Manure Manager

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Quality Nutrient Spreading LLC

Quality, speed and mobility is this Iowa custom applicator’s aim


Iowa-based Quality Nutrient Spreading applies about 90,000 tons of mostly poultry manure on about 45,000 acres annually. Contributed photo

Eggs are big business in Iowa with farms producing anything from shelled eggs to liquid eggs to even dehydrated eggs. The challenge is what to do with the manure generated by all those egg factories – namely, chickens. Custom manure applicators like Quality Nutrient Spreading LLC play a critical role in this industry.

Owned by Greg and Janice Elbert and located in Algona, Iowa, about two hours from Des Moines, the company is literally in the thick of things when it comes to the poultry egg layer industry, with about 30 million birds within an 80-mile radius of their home base. The company has been in business since 2004, starting out by trucking manure, then advancing to cleaning out manure from poultry barns, and now offering a complete service of trucking, barn cleaning, and manure application.

When Quality Nutrient Spreading moved into manure spreading, the company opted for some of the most advanced manure application equipment available. Its fleet consists of two, 9205 Terragator nutrient applicators and one 9105 Terragator, equipped with European designed Tebbe dry boxes. The company is in the process of adding a pull-type Tebbe manure spreader.

“I have watched other people over the years use other types of equipment, and they all have their place,” says Elbert. “However, in the custom application business, you need to be able to spread all kind of product. These machines will spread the whole spectrum of what needs to be done.”

He adds that whether the manure is really wet or really dry, the Terragators deliver a very consistent spread pattern, and they are highly productive in an industry that demands productivity because of the volume of manure that needs to be applied during a short application season. This year alone, Elbert expects to apply about 90,000 tons of poultry manure on 45,000 acres. The volume has been growing steadily.

In addition to poultry manure, Elbert says he is also able to use his Terragators with the Tebbe boxes to apply cattle manure, wet lime, and eggshells. The company also applies some liquid hog manure using a Nuhn 6750-gallon tank pulled by a farm tractor: however, about 85 percent of its business is applying dry poultry manure.

The company’s busiest season is from the middle of September to December, until the ground freezes up in that part of the United States. Operations will also run about two to three weeks in the spring, after the ground has thawed.

“With environmental issues becoming a bigger concern, the manure needs to be tilled into the soil,” says Elbert. “That is our main goal. We have to do some on frozen ground, but we try to minimize it. It is extremely important to me to give the farmers the opportunity to till this product into the soil. For one thing, they are going to get more nutrient value out of it, and secondly, it’s going to be more friendly to the environment.”

The company is able to extend its season somewhat onto frozen ground because it is applying dry poultry manure. Liquid manure is prohibited from application on frozen ground. Elbert says he foresees the day when there will be restrictions on applying dry poultry manure on frozen ground as well, which is why it is important to train his farm customers now to till the manure into the soil before it is frozen.

The company has gone as far as north as Minnesota and southwest as Missouri to provide its custom manure application service, but mostly within about a 200-mile radius from home. Most of the business it does is with corporately owned farms. Elbert has plans to offer his services further south because there is an opportunity to extend his season as the ground within 300 to 400 miles doesn’t freeze for as long as near his home in Iowa. Also, because that area produces a greater variety of crops than just corn and soybeans, the manure application windows are different, which means that the company achieves greater use of and demand for its equipment.

Quality Nutrient Spreading has eight full-time employees, and keeps them busy by also hauling bulk animal feed for the local hog industry when the poultry manure application side of the business is slow.

Among the biggest challenges when land applying dry poultry manure is the variability of the product, which is why nutrient testing in advance is so critical for farmers to gain full value from it.

“My belief is that manure is just manure until you weigh it, test it for nutrients and then apply it to the land evenly,” says Elbert. “Then it becomes a fertilizer. These people who go out and just load it up in a spreader and spread it, they really don’t know what they have.” He adds that he tries to apply the manure in such a way that it delivers as consistent performance as commercial fertilizer.

The value of the poultry manure as an organic source of fertilizer is not lost on the local farming community. So it is critically important that Elbert and his team of nutrient specialists provide the knowledge and experience required to deliver the type of crop response that farmers expect, depending on the crop they are planting.

“Interest in using the manure among farmers is really high,” says Elbert. “We could sell more, but there isn’t enough of it. You are feeding the soil. They want to get the microbes going in the soil. They are learning that it works better, and you are seeing yield boosts over conventional fertilizer. The manure is sent to a certified lab and then we apply it according to what the crop removal would be.”

Quality Nutrient Spreading’s client list includes about 5,000 acres of organic corn, soybeans and wheat.

“The accuracy is really important particularly to the organic farmers because they get one shot,” says Elbert. “Chicken manure is all they get for fertilizer.” One interesting aspect of custom manure application, he says, is that the contenders are quickly weeded out from the pretenders when it comes to quality, because the proof of proper application is obvious once the crop grows.

Using purpose-built custom manure applicators like the Terragators and Tebbe boxes has really helped Elbert deliver quality to his customers. He says all the machines come equipped with weigh bars. So they know how much manure is loaded into the box. Using the electronics in the cab, they are able to type in an application rate of a set number of pounds per acre, and the machine is designed to spread the manure in the proper width consistently based on the prescribed volume.

“It’s as close to putting on commercial fertilizers as you can get,” says Elbert. “Manure is still a variable product but we try to get it evenly spread over the entire field. With all the farmers having yield monitors on their combines, they can tell where the mistakes are, right to the row.”

The company’s goal is to apply manure with a particle size no larger than a couple of fingers wide, which can sometimes be a challenge when they encounter heavier, wet litter. The European-designed Tebbe boxes on the Terragators are largely responsible for helping Quality Nutrient Spreading maintain consistency, because they are designed to process and apply manure with a wide range of characteristics.

“Basically, I want to be able to drive by the field after my guys have spread it, and for the most part, you can’t even see that we have been there,” says Elbert. “At that point, I feel that we have done the best job that we can do.”

The Terragators come equipped with auto-steer. A more advanced service that the units are able to provide is called “as-applied” mapping. This is where a computer card is inserted into the machine’s electronic controls dictating a certain volume application per acre, and the Terragator will actually record where the manure is applied, to verify exactly how much manure has been applied on each acre.

“In a year or so, we are going to try to do as-applied maps for all of the farms we cover,” says Elbert.
Complementing its desire for delivering quality manure application is Quality Nutrient Spreading’s ability to tackle a contract in a hurry because it has the support equipment to be able to move its manure application equipment around, which provides the company with a business advantage.

Elbert concludes that consistent application, speed and equipment will only take a business so far. A key element of Quality Nutrient Spreading’s success is its employees, who understand that customer satisfaction is their
main objective.