There are two reasons for the success of Twin Lakes Environmental Services at Rockwell City, IA.

First, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has kept close tabs on pork producers to ensure manure is being handled in an environmentally conscious manner.

There's no doubt that when the manure handling debates started over a decade ago, there were a few large integrators who had some environmental issues, says Mike Sexton, who is a consultant in the growing business with his wife Becky, owner of the company.

From the beginning, the company philosophy has been to focus on developing manure management plans and comprehensive nutrient management plans that pork producers understand and feel comfortable using in order to meet DNR rules.

“I'm always amazed at how many producers do not know what is in their plan or how to use it,” Becky states.

Twin Lakes Environmental Services supports those producers who still face the stigma “that raising pigs in clean, modern confinement structures is not considered family farming,” Becky points out.

“As environmental consultants, we and our producer clients have to work really, really hard to document what we do, because we know people are always watching, even though producers are in compliance,” she adds.

Becky, who travels and consults with a wide variety of agricultural clients in 77 counties in Iowa, campaigns to have producers stand up for themselves against scrutiny when they are doing the right thing.

Helping Clients Keep Records

The second reason that Twin Lakes Environmental Services has thrived is because they recognized one fundamental need of their clients. “We realized early on that one of the hardest parts of the whole operation for producers is the recordkeeping of manure — managing where the manure goes,” Mike stresses.

“Good producers can tell you how many pigs/sow/year they produce and can generate numerous reports on pork production and feed efficiency. They have all that data, but at the end of the day, they often have no way of keeping track of where the manure is going. They don't keep close track of how much manure they are applying and have no idea of whether it is making or losing them money,” Mike comments.

Hog manure has become more valuable as the price of commercial fertilizer has climbed. Mike developed Table 1 and Table 2 to illustrate the fertilizer value of hog manure for 2008 and 2009, based on nutrient values for land application in north central Iowa.

Another reason for the importance of manure recordkeeping is because the Iowa DNR has added requirements for manure application: gallons applied, location, date and how it was applied to the soil, Mike notes.

The environmental consulting firm responded by developing recordkeeping programs with those points in mind. Mike has also become a technical service provider for the federal government, which means the company can help producers meet both state and federal environmental guidelines.

“The DNR wanted to know a lot of things, so we came up with a paper system where we created a field map that included areas where producers can apply manure and areas of setbacks as well as all other information that needed to be recorded at the time of application. With the new Manure Works software (see sidebar), these maps and recording forms can also be accessed via computer by the producer as well as contract applicators,” he explains.

Producer Clients

Mike Folsom and his son, Jason, are clients of Twin Lakes Environmental Services. Both are contract hog growers, plus they farm about 1,400 acres of row crops in the Rockwell City, IA, area. Mike Folsom operates two, 900-head, feeder pig-to-finish barns at the home farm, and Jason has two similar units on another site where he lives. Jason also operates and owns a new 2,400-head, wean-to-finish site north of his folk's home site. All market hogs are sold to Triumph Foods, St. Joseph, MO.

Under the contract agreements, their supplier provides the 60-lb. feeder pigs and 15-to-20-lb. weaners, veterinary care, feed and marketing services, while the Folsoms provide the housing and management expertise.

They also keep the manure produced by the pigs. Mike Folsom's barns are shallow pit, pull-plug systems, which flow to a lagoon. Jason's barns feature 8-ft.-deep pits. A year and a half ago, the family partners purchased their own manure application equipment so they could better control the application and timing of the nutrients to their fields in the fall and spring.

Becky Sexton says the Folsoms have a good arrangement as hog contractors because they own their own land and the manure provides valuable nutrients for their corn and soybean crops.

Because of the manure's nutrient value, the Folsoms generally don't add commercial fertilizer to their land. Using the advice of Twin Lakes Environmental Services, they take manure samples during agitation to get a good reading of nutrient content. Mike Sexton recommends manure samples should be taken at three time periods during pit agitation — a third of the way through, halfway through, and during the last third of pit agitation — when manure content is in full suspension and nitrogen, phosphorus and potash content can be most accurately calculated.

Next Page: Test Kits

However, what Mike Sexton has found from evaluations of area manure content is that the phosphorus indexes are really low. “The Folsoms lament the fact that there is not enough phosphorus in their manure any more, and we hear that from almost all of our swine clients,” he explains.

“What the hog owners are doing is adding phytase to make more of the insoluble phosphorus available in the corn and soybean meal. By doing this, they do not need to add more elemental phosphorus to the ration, thus reducing the amount of phosphorus in the manure. This action results in a shortage of phosphorus in the manure when it comes time to apply manure to the land,” he continues.

That puts contract growers in a tough spot, because they can't dictate what the owners put in the hog feed. Producers like the Folsoms can probably make up the nutrient loss by applying larger amounts of commercial fertilizer per acre, but they aren't happy about it.

“It (manure) is real money. You set up a contract site and plan on so much manure value, and then when they take that phosphorus out, it is like taking money off the top of the contract,” Jason argues.

Test Kits

It's still nice to know precisely what's in the manure, and Mike Folsom credits Twin Lakes Environmental Services' test kit for that contribution. “They get the manure samples to the company and they send them in (Midwest Laboratories, Omaha, NE). All clients that request them, get test kits. Clients in other locales take their completed test kits to a UPS dropoff point for shipment to Midwest Labs.

Twin Lakes Environmental Services has made Mike Folsom a believer that manure value is totally dependent on knowing the nutrient content. “You really need to rely on your samples,” he says.

“By knowing manure content, we can determine how many gallons of manure can be applied to produce 200-bu. corn or similar yields, and from that extrapolate the value of manure/acre,” Mike Sexton says (See Table 1 and Table 2).

Mike Folsom says he has been using a pit additive product to help break up the solids in the lagoon, and has just begun a three-month program to help dissolve the solids in the 4-ft. shallow pits as well. “All we are doing is turning the solids into a liquid so it gets the bacteria active and makes it easier to pump the manure out of the lagoon, and keeps it more in a liquid state while we are incorporating it in the fields,” he explains.

Online Service Simplifies Recordkeeping

Unveiled at the 2009 Manure Expo on July 22 in Boone, IA, Manure Works, LLC is a startup company launched by Twin Lakes Environmental Services, Rockwell City, IA, to provide a web-based system for creating manure application records.

The service will be available for all clients and other producers through environmental service provider companies throughout the United States, says Mike Sexton, the founder of Manure Works.

The web-based manure mapping application is available for an annual fee of $300/year/site to livestock producers. There is a one-time setup fee to have Manure Works personnel input all livestock and field data. The fee will be based on the number of fields in your manure application plan, costing about $65/field.

The system can also be used by commercial manure handling contractors and allows the producer to make their records available on a controlled basis to the regulatory agencies.

For more information on Manure Works, contact Mike Sexton by e-mail mike@twinlakesenviro.com or call (712) 297-5530 or write to 2203 Ogden Ave., Rockwell City, IA 50559.