Pro-active manure managers
By Diane Mettler
By Diane Mettler
Minnesota’s Three Generation Pork farm has received national recognition for its environmental stewardship, including its pro-active approach to manure management.
Minnesota’s Three Generation Pork
farm has received national recognition for its environmental
stewardship, including its pro-active approach to manure management.
Each year the National Pork Board and National Hog Farmer organizations select four US pork operations to receive a National Environmental Steward award. The farms are chosen based on outstanding work in a variety of areas:
- manure management;
- neighborhood relationships;
- technology or management strategiesto improve air quality
- soil conservation practices;
- promoting and managing wildlifehabitat;
- innovative ideas.
|Dan Boettger of
Three Generation Pork.
In 2004, Three Generation Pork out of Waseca County, Minnesota, was a recipient of the award and for very good reasons. Dan Boettger and his wife Midge have worked hard to create a profitable and environmentally sound farm—one they look forward to passing on to future generations.
The three generations that make up the farm include Dan and Midge, Dan’s mother Sylvia and their daughter, Nicole. And although the farm has been in the family for decades, it was only in the 1990s that Dan and Midge began to really focus on finishing hogs. “Before farming, I taught elementary physical education for 10 years and worked as a commercial fisherman for eight years in Alaska,” says Dan. “We came back to the farm and we had farrow-to-finish, but now it’s just finish hogs.”
The award-winning operation began in earnest in 1996 when the Boettgers built two 42 feet by 400 feet barns, each with two rooms, and the first pigs came in November 1996.
Dan uses curtains and fans to monitor the temperature for their 4,000-hog operation. “We have curtains on two sides for summertime ventilation. And we also have four pit fans and two 30-inch wall fans in each barn,” he says. “In the winter, we use the fans for ventilation. But in the spring, fall and summer, we try to use the curtains as much as we can because it takes less energy to drop a curtain a couple inches than it does to run a fan all day.”
And everything is electronic, which is helpful when it’s primarily Dan and Midge who handle all the day-to-day operations.
But the Boettgers continue to look ahead and take pro-active steps when it comes to both the farm operations and the stewardship of their land.
|The barns at Three Generation Pork were built with eight-foot pits
underneath for ample storage—two million gallons.
Dan’s manure management practices are not only efficient, but environmentally friendly. The barns were built with eight-foot pits underneath for ample storage—two million gallons.
“We have the capacity to store the manure for one year, but we always pump it in the spring and fall in case we have some bad weather,” says Dan. “And if you keep the manure level lower into the pit, it seems to help with odor and fly control. And it helps if it’s stirred up when it’s pumped, so it doesn’t build up as much of a crust.”
Before injecting the manure, Dan has a soil test done to determine the nitrogen and other nutrients needed to raise corn or soybean—the rotating crops common to that area. The results determine the amount of manure to be injected on his 150 tillable acres. Although the amounts may vary from year to year and from crop to crop, he always has the manure injected. It is the preferred choice over spreading because the manure retains up to 80 percent of the nitrogen and it cuts down on the odor, he says.
Dan doesn’t do the injecting himself. “In Minnesota you have to be licensed and certified to inject the manure. So I have a commercial applicator—Chris Sonnek—come in,” says Dan. “He has 12,000-gallon tanks which he drives to the field and it’s injected about six inches into the ground.”
Chris Sonnek says the majority of his equipment is Balzer. “I use a Balzer vertical hydraulic pump to agitate the pits and load the tanks. We use a chisel sweep injector with covering disks behind.”
Chris has adapted much of his equipment to make it more efficient and versatile. For example, he’s isolated the injection bar off of the tank so it’s independent of the tank except for the pulling arm. “It follows the contours of the land a lot better. And it gets the weight off the tank itself.”
His manure distribution equipment, which is also modified, is from Hydro Engineering. “It allows even distribution to the injectors at both low and high application rates, by changing the multiple length restrictor paddles.”
Chris says that Three Generation Pork was one of his first customers to actively promote the nutrient values in the manure to crop farmers and to help the farmers see the advantage of manure versus commercial fertilizers.
|The temperature of the 4,000-hog operation is controlled using curtains and fans. There are four pit fans and two 30-inch wall fans in each barn.|
“As anhydrous ammonia (commercial nitrogen) gets more expensive, manure is going to be more and more in demand. It’s a very economic system of fertilizing,” says Dan. “And anhydrous ammonia is manufactured out of the petroleum process.
As petroleum goes up in cost, it’s going to raise the cost of the byproduct of refineries. Other than a little starter fertilizer applied when we plant corn, there has been no commercial fertilizer used on the place since 1996.”
And Dan’s efforts at promoting natural fertilizer have been effective because he has no problem finding a home for the manure he doesn’t use. He gets calls regularly for it. “Basically they pay for the pumping of it so it’s not a cost to the
“I also have everyone who gets manure from me to sign an agreement that they won’t exceed the limitations,” he adds. “But I think that’s a fairly common thing in Minnesota.”
Part of his overall manure management program is working to be a good neighbor. Dan doesn’t have many odor complaints—partly because he talks to people ahead of time. “We try not to haul over the weekends. And if we know somebody is going to have some kind of celebration, we definitely won’t haul that day. We also try to contact neighbors before we haul and to let them know that there may be some odor. You need to get along with your neighbors. One bad day can ruin a lifetime of work.”
Three Generation Pork was recognized in part because of the steps Dan and Midge have taken to cut down odor, on the farm as well as off. The Boettgers planted five-acre shelterbelts on the north and west sides of their farm—a common practice in Minnesota.
The belts, which consist of oak, ash, birch and white pine, have two benefits. “One is to prevent cold winter winds from coming in because being in Minnesota we have 20 below days with a 40 mph wind and it helps deflect some of that wind,” says Dan. “And in the summer, our winds predominantly blow from the south and the wind hits the trees and the air has to go up over and the dust particles tend to fall out.
So it clears the air—basically to reduce the odor and the dust particles.”
Dan, who likes to fish and hunt, has worked to protect the water and create habitat with a 100-foot wide filter strip along the Little Cobb River that borders his farm. “In our area we have a program where you can put a grass filter strip along all the drainage ditches. The strip helps get all the sediment out of the run-off before it gets into the ditch. It also collects some of the excess nutrients, keeps the soil from washing away and keeps the water cleaner.” And once established, the strips require relatively no maintenance and become an excellent habitat for birds and wildlife.
Dan also joined the Environmental Assurance Program that is involved with the National Clean Water Act. To become environmentally certified, inspectors come out to the farm to insure the manure management plan meets all their criteria. “We feel it is our duty to consider the environment in all our decisions.”
|The three generations of Three Generation Pork—Dan’s mother Sylvia, Dan and Midge, and daughter Nicole.|
Dan also feels that continuing to learn and make improvements is the cornerstone of a successful operation. To gain more insight, he took part in the Pork Quality Assurance Program. “The program certifies that the farm is delivering a good, solid and safe product.”
The reason for all the extra work isn’t the awards, although he’s honored to receive them—especially from his peers in the industry—it’s about being responsible for the land. “I think most farmers are very good environmentalists. We have a saying—if you cheat your land it’s going to cheat you back.”
Dan keeps a steady eye on the future and the possibilities ahead. “As technology improves, we should be able to make the farm even better when it is time for us to pass it along.”