Manure Manager

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Going Whole Hog For Industry, Family, Community

Reed Family Farms goes that extra mile in all aspects of hog production while focusing on family and helping out in the community


 The Reeds have also installed grass buffers around waterways in their fields as a safety measure to avoid any potential leaching issues.

With so many pretty farms in Iowa, it’s quite an accomplishment when a farm is named the “Prettiest Farm in Iowa.” That honor was bestowed on Reed Family Farms near Ottumwa in 2014 by Our Iowa magazine. It was one of the first hog farms in the state to win this honor.

Owner Ryan Reed was also named the Pork All-American by the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA) in 2014. To qualify, a pork producer must have been under 40 years of age and a Master Pork Producer.

The Reeds also earned the IPPA’s Environmental Steward Award in 2011, followed by the 2012 Pork Industry Environmental Steward Award from the National Pork Board.

Despite all the accolades, Ryan and his wife, Lana, are a humble couple whose lives are very focused on raising their three children with plenty of community involvement. It comes as no surprise that they are also past recipients of the Gary Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award, that they host a Fourth of July Picnic for about 300 friends and neighbors on their farm every year, and also offer custom manure hauling and application services.

The awards are simply the outcome of a best farming practices management philosophy wherever possible in the layout of both their farm and in their hog operation. For example, they have planted 1,200 trees on each of their two properties as a vegetative buffer to their barns by participating in Iowa’s Green Farmstead Partner program, supplemented by a large lawn and an abundance of flowers.

“The trees were an initiative when we built the barns to make them esthetically appealing as well as help the environment from an odor standpoint,” Ryan says. “Also, it puts a barrier between the buildings and the farm grounds if we did have an issue. There are grass buffer strips around the barns and trees to absorb anything that would happen.”

The tree windbreaks are now mature and Reed says he can tell how any odor coming off the farm is directed because of the location and height of the trees.

They also took particular care in the placement of their barns to have the least impact on neighbors through the Community Assessment Model offered by the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers.

Their focus on best farm practices extends to their manure management.

“If I want to provide my children’s generation with the same opportunity that I had, this (nutrient management) is something that has to be taken very seriously by the agriculture industry,” says Ryan, who in addition to decades of hog farming experience also has a bachelor of business degree from Northern Iowa University.

The home location of the Reed Farm where Ryan grew up, plus a second location seven miles away, raise about 12,000 hogs from wean-to-finish annually for Cargill. Each site consists of two barns, each housing 2,345 hogs at a time. The barns were built in 2007 when Ryan returned to hog farming after a short stint working in the feed industry. Besides raising hogs, Ryan also plants about 240 acres of corn, with both corn and soybean crop farming being the predominant agriculture endeavor in that area northeast of Ottumwa.

“The opportunity arose to contract through Cargill, which let me both come back to the farm for my family and let me do what I always wanted to do,” Ryan says.

Since making the switch a few years ago from feeder-to-finish to a wean-to-finish hog operation, the hog barns now generate between 2.5 and three million gallons of manure annually. For manure collection, each barn has slatted floors with eight-foot concrete pits beneath the buildings to store manure. These pits can store up to 18 months of nutrients.

“I would say that one of the biggest changes I have seen in hog production over the past two decades has been the nutrient side of it,” Ryan says. “We now analyze manure, take soil samples from the ground, and apply what the plants need on a year to year basis based on corn yields or ground nutrients. That is probably the biggest thing – how we are handling our byproducts from animal production.”

He adds that education within the farming industry led farmers to realize that given the price of inputs, the manure was valuable.

“When we realized what we had, along with some regulation, it has been attractive for us to manage the nutrients carefully,” he says.

Typically, the hog barn pits on the Reed farm are pumped out and the nutrients land applied in the fall, with a small amount done in spring. Because the pits are the hog farm’s long-term storage system, management of the manure for safety, odor and nutrient retention is a high priority.

“Right now I am testing three different pits additives to see what controls odor the best, along with encapsulating the nitrogen phosphate and potash for plant consumption,” Ryan says. “I am always looking for new things to try.”

During fall application, the manure is pumped into a 9,500-gallon, four axle, Houle tank. The tank is equipped with knives and an injection system, with the application rate controlled by a Krohne flow meter in the John Deere 9430 tractor pulling the tank. All told, the manure is applied on between 750 and 1,000 acres – some owned by other Reed family members as well as a few neighbors.

“Typically, I like to inject the manure in the five to seven inch range to make sure that it is being covered and absorbed into the soil,” Ryan says, adding that the majority of the manure in his area is injected.

“Injection, versus surface applied has multiple advantages,” he adds. “The odor, of course, is reduced greatly and the nutrients are where they need to be while preventing them from running off.”

That application depth is within the optimum range for good nutrient uptake by corn, and it is also efficient, as any deeper would require more pulling horsepower. Manure is the sole fertilizer added to the Reed’s cropland, saving the farm about 75 percent on its fertilizer costs if it had to purchase it commercially. The rate of application per acre is determined from soil sampling and a nutrient management plan drafted by a professional agronomist. The global positioning system (GPS) in the tractor helps Ryan keep track of where he is located in a field according to maps provided by the agronomist and he sets the flow meter at the recommended application rate for that area. Typically, the flow rate will be the same for each field, so a lot of adjustment on the fly is not required.

He chose the Houle hauling and injection system because he was familiar with it, having operated one working with a neighbor during his years in college. He describes it as a reliable tank and injection system with plenty of positive history behind it.

Good preventative maintenance on the equipment is important to achieve good outcomes from both an application and safety standpoint.

“Maintenance on equipment is one of the biggest things you can do to ensure that you are not going to have a spill or leakage, that you are getting the manure injected within that five to seven inches, and covered properly with the cover plates,” Ryan says.

The Reeds have also installed grass buffers around waterways in their fields as a safety measure to avoid any potential leaching issues.

The small commercial application branch of the farm business evolved from the need for more acreage to dispose of the hog manure generated by the farm. The Reeds have good relationships with other hog producers in the area, and they help each other as needed during the application season.

Those good relations extend to other areas as well, such as the reason why the Reeds have made an investment into solar power on their farm, and have also investigated the possibility of wind power and anaerobic digestion of their hog manure as an alternative to manure disposal, initially through a partnership in an entity called Tri-Family Farms LLC. Today, two of the company’s partners have proceeded on their own with solar installations.

On the Reed Farm, two, stand-alone solar power installations have been built, one on each farm site and working with a company called E-Pro, to generate 40 kilowatts (kWs) of power per site for use by the farm and in their hog operations. The power is wheeled back and forth through the local utility on a net metering basis, so for whatever power the installations produce, the Reeds receive a credit against their power bill.

“Digesters seem to be cost-prohibitive in our area,” Ryan says. “Solar panels seem to be more popular and I did not see the downside to it. We are fairly early into the solar panel installation, and expansion is an option. Anything we can do to reduce the carbon footprint from the farm is good for everybody.”