The owners of a 5,000-sow operation invest in a 2.7 million-gallon manure storage and treatment system.

As southern Iowa farmers began to exit the hog business in the mid-'90s, the Farmers Cooperative Co. of Afton, IA, saw their feed business slump.

Integrators helped pick up some slack. But the company sought long-term security for their business and for area pork producers.

To that end, the co-op's board of directors formed a value-added, limited liability hog production company. They invested in a 5,000-sow, farrow-to-wean operation on 320 acres near Kent, IA called Partners In Pork.

The Farmers Cooperative worked hard to win the trust of the local community. They invested heavily in an above-ground manure storage and treatment system. Solids from a separator are used to build soil quality on farm slopes. “This system was built with the neighbors in mind,” explains farm manager John Lichthardt.

On the production side, they contracted with Farmland Livestock Production to supply the genetics, feed, veterinary care and anything else that goes in or on the animals, says Lichthardt. Farmland also provides the resources for performance records and pig transportation. The farm is responsible for the rest — facilities, land, labor, utilities, insurance, water and manure management.

Partners In Pork produces 2,200, 10-lb. pigs a week, fed on contract with Farmland by area farmers. Most producers feed pigs 10 lb. to 45 lb. Then the pigs move to other Farmland locations to be finished. Like many start-up operations, there were some glitches. But with about three years of operation experience, production is humming along at 23 pigs weaned/sow/year.

The farms' 320 acres is cash rented to another area farmers/co-op member/owner who also custom applies the manure to co-op-owned and neighboring farmland (totaling 1,200-1,300 acres). Neighbors like getting the manure, which is injected using a dragline hose system, Lichthardt says.

And the cooperative is pleased with the progress of production and manure handling programs, says Eli Vaughn, Farmers Cooperative Co. general manager.

Making Positive Choices

Vaughn recalls the board of directors talked about going the easier route, putting in an earthen lagoon to store manure.

He observes, “We can't afford to stub our toe. We have to perform. We spent a lot of extra money on manure storage technology, but long-term we think this is a system that we are going to be able to sustain and not upset the neighborhood.”

The above-ground, Slurrystore manure storage tanks offer several pluses, adds Lichthardt. They are sealed, self-contained structures that are easily observed for leaks; the 18-ft.-high vessels also greatly reduce noticeable odor. The main storage tank is 2.3 million gal. The adjacent treatment tank is 400,000 gal.

Three times a year, effluent is pumped from the main tank to adjacent hay/grass and crop acres. Testing shows the manure is generally comprised of 15-16 lb. of nitrogen per thousand gallons of effluent, he points out.

Umbilical application is the preferred means of spreading effluent on the fields. “This system is faster, cheaper, more land and road friendly than traditional manure tankers,” he says.

Last year, the farm's manure hauling bill came to $50,000, says Lichthardt. Manure hauling and application, while a priority, only comprises 2-3% of the total farm budget, he explains.

Treated, Recycled Manure

As needed, stored effluent is pumped from the main manure tank to a nearby treatment tank. There it undergoes both natural, anaerobic treatment and aerobic action. Air from twin blowers is piped up through the bottom of the treatment tank, powered by a 60-hp. motor. After about a week of treatment, that clarified effluent is pumped back to the barn, into the 2-ft.-deep pit recharge system, says Lichthardt.

Because that recycled water has been treated, it helps reduce the level of odor inside the buildings, he comments.

Also, the 16 employees at Partners In Pork are very meticulous about cleaning and disinfecting the 728-crate farrowing barn and the three gestation barns totaling 4,400 crates. The farrowing barn is comprised of 14 rooms of 52 crates each. All production and employee areas are kept spotless in this shower-in, shower-out unit. That all adds up to cleaner exhaust air, Lichthardt emphasizes.

Water Management

The farm's other big success story in manure/odor management relates to water usage, says Lichthardt. “I don't think nearly enough operations manage their water usage like they should. We consistently stay in the 4- to 5-gal./sow/day range. Hogs get what they need without squandering water.” Figure 1 shows the pattern of water usage since recordkeeping was started in July 1999.

“Water troughs with drains on one end and a timer at the other are not a very good way to conserve or even manage water usage,” he charges.

At Partners In Pork, all hogs are hand watered. Nothing is on a timer. Employees turn the water valves on and off, making sure troughs don't spill over.

The result of proper water management is less water in the pit and less effluent volume to be flushed and land-applied, stresses Lichthardt. Water records show that each weekly flushing of the entire farm requires 643,300 gal. of recycled water and 175,000 gal. of fresh water. It takes 12,800 gal. of water per week to pressure wash the barns.

Farm wells are virtually non-existent in southwest Iowa. Water is pumped from two farm ponds to an underground, 90,000-gal. storage tank on the farm to be used for hog drinking water.

Additional fresh water for employees for drinking, showers, laundry, etc. is provided by the Southwest Iowa Rural Water Association. Water has been purchased from the association for hog drinking during times of drought.

Well Worth It

“Neighbors are finding out that our manure is a pretty good deal,” observes Lichthardt. “It contains everything they need for a healthy plant population. They also appreciate the fact the treated water lacks odor.

“While our application costs can be as high as $75/acre,” Lichthardt maintains, “it's not just about economics. Sometimes it's got to be about cooperation, good relations in the community and trying to do the right thing.”

Pilot Project To Test Manure ‘Balance’

A pilot project of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Sustainable Industries Partnership Program seeks to find a “balance” between the cost of maintaining the building environment at Partners In Pork and the proper acreage for manure application, says manager John Lichthardt.

The EPA interest is fueled by the need to document what manure technology really works for environmental stewardship for the hog industry, says Joe Lally, manager of Environment/Natural Resources for Farmland Livestock Production and coordinator for the farm project.

The two-year-long study will encompass the whole process involving manure from discharge through field application.

A key part will be to study the liquid-solid manure separation system being tested at the farm and how it might be used with existing earthen manure storage structures, says Lally.