Odor and Nutrient Management Newsletter

Summer 1998

Information exchange is key to Boone farmer's success

by Tracy Petersen, extension communications

Dave Pepper is one of those people who never tires of learning. And these days there’s plenty to learn about farming.

Pepper, a Boone County hog and crop producer, attends several workshops and seminars each year to glean information about the latest techniques and technologies in agriculture. Recently he’s had a chance to contribute to the learning process.

photo of Dave PepperIn 1996 Pepper signed on as a cooperator in the Manure Nutrient Management Initiative Demonstrations. His goal was to gain tangible proof of the value of the manure produced by his 2,000 hogs each year. He’s learned that and more, and he’s willing to share.

"The crop usage and nutrient portion of the nutrient management workshop I attended last winter was taken from the plot here," Pepper said.

"Dave’s neighbors are paying attention," said John Creswell, Iowa State University Extension crop field specialist and coordinator of Pepper’s demonstration site, but they’re not necessarily following his lead. "Right now Dave’s an innovator. In another 10 years he’ll be one of our farm leaders in central Iowa."

What Pepper has learned is that when he spreads 7 tons per acre of his hogs’ manure on the land he farms, he nearly meets the nutrient requirements for corn. The 7 tons are worth $50. He saves $15 per acre in nitrogen costs alone.

"If you don’t take credit for the manure you’re applying, you’re wasting money," Pepper said.

Pepper also learned that he improves his stands by applying the manure in the fall.

Crewell noted that the closer to the time of planting the manure is applied, the more problems producers are likely to encounter. Application of manure on wet soils in the spring can cause compaction problems that can affect plant stands. In addition, manure applied at reasonable rates, such as 7 tons per acre, may cause difficulty with good seed placement in the soil as the planter goes through the surface applied manure.

"That’s probably the most important thing we’ve learned from Dave’s plot," Creswell said.

Pepper applies manure solids with a small box spreader. After analyzing the nutrient content, Creswell helped him calibrate his spreader.

"I put plastic bags down and had Dave drive over them while spreading manure," Creswell recalled. "I correlated the proportion of manure per acre using a 50-pound fish scale from Wal-Mart that I checked for accuracy against ISU’s scales." The message, he said, is that it’s easy to put nutrient information to work.

While Pepper contributed to the nutrient management workshop by hosting a research plot, he gained information, as well.

"I didn’t have a written manure management plan before I attended the meeting, but I do now," he said. "When I wrote the plan I found that we were already doing a pretty good job. But I also found that it helped in the area of fine-tuning what we’re doing."

Pepper, with a 100-sow farrow-to-finish operation, is not required to have a written manure management plan.

"But if we were pressed, we would have proof of what we’re doing," he said. "And we might need one down the road."

Pepper said he doesn’t mind providing written proof that he’s a good steward of the land.

"The public has a right to feel safe, to assurances that we’re using the tools and information to do things responsibly," he said. The trade-offs, he added, are slight. "I like what I do real well. The little nuances like written manure management plans are a small price to pay."

Last winter Pepper thought about making a significant change in his operation. He hired analysts to take a look at contract hog production. Pepper decided the method wasn’t for him, preferring to retain his independence, and to increase the crops portion of his farm instead the hogs portion.

"I would consider the hogs to be the value-added part of the operation and the corn and beans the main raw product," he said.

To help him tend to his crops and hogs Pepper hires students from ISU. Labor is almost always cheaper than technology, he said, so he makes do with smaller equipment and more labor.

"Besides," he said, "It’s a neat way to not always have to work by myself."

But the real benefit to employing students, he said, is gleaning information they’ve picked up in classes and other jobs.

"They bring a lot of new ideas," he said. "Without a doubt they keep you fresh."

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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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