Iowa pork producers seek manure solutions from pit to field
By Tony Kryzanowski
By Tony Kryzanowski
It caught many large hog producers off guard when a few years ago they were required to report the number of animals on their farms to estimate the volume of air emissions coming from their facilities as part of complying with the United States Clean Air Act.
It caught many large hog producers off guard when a few years ago they were required to report the number of animals on their farms to estimate the volume of air emissions coming from their facilities as part of complying with the United States Clean Air Act. The question is whether this is a precursor to making emissions control mandatory, and how farmers will manage that if it happens.
“I think in future the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is not just going to require reporting of emissions, but is going to try to control it,” says Peter Juergens, owner of Ranch Creek Farm with his brother Aaron near Carroll, Iowa, an hour west of Ames. They own two, 2,400 head feeder hog and finishing barns. Each barn generates about 800,000 gallons of manure annually. They are also partners in another 3,600 head feeder and finishing operation. They grew up in the industry, starting with helping their father, Ron Juergens, on the family farm, which originally had 20 sows raised from farrow to finish. At present, their father owns a 6,000-sow farm, while Peter and Aaron have struck out on their own. Carroll County is among the top five counties for hog production in Iowa, and Iowa is the largest hog producing state in the U.S.
In addition to raising hogs, Peter and Aaron are also employed by Juergens Produce and Feed Co., which was started by their grandfather, Vernis Juergens, in 1945. They also work to improve both ends of the manure management equation in their hog business. Aaron is a partner with Juergens Produce and Feed Co.’s general manager, Steve Huegerich, in a custom manure application business called Twilight Services. Additionally, Juergens Produce and Feed Co. has partnered with researcher and inventor, Gary Rapp, to market a liquid manure emissions neutralizer system through a company called Juergens Environmental Control.
Because of their dedication to the environment and management of hog manure, the Juergenses were recently presented with a Pork Industry Environmental Steward Award by the National Pork Board and National Hog Farmer magazine.
Peter believes that the odor neutralizer and ammonia harvester system invented by Rapp offers considerable potential for farms having issues with odor management and disposal of manure slurries, and could solve many problems for farmers should the EPA make emissions control mandatory. It is a two-part patented and environmentally friendly chemical treatment progress that they have used in their own manure slurry pits with considerable success. One solution works like a sponge and soaks up or harvests the emissions. A second solution converts the ammonia into ammonium, which boosts the nutrient value of the manure slurry.
“We have been able to reduce our ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and other volatile organic compounds coming off the manure slurry with our treatment process,” Peter says. What’s exciting about the treatment is that it not only controls odor, but also makes it possible to harvest the ammonia and put it back into the slurry, thus making it available as a fertilizer.
“We convert the ammonia into ammonium and put it back into the manure slurry, giving it higher nitrogen content,” says Juergens. “As far as a percentage, we have seen our ammonia emissions go down to zero.” In some product studies, researchers have captured 90 to 100 percent of emissions and successfully injected the nutrients back into the slurry. At present, Iowa State University is evaluating its system and it is delivering excellent results.
“Our nitrogen has increased probably 10 to 15 pounds per 1,000 gallons of manure pretty consistently over the past couple of years that we have been doing it,” Peter says.
So far, they have completed 10 installations throughout the U.S. Those most interested in the system are pork producers facing litigation because of odor problems, because Juergens says the company offers a guarantee that proper application of their solutions will solve the hog producer’s odor problem.
The entire application process is automated. The hardware used in a typical installation consists of a one-inch PVC mainline that distributes solution to stainless steel down pipes attached to the gating. The nozzles are positioned flush with the bottom of the slates to distribute uniform application above the pit where the manure slurry is stored. There are four zones in a typical hog finishing barn with nozzles at the end of each line to broadcast each treatment at set intervals. The actual application control system and solution storage containers are situated in a shed outside the barn, which allows for refilling without endangering the biosecurity of the barns.
“Everywhere we have gone to do an installation, people become our friends,” says Peter. “We’re pork producers ourselves.”
In terms of its custom manure application business, Twilight Services offers manure injection. The fleet consists of four 7,300-gallon Houle tanks equipped with six-row Dietrich injectors. Each tank is equipped with flow control to ensure that the proper gallons per acre are being applied. Pulling the tanks are two John Deere 8420 tractors and two John Deere 8520 tractors, each equipped with GPS navigation systems. With GPS, the operator knows where he left off between loads to avoid skips or over-application.
Rounding out the fleet is a 10-foot trailer pump for pit agitation, as well as an eight-inch chopper pump, a six-inch chopper pump, and a lagoon agitation pump on a 52-foot boom.
“Our goal is to at least double, if not triple agitate a pit,” says Aaron. “That way you get all your nutrients in suspension.”
The busiest seasons for Twilight Services are spring and fall, where they will operate 18 to 24 hours a day with 10 full-time and part-time employees. Oct. 1 to Dec. 1 is prime time when most hog producers prefer to land apply their manure. Their business is conducted within a 120-mile radius of Carroll. Having four tanks allows them to complete a service call more quickly, and being hog producers themselves, they understand the importance of biosecurity.
“I wash, dry and disinfect each tanker before we go to the sow units, so I feel really good about our biosecurity program when we are going into these facilities,” says Aaron.
He adds that taking the manure injection versus top spreading approach is certainly more neighbor-friendly in terms of minimizing odor, and it allows them to apply closer to waterways and houses.
There is also less nutrient loss to the atmosphere with injection versus surface applying. Over the last few years, area farmers have gained a greater appreciation for the nutrient value offered by the liquid hog manure.
“There have been a lot of farmers who have actually built hog confinement buildings just to receive the manure,” says Aaron. “That is their sole purpose, not to raise hogs, not to have a building, but just to receive and store the manure.”
The Juergenses have witnessed the value of liquid manure injection on their own 160 acres of cropland.
“We are seeing up to $132 an acre in nutrients that we didn’t have to get commercial fertilizer for,” Peter says. “That was back in 2008. The way that fertilizer prices are headed and considering the price of gas, it’s going to be a huge deal because fertilizer costs are just going up. That’s why farmers are building hog barns because commercial fertilizers cost a lot more than that and when you can use organic, natural fertilizer from hog waste, you’re money ahead.”
Aaron says typically they will collect six core pit samples from each customer in August, mix them together and use the nutrient profile from sample testing to help the customer develop a nutrient management plan, which calculates how many gallons should be applied per acre to achieve the highest potential crop production based on the manure’s nutrient profile. When they actually arrive to apply the manure, they take two more pit samples and compare them to the six core samples to ensure that the nutrient management plan is still on target based on the manure slurry’s nutrient content at the time of application. Typically, nutrient application is planned around a corn/soybean crop rotation.
Aaron says when they first began their custom manure application business four years ago, they opted for a tank system versus a drag hose system because of the distances they had to travel to apply the manure. However, they are in the process of adding a drag hose system to their fleet. By diversifying into a drag hose system, they will become a one-stop shop for custom manure application.
“With some customers, there are a lot of small bridges where I can’t go with my large tanks so somebody else will have to do the business on cropland across the bridge the following year,” says Aaron. “Now, I will be able to go back to back for the customer.” Also, many sow producers will apply their manure in both spring and fall and are becoming quite conscious of soil compaction in the spring. A drag hose system will minimize that issue and also will result in less wear and tear on local roads.