Dairy and Cash Grain Farmer Perceptions of the Value of Manure

Julia Knight1, Patty Ristow1, Graham Swanepoel1, Karl Czymmek1,2, and Quirine M. Ketterings1
Nutrient Management Spear Program, 2PRODAIRY, Department of Animal Science, Cornell University

A policy interest in regional nutrient balances and farm interests in the value of manure inspired a study to begin understanding and characterizing the current state of manure exports and imports in New York State (NYS). Initial discussions with producers, farm advisors, and policy makers showed a need for more information on (1) the current movement of manure between dairy and crop farms, and (2) the (perceived) value and costs of manure handling for both dairy and crop farmers. The purpose of this study was to obtain information about current manure use, transfers, drivers and limitations, and the value of manure as perceived by crop and dairy producers.

Figure 1. Postcard style surveys were handed out to dairy and crop producers in the winter of 2010.

Farmer Surveys
Surveys (postcards, see Figure 1) were handed out across New York (NY) during fifteen farmer meetings held between January 1 and March 31, 2010. Overall, 266 surveys were
completed (200 dairy and 66 crop producers) representing 38 NY counties, and 7 counties from Vermont, Connecticut and Maine.

Main Findings
Among those surveyed, the average dairy farm had 295 cows with 625 acres of cropland. The average crop farm was 1030 acres. Across dairy farms, 86% of the acreage received manure (535 acres out of 625 acres of the average dairy farm), 47% had at least 6 months of manure storage.

All of the farms with 700 or more cows (17 farms) tested manure at least annually versus 40 of 53 farms (75%) for farms with 200-699 cows. At farms with 100-199 cows, manure was tested annually by 10 of 34 farms (29%) and once every 2-3 years by 17 of 34 farms (50%). Of the farms with less than 100 animals, 66% never tested manure for nutrient content (Figure 2).
Manure was exported off the farm by 20% of the 200 dairy producers that were surveyed. The most important reason for not exporting (more) manure was the perceived lack of manure to meet crop nutrient needs at the dairy farm itself (Table 1).

Of the crop producers surveyed, 64% reported that they apply manure to an average of 41% of their crop acres, indicating manure export from dairy farms to crop farms is occurring in the region. Crop producers who did not import manure indicated lack of availability and concerns about compaction as the two main reasons to limit manure use on their farm (Table 2). Odor and costs were seen as less of a concern.

Both dairy and crop producers listed organic matter and nutrients as the most valuable manure properties (Tables 3 and 4). Enhanced soil water holding capacity (moisture retention) with manure use was considered less important.

There was a gap between the perceived value of manure by dairy producers and by crop producers. Dairy
producers on average priced manure at a value of $96 per acre with a range of $20 to $400 per acre while crop producers on average valued manure at $53 per acre with a range of $0 to $150 per acre, respectively.

Of those crop farmers that applied manure, only 21% indicated they had paid for the manure. The average payment per acre manure applied was $88/acre. Dairy producers estimated their actual manure handling and application costs to amount to $43/acre (averaged across the farms).

Manure nutrient distribution to non-dairy cropland is taking place in the region. However, many of the dairy farms (160 out of 197) did not export manure (Figure 3). The percentage of farms that export manure increases with an increase in animal density with a third of the farms exporting manure when animal densities exceeded 0.75 animal units per acre (1 animal unit equals 1000 lbs).

Preliminary Interpretations
Nitrogen management (timing and application method) choices can have a large impact on how much manure must be applied per acre to meet crop N needs. When less efficient N management practices (such as surface application without incorporation) are utilized, the P addition with the manure can substantially exceed crop P needs leading to greater P losses and/or accumulation in the soil. If dairies are able to improve N use efficiency of manure and fertilizer and/or add N from other sources (cover crops, greater reliance on N fixation, shorter rotations, building of soil organic matter levels through use of reduced tillage practices, etc.), they may have more manure available to move off the farm. More efficient manure N use coupled with increased manure distribution across the landscape has the potential to improve regional P balances and with increasing fertilizer prices, farms may be able to derive value from such transactions in future years

The survey results indicate crop and dairy producers value manure, mostly for its supply of nutrients and organic matter. Crop producers tended to place a lower monetary value on manure than dairy farmers which may reflect a deeper understanding by dairy farmers of the value of manure as a fertilizer replacement. The results of this survey reflect that manure export/import activities are currently limited by manure availability and a gap between the perceived dollar value of manure by dairy producers and by crop producers. However, the responses also indicate the potential for greater export from higher density dairy farms to crop farms in the future, as both groups share recognition of the benefits of manure.

This work was sponsored by the Center for Dairy Excellence and the New York Farm Viability Institute. We thank the many Cornell Cooperative Extension educators who helped with the surveys. Questions about this project? Contact: Quirine M. Ketterings at 607-255-3061 or qmk2@cornell.edu, and/or visit the Nutrient Management Spear Program website at: http://nmsp.cals.cornell.edu/.


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