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Hog manure helps cut fertilizer bills

At Wortman Farms, swine manure is a valued soil nutrient. Without the fertilizer value from the manure, there have been times over the past few years when the swine business would have been a losing proposition.

“When fertilizer prices were high, the manure was worth about $200 per acre,” says Greg Wortman.

At a glance

• Hog prices are tight, but manure’s value helps this farm’s balance sheet.

• Wortman Farms knows the nutrient level of each manure source.

• Worthmans keep careful records and want to be Earth-friendly producers.

The Wortmans — father Warren and sons Greg, Scott, Brian and Jeff — plus three employees farm about 2,000 acres near Creighton, take care of a 600-sow farrow-to-finish hog operation, finish about 18,000 head of hogs a year, and run a cattle feedlot. They’ve always tried to be environmentally responsible and keep close track of where they’ve applied manure so as not to overapply.

They started out applying one flat rate, but all swine manure is not created equal. Nutrient levels vary by the type of swine unit from which it was taken, Greg Wortman explains.

Testing indicated that the finisher manure contains about 42 pounds of nitrogen and 18 pounds of phosphorus per 1,000 gallons. Manure from the farrowing barn contains 5 pounds of phosphorus and 11 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 gallons. Nursery manure contains 18 pounds of nitrogen and 8 pounds of phosphorus per 1,000 gallons.

With the help of crop consultant Mark Pavlik of Creighton, different application rates were calculated, based on where the manure was drawn from. With the Wortmans’ Raven controller to regulate the flow according to the speed of the tractor, and the Raven monitor, they have an exact record of where and how much manure was applied.

And with GPS mapping, they can return to a partly finished field and resume application exactly where they left off. It makes recordkeeping for themselves and for regulatory officials simple and painless.

With their John Deere 9200 applicator and Sioux Automation slurry wagon, they can apply a lot of “swine gold” in a day, especially running two units. Greg says they can apply about 22 loads of manure — about 155,000 gallons — in a day if the fields are close to the manure source.

Coulters cut furrows, and the tubes inject the slurry. They use closing wheels in the fall, but in the spring the fields are disked before planting.

The Wortmans soil sample to the 3-foot level. “We hope to use all the nutrients before they leach out of the root zone,” Greg says.

The manure, especially the cattle manure, builds soil organic matter. The Wortmans raise a lot of corn, some soybeans, oats on the pivot corners, and alfalfa. Once the oats is cut and baled for hay, it gives them a summer place to apply manure.

EXACT RECORDS: With GPS mapping and their monitor, Greg Wortman has an exact record of where and how much manure they apply.

HEAVY USE: The Wortmans inject hog manure using this slurry wagon.

RIGHT RATE: Mark Pavlik (left), a crop consultant, assists Greg Wortman in determining manure application rates based soil samples and the nutrient value of the manure.

This article published in the February, 2010 edition of NEBRASKA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.