By: Chryseis Modderman, University of Minnesota Extension Educator
Livestock owners have long known the immense value of their manure. Now, with soaring commercial fertilizer prices, some crops-only folks are starting to see what all the hype is about and are seeking to buy manure from their livestock owner neighbors. Luckily, livestock and crop farmers teaming up can prove to be mutually beneficial.
The most obvious benefit is that you, the livestock owner, earn some cash for the manure you were planning to apply anyway; and the crop farmer gets the nutrient and soil health benefits of manure while paying less than commercial fertilizer. In addition, more application acres can help free up on-farm manure storage, giving you a bit more freedom to delay applications in the event of a wet spring. You might also cut transportation costs if the new field is closer to the barn than the land for which that manure was originally planned. Plus, if your partnership continues into the future, you may be able to write their land into your manure management plan (check out your local manure planning rules for more information).
Create a plan
I don’t think there’s currently a manure dating app where you can swipe right to pick the nutrient source you want, so how do you even start a relationship like this? I talked to a Minnesota corn and soybean farmer (he requested to remain anonymous, so we’ll call him Mr. Smith) who has been buying a neighbor’s turkey litter for nearly two decades.
“You just got to reach out, you know? I’d heard turkey litter was real good [stuff], and I’ve known [turkey farmer] his whole life, so it wasn’t a big thing to say ‘Hey, what do you say we do this?’” he told me.
Some manure-sharing relationships also start online through Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and other sales websites. However, if you’re going to do this online, make sure to look up your local rules about nutrient source sales so you aren’t accidentally subject to fertilizer labeling rules. It might be simpler to seek out a willing person to work with and then deal with the details in-person, over the phone, or in private messages.
When creating a manure plan with another farmer, Jeff Bauman, an ag nutrient consultant with Anez Consulting, Inc., recommends putting it on paper.
“A written agreement is almost always best so that there are no misunderstandings or things that are forgotten,” he said.
Bauman advises spelling out (in writing) the price, field location, tons/gallons per acre, and total tons/gallons delivered to the field before the transaction date. Mr. Smith takes a more laid-back approach, with a simple verbal agreement.
“There’s no need to make things more complicated,” he explained.
Whichever method you choose, communication is key to ensure you stay on the same page.
Set a price
The most common question I get about manure partnerships is: “How much should I charge/pay for manure?” Unfortunately, there’s not a simple answer and prices often fluctuate depending on fertilizer prices. The only real guideline is that both parties need to feel they are benefitting and getting value out of the arrangement. This can be subjective and depends on several factors, such as whether the manure can be applied by the manure owner or if a commercial manure hauler needs to be hired, if the buyer is willing to place monetary value on the micronutrients and soil health benefits in addition to the NPK value, the haggling skills of each party, etc. Keep in mind that if a farmer is new to manure, it’s very likely they don’t own the machinery necessary for applying it, so make sure application and transportation costs are factored in.
For high-ammonium manures, like poultry and swine, Bauman suggests basing the price on the manure’s first year available N content and the average price of urea and anhydrous fertilizer plus transportation and spreading fees. For lower-ammonium manure, like dairy, he suggests using crop nutrient removal rates to estimate price.
“It still comes to less than the cost of commercial fertilizer, plus you get the advantage of the micronutrients and other benefits,” Bauman said.
Know your local regulations
When manure is applied to land owned by someone else, it’s considered “transferred manure,” which has its own set of rules and requirements. These vary based on location and whether you’re crossing county or state lines. In some cases, the applicator must be a certified manure handler, which might be extra hassle for you if you don’t already hold that certification. Often, you will need to provide certain records about the manure, such as a nutrient analysis. More details on transferred manure can be found in your local manure rules or by talking to your local permitting agency.
Spread the knowledge
Many crop farmers don’t understand the nuances of manure nutrient availability, so, while certainly not required, it’s a good move to share some of your manure know-how with them. Let them know that not all nutrients are created equal when it comes to manure. Some are bound to organic particles and will release slowly over the first and even the second growing seasons after application. Other nutrients are plant-available right away and behave similarly to commercial fertilizers after application. Point out that not all of the “total N” reported on the manure nutrient analysis will be usable by the plant in the first year and that N availability of manure varies by livestock species and how the manure is applied. In Minnesota, we expect other nutrients to be more predictable than N and estimate that 80% of the total phosphorus and 90% of the total potassium measured in the manure will be available to the crop. You’ll want to look up the manure nutrient availability recommendations from the land grant university for your region, though. The manure buyer should also know that they need to take a nitrogen credit for manure applied the previous year. Your state should have resources that estimate N availability for both the current and following year.
Keep an open mind
Please note that transferring your manure to a crop farmer is not a standardized process and your experiences may vary. There’s no poop commodity driving prices, and the forces of supply and demand are murky and vary widely by location. Still, this can still be a lucrative and rewarding opportunity to spread the wealth (the wealth being, of course, poop).