A 700-sow, farrow-to-finish producer uses tanker trucks, a dragline system, a Global Positioning System and extensive soil and manure testing to move hog manure to crop acres that need the nutrients.

Two used petroleum tankers are the lynchpins in John Simmermon's manure management system. The 8,000-gal. tankers allow the Lapel, IN, producer to move hog manure to any of his 1,500 crop acres, thus reducing and nearly eliminating his need to apply commercial fertilizer.

Simmermon handles 3 million gallons of manure each year. Here are the basic elements of his manure management system:

  1. Equipment. Simmermon bought the two tankers in 1992 for $2,500 each from an Indianapolis tanker dealer.

    “They are petroleum tankers that had four compartments in them,” he explains. “They cut a hole in the center of each divider between the compartments and that works as a baffle.”

    The tankers are pulled by semi-tractors Simmermon also uses for hauling grain. Tankers carry the manure to the fields where a 4,000-gal. Balzer vacuum wagon is used to apply manure.

    A $25,000 dragline system and irrigation pipes are used to inject manure on fields near hog building sites. The dragline utilizes the same pump that is used to fill the tankers.

  2. Manure. Of the 3 million gallons of manure handled annually, 2.5 million gallons is from two sow sites and two finishing sites, all with deep-pitted barns. Another 500,000 gallons is from two nearby contract finishing sites.

    About 1.25 million gallons are applied each fall and spring. Plus, 500,000 gallons are applied to a neighbor's wheat stubble in the summer.

  3. Testing. Nick Bales, Michigantown, IN, agricultural consultant, handles the manure and soil testing for Simmermon.

    Soil nutrient testing is completed each spring so the results are ready for fall applications.

    Bales believes the testing is essential. “Before you take manure or any fertilizer to the field, you need to have a current soil chemistry test. Otherwise you are throwing your money away,” he says.

    Manure from each barn is tested at least every two years or when diets are changed.

    Soil nutrients are tested on all 1,500 crop acres using a Global Positioning System (GPS). Bales does not test the soil on a grid system but rather isolates soil samples from each of the different soil types in a field.

  4. Maps. Using the soil tests, Bales compiles field maps and application recommendations for Simmermon.

    Simmermon then plots his manure management plan. He sketches out which manure should go where in each field. The tractor driver gets a copy of the map to pinpoint where manure is to be applied.

    This system will be enhanced in the future by a GPS monitor on the tractor. Bales will export the data into Simmermon's monitor to accurately spread manure. Phosphate levels are the prime concern to monitor as not to over apply and to be environmentally conscious, he says.

    Currently, they use the GPS on Bales' soil testing equipment to determine how effectively the last manure was applied. The maps are also used to record applications.

    “The GPS system works for us in telling us how good a job we are doing applying it or filling in the spots that were missed,” Simmermon says.

    The goal is simple, to tailor the nutrients needed by the crops to what is available in the manure.

    “The reason for starting with the tankers is because we were putting manure in places where we knew we didn't need it,” Simmermon says. “Then we were buying fertilizer for land four miles away because we had no way of getting the manure there.”

Plan in Action

Manure is applied to about 500 crop acres every third year. The dragline is used on land near barn sites, and the trucks are used for land further away from the barns.

Two semi-trailer trucks, tankers and a tractor and vacuum wagon are used. One employee runs the tractor and vacuum wagon and the other shuttles the trucks from the barns to the field, Simmermon explains. This system works efficiently up to four miles from barn sites.

Simmermon figures six minutes to fill each 8,000 gal. tanker. The vacuum wagon takes two 4,000-gal. fills from each tanker and spreads at rate of 3 to 4 acres/hour.

The dragline system uses irrigation pipe, which is laid out to a center point in fields near barns. From that point, the applicator covers up to 160 acres.

Value of the Manure

Since all manure is tested, Simmermon can pinpoint where he can best utilize each type of manure.

Gestation barn manure, with fewer nutrients, goes on fields with higher soil nutrient levels. Correspondingly, finishing barn manure is targeted to land that needs nutrients for corn. The farm uses a three-year crop rotation of corn-corn-soybeans.

Bales notes that a January 2000 test of manure from the finisher found 47 lb. of nitrogen, 37 lb. of phosphorus and 33 lb. of potassium/1,000 gal. Bales stresses the value of the manure as a commercial fertilizer.

“Would a producer buy six tons of fertilizer and pull into the closest field rather than taking it onto a field that really needs it?” he asks. “The same way with manure, haul it to where it is warranted.”

Multiplying those nutrient values times commercial fertilizer prices, manure from the finisher is worth about $16.95/1,000 gal, or roughly $136/8,000 gal. tanker.

Here's how the value of $16.95/1,000 gal. is figured:

  • 47 lb. of nitrogen × $0.21 lb. = $9.87;

  • 37 lb. of phosphorus × $0.12 lb. = $4.44; and

  • 33 lb. potassium × $0.08 lb. = $2.64.

“If you take all of the nutrients into account, it does not take long to pay for a $2,500 tanker or the $25,000 dragline,” Simmermon says. “We had to get rid of the manure anyway.”

Another advantage is safety.

“The safety is a factor in using the tankers instead of just the honeywagon. The honeywagon is wide; it is dangerous to go down the road as most people are not considerate of farm equipment,” Bales says.

Growing the Crop

When the corn is less than 6 in. tall, Bales does another soil test, a pre-sidedress soil nitrate analysis, to determine the current nitrogen level.

At that point, the only commercial fertilizer is applied as a side-dressed starter fertilizer for corn only.

Sharing the Wealth

Simmermon has not isolated the economic advantage for the livestock or crop portions of his farm, but he knows both sides are benefiting from his manure planning.

“For one enterprise manure is a waste; for another enterprise it is something very valuable,” he says. “That's what works so well for our operation.”