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With fertilizer prices high, manure is back in style

For those who haven't spread manure before, one Minnesota spreading business said it's important to be aware of regulations that can vary from state-to-state and even county-to-county.

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A Hinz Brothers Spreading manure spreader gets loaded up to spread in a field in southwest Minnesota. The company spreads turkey litter and hog and cattle manure. Photo courtesy of Mike Hinz

With supply chain issues pushing commercial fertilizer to record high prices, good, old-fashioned livestock manure is in demand.

Darrin Kaspers, who farms near Willmar, Minnesota, said he usually buys turkey litter to spread on a couple hundred acres of cropland but his usual sources were tapped out this year.

"A couple of them sold out before I had a chance to buy," Kaspers said.

He wasn't sure that there were new customers in the market for manure but there has been strong demand from returning customers.

"Everyone that wanted some just bought more of it," Kaspers said.

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If he can't find some loads of turkey litter at a reasonable price and distance from his farm, he says he will have to "bite the bullet" and buy on the commercial market. "You gotta have it," Kaspers said of fertilizer.

Supplies of commercial fertilizer have tightened up because of China's ban on phosphate and urea exports, among other reasons, driving up the price of commercial fertilizer.

But Kaspers said demand has been growing for manure even before the recent price spike.

"Once they tried it, they wanted more," said Kaspers, who also has cattle and said he has been spreading manure on cropland his whole farming career. "The l ast three or four years people have been getting really excited about it."

He works with an agronomist on testing nutrients and application rates.

"You get so much more out of it than commercial," he said.

Bob Hager helps with bookkeeping and management of a turkey farm near Christine in southeast North Dakota. This fall he brokered a deal to sell turkey litter to a farm about 150 miles away in the St. Cloud, Minnesota, area.

So what is the lure of manure?

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The Livestock and Environmental Learning Community touts these benefits of manure :

  • Increased soil carbon and reduced atmospheric carbon levels.
  • Reduced soil erosion and runoff.
  • Reduced nitrate leaching.
  • Reduced energy demands for natural gas-intensive nitrogen fertilizers.

Mike Hinz agrees with Kaspers that manure is "d efinitely superior to commercial."
Hinz farms and has a manure spreading business with his twin brother Ben at Wood Lake, Minnesota.

"When you go around, the price does fluctuate with the price of fertilizer," Hinz said.

Hinz Brothers Spreading spreads manure in a wide area of southwest Minnesota, using turkey litter that he buys and cattle and hog manure from his own farm or from a client's farm.

Hinz Brothers Spreading has been working steadily since late September and was finishing up fall spreading last week.

The University of Minnesota Extension Service says fall applications should be done after soil temperatures are below 50°F but before the soil is frozen.

Hinz says his business does 99% of its work in the fall. He said most farmers are eager to get started on planting in the spring and don't want to mess with spreading manure then.

For those who haven't spread manure before, Hinz said its important to be aware of regulations that can vary from state-to-state and even county-to-county.

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For example, is his home county, Yellow Medicine, you can't have a manure pile that will cover more than 300 acres and a pile can't sit in the same spot two years in a row.

He also recommends having the nutrient value of the manure tested and factoring in costs like hauling.

"Make sure you get all your expenses figured in," he said.

Reach Jeff Beach at jbeach@agweek.com or call 701-451-5651 (work) or 859-420-1177.
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