With commercial fertilizer in short supply and prices approaching historic highs, livestock manure is more valuable than ever. But exploiting manure's value requires accurate application to cropland.

Today's new manure application equipment helps commercial haulers and farmers do a better job of applying a uniform rate across the field. With application rates based on soil and manure tests and with proper application, growers should see good results in their crop.

Uneven application. The new applicators replace older equipment that may rob you of expected yields. It isn't uncommon for application rates on older equipment to vary by 2,000 to 4,000 gal./acre from start to finish. Older vacuum pressure pumps apply significantly higher rates when the tank is full and pressure is high than when the tanks are nearing empty and pressure is low. It's possible that one part of a field might receive 50 lbs. of nitrogen while another part receives 200 lbs.

“We suspect there are tremendous flow differences from start to finish when we're applying manure. We wouldn't dream of spraying herbicides or anhydrous ammonia without an electronic flow meter, so why should we apply manure without one?” asks Pat Duncanson, a Mapleton, MN, hog producer who plans to purchase a flow meter for his manure applicator. “We're spending the time and effort to haul manure greater distances for maximum utilization. It only makes sense to apply it as accurately as we can.”

Adding flow meters. Advances in equipment such as flow meters are making a difference in manure application. “We've seen a huge change in the past three years in the application equipment,” says John Yoder, general manager of waste handling, Stutsmans, Hills, IA. “New tanks are going out with flow meter monitoring capabilities so an even rate can be applied across the field. As-applied mapping has also taken off.”

Many commercial haulers have purchased tanks with centrifugal pumps or positive displacement pumps, both of which apply a more consistent rate of manure from beginning to end.

In addition, more haulers are purchasing flow meters and controllers that automatically adjust a valve or change the pump speed to keep a constant application rate as tractor speed or topography changes. A few use the controllers for variable rate application of the manure.

The only drawback is the cost. A flow meter alone costs $4,000 to $6,000. A complete system with flow meter, controller and GPS capabilities can cost from $10,000 to $18,500. But that's without the tank. Add another $35,000 for a 6,000-gal. tank with base injectors. Also needed is a tractor to pull it. Because of the cost, most of these systems are being sold to custom applicators.

Commercial hauling. Mark Shipman, Corwith, IA, hauls 30 million gallons of hog manure each year in northern Iowa. He recently purchased the Balzer Rite Rate System, which includes a Krone flow meter, a Raven 660 controller and a PF 3000 Ag Leader GPS unit. The listed cost was $18,500. He installed the system on four Balzer Magnum 6350 tanks.

“With this system I am as accurate as I can be and the maps show the DNR and the farmer that the right rate was applied,” Shipman says. “Applied rates are usually within 2% of the desired rate.”

Chris Sonnek, New Richland, MN, runs a pair of 12,000-gal. Balzer tanks with Caterpillar tracks, the Rite Rate System and DMI chisel sweep injectors. He says one unit fully equipped and outfitted with tracks costs about $150,000. “My decision was driven by regulations that will be coming down the road. Record keeping is going to become crucial. We will have to verify the accuracy of our application rates,” says Sonnek, who hauls manure for about 150 clients in southern Minnesota.

For more information, contact Balzer Inc., Dept. FIN, Cty. Rd. 27, Mountain Lake, MN 56159, 800/795-8551 or circle 206.

Self-propelled unit. Ag-Chem Equipment Company's Nutrient Management System was developed in Europe where manure regulations have been rigorous. The self-propelled, closed handling system has a 4,000-gal. tank, an arable land injector, GPS, a Falcon controller and large flotation tires. The system allows straight or variable rate application and mapping.

“Future nutrient management plans will require more accurate record keeping. With our system the operator is able to map where the machine will turn on and off for required setbacks and buffer zones,” says Craig Jorgensen, manager of manure application systems, Ag-Chem Equipment. “The pumps have a wide performance range. We can apply at rates as low as 1,500 gal./acre up to 25,000 gal./acre.”

The toolbar uses a hydraulic distributor to equally distribute the manure to the injector points. Injectors are placed 9 in. apart compared to 30 in. on a standard toolbar. “The arable land injection system eliminates 96% of the odor,” Jorgensen says. In addition, Ag-Chem offers toolbars that allow application into growing crops such as cut alfalfa or growing wheat up to 8 in. tall. “This extends the application season,” Jorgensen adds. The company also has weigh cells that can be installed on dry manure spreaders for accurate application and documentation.

The Nutrient Management System costs $275,000. For more information, contact Ag-Chem Equip. Co. Inc., Dept. FIN, 5720 Smetana Dr., Minnetonka, MN 55343, 952/933-9006, www.agchem.com or circle 207.

Test manure first. Before you allow manure to be applied, make sure it is tested first. Studies by the University of Minnesota found that nutrient values for nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium vary 300% from farm to farm for the same animal species. Although the average nitrogen value for finishing hog manure is about 50 lbs./1,000 gal., the value typically ranges from 20 to 110 lbs./1,000 gal., says Mike Schmitt, University of Minnesota professor and soil scientist. Each year more livestock producers recognize the value of testing their manure, yet fewer than half in Minnesota do so, Schmitt estimates.

Farmers Co-op of Farnhamville, MN, tests manure from about 60 hog farms in Iowa and writes management plans for it. Tony Sents manages manure application out of the co-op's Bradford, IA, location. The co-op's Bio Nutri Flow system uses the Balzer Rite Rate System.

“We determine application rates from the manure sample and the soil samples,” Sents explains. “When we're applying, we take two additional manure samples: one when the pit is a third down and one at three-fourths down. If the analysis is different, we have a map of where the manure was applied and we can determine where we need supplemental fertilizer. We're trying to be as accurate as we can with a product that does not have a guaranteed analysis.”

He notes that the value of the nutrients in manure far exceeds the cost of application. “A typical manure application cost is $35/acre. That's about what a farmer will spend on nitrogen alone this year for a 150-bu./acre yield goal. The value of the manure is much greater because he's getting N, P, K and micronutrients as well as organic matter and microbial activity.”