Managing poultry litter in Iowa
By Tony Kryzanowski
By Tony Kryzanowski
It’s early October in Iowa and a spell of bad weather has delayed the
annual fall custom manure application season by at least two weeks.
It’s early October in Iowa and a spell of bad weather has delayed the annual fall custom manure application season by at least two weeks. Phones ring off the hook first thing in the morning and keep ringing at the office of custom poultry manure applicator GE-Max Nutrients LLC in Belmond, Iowa. This sort of demand is just a sign of the times.
|GE-Max Nutrients uses a pull-type FECO box manure spreader and a John Deere tractor to apply drier poultry manure. Contributed photo|
Iowa is America’s largest egg-producing state with close to 60 million poultry egg layers out of a total 280 million nationally. North central Iowa has a large concentration of poultry and hog operations. Companies like GE-Max Nutrients, which specialize in land application of poultry manure, have become an invaluable asset in today’s world of heightened environmental consciousness and housing developments, often within earshot of well-established farms.
“Our biggest focus is on safety, compliance, public image and the good neighbor policy,” says GE-Max Nutrients general manager, Steve Tassinari. “Sometimes, it is not a real popular business to be in but we handle it well. Everything these days comes back to the environment. It all comes back to air quality, water quality, and being good stewards. The big focus for us is being a good neighbor.”
|The organic micronutrients in poultry manure are the true, value-added element in this organic alternative to synthetic fertilizers, according GE-Max Nutrients. Contributed photo|
|The company has both three- and five-wheeler TerraGator Nutrient Management System (NMS) units in its fleet of poultry manure spreaders. Contributed photo|
GE-Max Nutrients is a partnership between two cooperatives, the Max Yield Cooperative in West Bend, Iowa and the Gold Eagle Cooperative in Goldfield, Iowa. Both operate full service grain elevators, and when Gold Eagle Cooperative began contemplating a move into land application of poultry manure, it made more sense to combine forces with the Max Yield Cooperative, which had already been in that line of business for 10 years.
“In order to create more efficiencies and avoid duplication of services, GE-Max Nutrients was formed,” says Tassinari.
GE-Max Nutrients applies more than 90,000 tons of poultry manure on cropland each year. There is growing interest among farmers in using poultry manure as an alternative or supplement to commercial fertilizer. The acreage spread by the company has grown from an average of about 20,000 acres to 30,000 acres over the last decade, and it has sold out on its poultry manure product the last few years. The manure is typically applied within a 50-mile radius of the company’s individual poultry manure suppliers.
“It is not as convenient a program as commercial fertilizer because you have to contend with hauling manure and then spreading it on,” says Tassinari. “For the most part, the response has been good and our customers know the value of the product.”
The value of poultry manure has not been lost on local farmers because, according to Tassinari, it is 65 to 70 percent of the cost of commercial fertilizer. While the NPK content is there, he believes it’s the micronutrients in the organic fertilizer that provide its true added value.
“In my opinion, the micronutrients and the organic matter are really what make poultry manure a better value,” he says. “We used to impregnate commercial fertilizer with sulfur, zinc, manganese, and copper but we don’t do that as much because of the expense. But those goodies are there in the poultry manure and those are the biggest benefits. The organic matter also helps build soil tilth, especially in lighter soils.”
GE-Max Nutrients takes a different approach to calculating the application rate per acre than the typical tonnage approach, though the actual job of applying it is still controlled by weigh scales, as well as radar and global positioning system (GPS) guidance systems.
|It might not look like a Cadillac, but this TerraGator 9205 propulsion unit with a Tebbe manure spreader performs like the Cadillac of manure spreaders when applying poultry manure, according to GE-Max Nutrients. Contributed photo|
“We went to applying by phosphorus content simply because there is variability in the manure versus just throwing tons out there,” says Tassinari. “It’s not without its challenges for the dispatcher when monitoring loads being transported to the fields.” He adds that it is also a better approach in terms of environmental stewardship because they are better able to track the amount of phosphorus that is actually being applied as part of the poultry manure on area farmland. As in so many other parts of the U.S., phosphorus content in soil is a major concern, leading some jurisdictions to actually ban the use of phosphorus in synthetic fertilizers and regulate the recommended amounts applied to cropland. There are also concerns about nitrogen runoff.
Working with Iowa State University, GE-Max Nutrients and its suppliers designed a set of guidelines for methodical manure sampling. Samples are taken from supplier barns prior to application to obtain an average phosphorus content.
“We do a base program of 210 units of phosphorus based on a 180-bushel crop removal on mainly a soybean/corn rotation,” says Tassinari.
The manure is also bought and sold on phosphorus content, based on a percentage of the cost of commercial fertilizer.
The Max Yield Cooperative, with its well-established poultry manure land application business, was the first American company to use Ag-Chem’s TerraGator custom nutrient management system (NMS) propulsion units equipped with German-made Tebbe boxes. Tassinari describes them as, “the Cadillac of manure spreading, if there is such a thing.” He believes that this combination of technology offers a superior manure-spreading job because the Tebbe box is purpose-built.
“They are built strictly for manure,” he says. “I mean, they are not converted lime boxes and they are not made for other applications as far as commercial fertilizer. They are definitely a manure-spreading machine and their spread pattern, ability and speed in the field is just phenomenal compared to anything else.”
|GE-Max Nutrients has opted for TerraGator propulsion units for its manure spreaders because of their simplicity and versatility. Some double as propulsion units in spring spraying operations. Contributed photo|
|GE-Max Nutrients has a very short window for application of its poultry manure, from September until American Thanksgiving. Contributed photo|
|Poultry manure from area egg layers is delivered to the field and applied per acre according to phosphorus content. Contributed photo|
Their experience shows that the Tebbe box on a TerraGator propulsion unit works well in situations where other spreaders have difficulty, such as applying wetter, heavier manure.
Tebbe has been in partnership producing the Ag-Chem Europe B.V. TerraGator with a Tebbe universal spreader for more than 10 years. But in Europe, Tebbe spreaders have also been mounted on a variety of other propulsion units, like trucks.
At present, GE-Max Nutrients owns three TerraGator custom manure spreaders with Tebbe boxes. One is a five-wheel, 9205 TerraGator, and the remaining two are a 9203 three-wheel unit and a 9103 three-wheel unit. They also have an 8103 TerraGator with a FECO box manure spreader and a pull-type FECO box manure spreader, which is pulled by a John Deere tractor. The spreaders are manufactured by Force Unlimited, a company located in Oelwein, Iowa. The units equipped with FECO boxes tend to work in parts of the company’s trading area where they are dealing with a drier consistency manure. The TerraGators with the Tebbe units are consigned to areas with older style poultry barns that tend to supply wetter manure.
Tassinari says they opted for TerraGator propulsion units because of their simplicity and versatility. They are able to remove the Tebbe boxes from the 9203 units so that the TerraGator propulsion units can be used for spraying in spring.
There are more Tebbe spreaders showing up in North America now, and Tassinari acknowledges that being the first has not always been without its challenges, specifically when, occasionally, parts had to come from Europe. So, GE-Max Nutrients made sure it planned ahead from a maintenance standpoint. Its experienced operators ensure that the equipment is in good operating condition once the fall application season rolls around, and this approach has turned out to be a successful strategy.
There’s no doubt that there are a number of moving parts on Tebbe manure spreaders. For example, there is a moving floor in the box operated by four die-forged chains. A direct bevel gear drive controls the forward and reverse motion of the floor. The box comes equipped with what the company describes as aggressive shredder beaters with bolt-on, alloyed and hardened wear tips aimed at high throughput capacity and optimum shredding. A sensor monitors the rotating beater speed with electronic control. A safety circuit breaker is part of the design so that if the speed of the beater drops below 300 rpm, the moving floor is switched off. The drive controlling the upper and lower beaters located at the back of the spreader is connected with a one-inch roller chain. An electronic system controls such movements as the forward and reverse movements of the moving floor, the metering gate, and the tailgate, and can be upgraded to a system that allows for speed-related application rate control.
In terms of manure collection by GE-Max Nutrients, it is a yearly ritual in which the egg-laying operations clean out their barns once a year in the fall just as crops are being harvested from the fields. Most are high-rise style barns with manure collection and storage below. The manure is loaded onto delivery trucks contracted by GE-Max Nutrients that take the manure directly to the field for application. This year, the company switched from side-dump trailers to full-size trailers with walking floors to deliver the manure to the field, the result being that it is able to ship 1.5 times more manure, or about 24 tons of manure per load.
The cycle of crop removal and fall weather are important factors as to the timing of manure application, with the season typically running from mid-September until Thanksgiving.