The increasing march of fertilizer prices higher has given farmers a new appreciation for the value of manure, says the director of environmental services for The Maschhoffs, Carlyle, IL.

“The value of manure as fertilizer is higher than it has ever been,” reports Tim Laatsch. Some crop analysts suggest previous manure value of $50/acre is now approaching $150/acre.

“We are continuing to see intense interest in manure as a fertilizer resource, not just due to the cost of fertilizer, but the product being better managed than it has been in the past,” he says.

Five years ago, when Laatsch started with The Maschhoffs, there were virtually no takers. Today, area crop farmers next to Maschhoff hog production partners are clamoring for the valuable resource.

That's led The Maschhoffs to pump up their custom manure application business. “As manure value is on the rise, we are striving to remain intently focused on providing a high-quality fertilizer product.

“We have steered away from the typical high-volume commodity approach,” says Laatsch.

“What we have done instead is try to package a complete environmental service under one umbrella — providing the farmer with the agronomist/crop consultant, writing the nutrient management plans, doing the soil sampling and making sure we are closely matching the manure products with the crop needs.”

Laatsch says his team helps educate farmers on state environmental regulations including application rates.

On-board computer technology ensures manure application isn't lapped or areas skipped.

Most dragline hose systems don't cover end rows because the plow is raised out of the ground as the tractor turns around. The problem is the pump is left running, resulting in surface application, notes Laatsch.

“What we've done is put radio controls on our equipment, with a control module in the tractor, so when the operator gets to the end of the field, he hits a button that sends a radio signal to slow the pump back at the barn. The operator then shuts off the valve on the plow, turning off the flow of manure,” he explains.

“Farmers like that because they don't have to come back and do any touchup or worry about missed areas on end rows, and they have less risk from odor and runoff, adds Laatsch.

He says manure application rules in Illinois are structured in a way that farmers are actually incented to follow the rules.

EQIP Model

While several states have reportedly had difficulty obtaining Environmental Quality Improvement Program (EQIP) funds from USDA, Illinois has been held up as a sort of model for the program, Laatsch comments.

Unlike other states that have localized application systems, Illinois has taken a centralized approach to program administration and applications. Illinois' Natural Resources Conservation Service conducted some pilot programs to define eligible practices and learn how funds are administered and distributed.

“In Illinois, all of the producers compete for a pool of money at the state level instead of trying to tap into county dollars,” says Laatsch. “This has enabled pork producers to position themselves especially well for the dollars.”

In 2006, 35 pork producers in Illinois received $3.6 million in EQIP dollars, the largest amount of all livestock species.