Odor and Nutrient Management Newsletter

Fall 1999

Manure cover pays for itself in quality of life for Williamsburg family

by Tracy S. Petersen, ISU Extension Communications Systems

If you ask Gary Boland, there’s more than one way to recover business expenses. The Williamsburg pork producer takes an alternative view when considering the costs of his synthetic manure cover. From a financial point of view, the cover may never fully pay for itself. In terms of quality of life, the costs are already covered.

In 1998, after he expanded his operation to a 2,000-head nursery and 4,000-head finishing operation, Boland decided to address the odor issue. "The nursery we added southwest of the house smelled worse than we thought it would," he said.

photoFlipping through a magazine, he landed on a rubber and plastic sheet designed to cover a manure pit and to trap odors. It took a year to design and install the system that covers a 14.5-foot deep pit that measures 120 feet by 120 feet. The cover is held aloft by foam float logs, and secured at the edges with 4 inches of dirt in a U-shaped trench.

The system was designed with the help of AgSTAR, a program jointly sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and U.S. Department of Energy. The AgSTAR program provides tools, guidance, and methods to help confinement operators recover methane.

Once the system was developed, installation was a neighborhood affair, Boland said. "The cover came in a very large crate," he said. "Twenty neighbors helped lay it out and place the float logs in it. Then we used a rope and a tractor in each corner to pull it into place."

Now, nearly 2 years later, the $20,000 effort was worth it, said Boland, who raises hogs for Premier Swine Breeding Systems. He networks with Tom Gilliam, Newcastle, Oklahoma, who does the farrowing. "It’s helped immensely," Boland said. "Some days it cuts the odor by 80 percent and on others it cuts it 100 percent."

It’s not surprising that the response from neighbors has been positive. "I’ve got good neighbors," Boland said. "Nobody ever complained to us about the odor. But now that I have the cover on, they all tell me the odor is less."

Now that the cover is installed, the maintenance is minimal. "I have some tape to patch the holes," Boland said. "Other than that, all I have to do is keep the weeds mowed to keep the rodents out." The cover is expected to last 10 to 15 years.

During the summer, when more methane is produced, the excess gas is burned off. Boland said his pit does not produce enough methane to make harvesting it feasible. However, the nutrient value of his manure has increased since he put the cover on, helping to offset the cost. "My hog manure has outyielded commercial fertilizer," he said. "I haven’t bought fertilizer for 2 years." Boland noted that he tries to inject all of his manure on his 500 acres of cropland.

Boland and his wife are ambassadors for the Iowa Pork Producers Association and speak often about their operation and odor management system. They’ve played host to an array of visitors, from European producers to staff members of Iowa senators Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley.

Many U.S. producers are interested in odor management systems but consider the cost prohibitive. Boland received some financial assistance from the Odor Control Demonstration Project. Administered by Iowa State University and funded by the Iowa Legislature, the project was created in 1997 to demonstrate odor control technologies. Participating producers received up to half of their expenses for the odor control technologies used on their operations. "If the swine industry ever gets more profitable, I think these systems may get more popular," Boland said.

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Iowa Manure Matters: Odor and Nutrient Management is published by Iowa State University Extension, with funding support from the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service through Cooperative Agreement No. 74-6114-8-22. To subscribe or change the address of a current subscription, write to Angela Rieck-Hinz, 2104 Agronomy Hall, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, 50011-1010 or call 515-294-9590, fax 515-294-9985 or email: amrieck@iastate.edu. Please indicate you are inquiring about the Odor and Nutrient Management Newsletter. The newsletter's coordinators are Angela Rieck-Hinz, extension program specialist, Department of Agronomy, Wendy Powers, environmental extension specialist, Department of Animal Science, and Robert Burns, Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering; the editor is Jean McGuire, the subscription manager is Rachel Klein, the production designer is Beth Kroeschell, and the web page designer is Liisa Jarvinen.

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