Hog manure may be just the ticket to replace high-priced, commercial fertilizer as corn farmers make plans for spring plantings. Here are some steps to estimate the current value of manure.

Hog manure is definitely one of the potential solutions to the fertilizer cost and availability issue, according to industry experts.

The cost of anhydrous ammonia has nearly doubled, due to the skyrocketing price of natural gas, which is used to manufacture the popular nitrogen fertilizer.

While the exact cost and availability of anhydrous ammonia will not be known by crop farmers until spring, soil scientists are already discussing alternative methods of fertilizing the nation's 2001 corn crop.

"The value of manure is increasing directly to the price of nitrogen," says Mike Schmitt, Extension soil scientist at the University of Minnesota (U of M).

Schmitt notes two key factors in figuring the value of hog manure, both to the pork producer and the crop farmer.

The first key is the cost of the commercial fertilizer replaced by manure. Nitrogen, in the form of anhydrous ammonia, costs about $0.14/lb. in 2000. This year, the cost is estimated at $0.25/lb.

If a nitrogen recommendation of 140 lb./acre is used, the fertilizer cost for one acre of corn will rise from $20/acre in 2000 to $35/acre this year.

Based on U of M research, hog manure from finishing barns contains an average of 56 lb. of nitrogen/1,000 gal. If the manure is injected into the soil in the spring, about 70% of the nitrogen is available to that year's crop. Therefore, application of 4,000 gal./acre provides 157 lb. of nitrogen/acre, which is enough for a 140 bu./acre crop.

The second key to remember is the cost of transporting and applying the manure. Schmitt suggests using local commercial manure haulers' rates to estimate this cost. If the going rate is 0.75/gal., then the application cost for that 4,000 gal./acre is $30.

Therefore, a pork producer can estimate a value of $30-35/acre for 4,000 gal./acre application of finishing barn manure.

Pork producers should not think of selling hog manure as a profit center but as a way to defray the cost of production, says Leonard Meador, Global Eco-Tech, Rossville, IN.

The current fertilizer prices may serve as a catalyst for both crop and livestock producers to re-examine the nutrient value of manure.

"Manure will take on a new meaning in the next couple of years," Meador says. "We will see more attention to the nutrient value of manure. Higher costs of commercial fertilizer will result in better utilization of manure."

Steps for Selling Manure Meador suggests taking the following steps if you are a pork producer with manure to sell to a crop farmer:

1. Test the manure for nutrient levels. Using book values for manure when crop nutrient prices are high is like playing with fire, he says.

2. Inform the crop producer how the manure will be applied so he understands what will happen to his fields.

3. Based on the manure testing, provide the crop farmer with the nutrient figures and the amount of manure available.

4. Use soil tests to determine the existing soil nutrients and how much manure is agronomically necessary for the crop.

5. Estimate the cost of application, taking into consideration equipment needs, distance from barns, application window and labor.

6. Negotiate reimbursement. Both parties can benefit from the agreement. The crop farmer receives the nutrients for less cost than commercial fertilizer, and the pork producer reduces his cost of manure handling.

7. Write up a brokerage agreement and sign it. The agreement should log where the manure came from, to which fields it was applied, who applied it, the application rate, date of application and weather conditions.

Pork producers may have to educate their neighbors about manure and the available nitrogen/1,000 gal., Schmitt says. Testing of the manure will back up that educational effort.