma Centennial Ag Supply Earns 2014 National Environme…
July 28, 2014
Colorado-based ag retailer receives top trophy in 24th annual DuPont Crop Protection/CropLife ceremony. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Forms Alliance With Wildlife Managment, Seed O…
July 25, 2014
The strategic alliance will provide Tecomate with key wildlife products, processing facilities, distribution centers and sales through Pinnacle’s ever-growing retail network. Read More
ManagementFranken Presses White House On RFS Support
July 25, 2014
Al Franken and a group of Senate democrats recently met with senior White House official John Podesta to urge the administration to change its position on an EPA proposal. Read More
ManagementASA, FarmLink To Launch ‘Operation Benchmark̵…
July 25, 2014
The American Soybean Association (ASA) and FarmLink are teaming up to help farmers close the $11 billion gap between what they harvested in 2013 and what they could harvest annually. Read More
StewardshipNorthey: Farmers Commit $1.4 Million to Try New Water Q…
July 25, 2014
The practices that are eligible for funding include cover crops, no-till or strip till and using a nitrification inhibitor when applying fall fertilizer. Read More
Precision AgFarmers Learn How Changing World Will Impact Iowa
July 24, 2014
Technology and understanding global consumer demand for Iowa farm products brought hundreds of farmers and agribusiness leaders to Ames recently for the annual Iowa Farm Bureau Federation Economic Summit. Read More
HerbicidesPurdue: Late Season Weeds May Require Manual Removal
July 24, 2014
Hand-rouging and pulling late season weeds by hand may be the best way to remove them, more so than using a herbicide, a Purdue Extension weed scientist says. Read More
Soybean Field
InsecticidesTransform WG, Closer SC Insecticides Receive R&D 10…
July 23, 2014
Dow AgroSciences has received the award from R&D Magazine for Transform WG insecticide and Closer SC insecticide with Isoclast active. Read More