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

Aerial view of the West Fertilizer explosion site
FertilizerFertilizer Companies Blame City For West, TX, Explosion
August 6, 2014
El Dorado Chemical Co. and CF Industries contend the city failed to properly train the first responders and had insufficient protocols in place to battle the April 17, 2013, blaze at West Fertilizer Co. that triggered the explosion. Read More
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

Trending Articles

MAGIE 2014 ShowStopper
EquipmentJohn Deere Again Wins MAGIE ShowStopper Award
August 25, 2014
For the second consecutive year, John Deere was honored at the Midwest AG Industries Exposition (MAGIE) for its new R4045 sprayer. Read More
ManagementExpert To Discuss Farmland Value, Rent At Farm Science Review
August 18, 2014
While cropland values in Ohio increased in the past two years, they have remained flat in 2014, declining in some cases, according to an Ohio State University agricultural economist. Read More
EquipmentAdvance Your Technology IQ At MAGIE
August 13, 2014
The Midwest AG Industries Exposition (August 20-21) is the place you need to be to see, study and evaluate how new advances in the equipment, operations, crop protection and fertility sectors can help your business prosper. Read More
HerbicidesScouting Key To Next Season’s Soybean Herbicide Program
August 12, 2014
When growing soybeans, growers need to think ahead to stay one step ahead of weeds. That means examining weed threats and evaluating which herbicides work best. Read More
StewardshipMichigan Agriculture Leaders On Toledo Water Ban: We Want To Be Part Of The Conversation
August 8, 2014
Leaders of Michigan agricultural organizations said Thursday that the government should not have a “knee-jerk reaction” based on last weekend’s water ban in Toledo due to fertilizer run-off in Lake Erie. Read More
CropLife 100BRANDT Acquires Lemon Ag Services
August 4, 2014
The acquisition of Lemon Ag fits BRANDT’s aggressive corporate strategy of providing superior agronomic advice and services for customers in central Illinois. Read More

Latest News

Seed/BiotechBerendes Joins Verdesian Board Of Directors
September 2, 2014
Verdesian Life Sciences announced that Robert Berendes has recently joined the company's board of directors. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Acquires East Kansas Chemical
September 2, 2014
Ranked 82nd on the CropLife 100, East Kansas Chemical will operate as part of Pinnacle's Performance Agriculture brand. Read More
WebinarsWebinars On Demand
September 2, 2014
Register for one of our upcoming Webinars or access our archive of past Webinars to view recordings of presentations that may be of interest to you. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Launches Performance Agriculture Brand
September 2, 2014
Performance Agriculture complements Pinnacle’s existing brands, including Sanders, the company’s flagship farm input retail brand. Read More
Webinars5 Key Benefits Of Attending A Webinar
September 2, 2014
Webinars can provide ag retailers with a convenient option for gaining knowledge on the latest industry issues and solutions. Read More
Crop InputsBASF Is Betting On A Bright Agricultural Future
September 1, 2014
The crop protection products giant is gearing up for a busy time in agriculture by investing in both product production and development over the next couple of years. Read More
Eric SfiligojAn Erie Feeling For Ag
September 1, 2014
Plenty of water issues have been in the news lately, including the continuing drought in California. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Acquires California-Based Retailer
August 29, 2014
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings will acquire Kerman Ag Resources, Inc., which will operate under Pinnacle's Performance Agriculture brand. Read More
Allied Cooperative Grain Plant
ManagementArcadia Co-op To Merge With Allied Cooperative
August 28, 2014
Allied Cooperative has announced that members of Arcadia Co-op voted in favor of a merger with Allied Cooperative, paving the way for the consolidation which will be effective on December 1, 2014. Read More
InsecticidesBioinsecticide VENERATE Now Registered In California
August 27, 2014
Marrone Bio Innovations' VENERATE is a new tool to help California growers control crop-damaging insect pests, fight the development of insect resistance and reduce pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables. Read More
CropLife 100Two Iowa-Based Ag Co-ops To Merge
August 27, 2014
The Board of Directors and management of United Western Coop, Missouri Valley, IA has completed a merger with Heartland Co-op, West Des Moines, IA, effective September 1, 2014. Read More
FertilizerKoch Expands AGROTAIN Nitrogen Stabilizer Portfolio
August 26, 2014
Koch Agronomic Services, LLC has added two new innovative nitrogen stabilizers to the AGROTAIN product family – AGROTAIN ADVANCED and AGROTAIN DRI-­MAXX. Read More
Seed/BiotechDuPont To Build Two Seed Treatment Centers
August 26, 2014
DuPont has announced construction on two state-of-the-art centers dedicated to developing and testing seed treatment formulations, applications and seed handling techniques in an important step toward bringing new solutions to growers. Read More
Seed/BiotechLoveland Products Acquires A Controlling Interest In Ag…
August 26, 2014
Loveland Products, a subsidiary of Agrium , has announced the company has acquired a controlling interest in Agricen, a Dallas-area agricultural biotechnology company delivering biochemical-based products for efficient and sustainable plant nutrition. Read More
StewardshipUp Close Look At The 2014 Environmental Respect Award W…
August 25, 2014
The 2014 Environmental Respect Award winners were honored recently at the 24th annual event in Wilmington, DE. Read More
Eric SfiligojAg Science Rejection Carries Consequences
August 25, 2014
As innuendo and fear dog the regulatory process, agriculture can’t get the new tools it needs to combat world hunger. Read More
LegislationFarmers Dismayed As New Farm Bill Dumps Direct Payments
August 25, 2014
The threatened end of cash subsidies to the nation’s row crop farmers dates back through at least the last two iterations of national agriculture policy legislation. Read More
MAGIE 2014 ShowStopper
EquipmentJohn Deere Again Wins MAGIE ShowStopper Award
August 25, 2014
For the second consecutive year, John Deere was honored at the Midwest AG Industries Exposition (MAGIE) for its new R4045 sprayer. Read More