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Does Iowa really have too much manure, as livestock opponents claim? Or could the state actually use more manure to fertilize its crops?

Welcome to Episode 18 of The Spokesman Speaks podcast. In this episode, Iowa State University's Dr. Daniel Andersen (aka "Dr. Manure") answers those questions and more. The episode also features an interview with ISU's Dr. Mark Licht, a cover crops expert with important tips and information for farmers who are considering planting cover crops this year.

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Narrator: Welcome to The Spokesman Speaks, a podcast from Iowa's leading agricultural news source. Brought to you by the Iowa Farm Bureau. Now, here's your host, Laurie Johns.

Laurie Johns: Welcome to The Spokesman Speaks Podcast. This is our July 29th edition. Thanks for tuning in. Hey, can I ask you a couple of questions? Does Iowa really have too much livestock manure as opponents claim? And here's another one to consider. I know that harvest season is just around the corner, but so is your window to plant cover crops in 2019. So are you making plans to plant cover crops this year? This week's podcast episode features experts to help you answer both of those questions. Let's dive in. We'll start with Dr. Mark Licht, a professor, cropping system specialist and cover crops expert with Iowa State University. If you're planning to plant cover crops for the first time in 2019 you probably have plenty of questions and Dr. Lichts the guy with answers. Spokesman Editor, Dirck Steimel called Dr. Licht with some common cover crop questions. Let's have a listen.

Dirck Steimel: Mark, many farmers have tried cover crops, but there's still many who haven't. What do you hear is the biggest obstacle for farmers who still are on the fence about planting cover crops and how can they be convinced to give them a try?

Dr. Mark Licht: So, I think one of the bigger challenges that we keep hearing about with adoption of cover crops is one, kind of the cost side of it. You know, it's an additional cost and there's no real direct return on that investment. I think if we were trained to account for that through the soil health benefits and nutrient reduction benefits and things like that, I think it becomes a little bit easier to do. But those are indirect benefits or indirect cost benefits so to speak. And so I think that's one of our bigger limitations. And, you know, I think we've been trying to address that through cost share programs, things like that. You know, and now we're at a point where I think it's just one of the things that I'm focusing on anyhow is the complexity, you know, how do we make the adoption of cover crops, you know, something that we can really plug into the corn and soybean systems with less complexity. And so we've been talking, you know, over the last, really the last year trying to look at strategies, come up with a, you know, how do I implement cover crops, you know, at a beginner level. And so that's where we're kind of at right now. Even though we have, you know, research information and, you know, that would really be good for not only the beginners, but you know, for people that have been adopting it and are now what I would term as the experts.

Dirck Steimel: Mark, what do you see as the biggest advantage for farmers when they do plant cover crops?

Dr. Mark Licht: So, you know, for me, one of the biggest advantages is that it is helping us reduce nitrate losses because that cover crop is taking up nitrogen at a time when, you know, the corn crop or even a growing soybean crop is just not there. So we're taking up that nitrogen and then it's not leeching out. And then the other aspect of it is that is also taking up phosphorus and protecting the soil so we're not losing phosphorus with sediments. And so from that standpoint the cover crop is a real big help in trying to get us, you know, closer to our nutrient reduction strategy goals. So that's really the big benefit behind it. Kind of a, I call it a secondary benefit, but if you have livestock, it becomes a real economic benefit too, because we can now use these cover crops and graze them. So if we have cattle and the ability to use that grazing is, you know, that forge for grazing purpose or possibly even be able to cut it for haylage or something like that, then all of a sudden we're able to get some feed value out of it and then hopefully that's able to reduce some of that feed cost elsewhere in their system. And so that's another pretty big benefit that we can get from them. Unfortunately, that's going to have limited impact or limited number of acres that we can utilize.

Dirck Steimel: There seems to be a lot of opinions around about the timing of planning and the best method to plant cover crops and when to terminate them. Is there any more or any further ISU research on best practices for these things or does it vary from year to year?

Dr. Mark Licht: There's always going to be kind of a variance from one year to the next, largely just because of weather conditions that we're dealing with. I would say that right now I'm aware of two projects that are really looking at kind of the seating methods and seating timings and things like that and termination timings as well. And a little bit on the early side right now anyhow to really talk about those results that are coming from this newer study. But I think overall what we're learning is that as far as seeding timeframe, just as a quick rule of thumb, right around August 20th to maybe into that first week of September if we want, if we're going to be doing broadcast or aerial seeding. Kind of into a standing crop that is going to a pretty good timeframe to try to do that. Obviously if we're drill seeding or if we're going to broadcast and then incorporate, obviously we're waiting until after the corn or soybeans have been harvested, we'd probably push for, you know, an aerial or a broadcast seeding into a standing crop more so for corn, soybeans we can still drill it after harvest and be okay. Especially if we can get harvest timeframe getting that drill seeding done, you know, kinda by the 15th of October timeframe would be ideal.

Dirck Steimel: Are there parts of Iowa that are just too far north to have consistent success with cover crops?

Dr. Mark Licht: You know that is one of the challenges that we do hear about quite often. I think the further north we go, the more limited we are in the number or the type of species that we would use. And so one of the things that we kind of talk about is, you know, if we're going from soybeans to corn, even in northern Iowa, oats is a pretty good option. It allows us to, you know, get some good growth in the fall, especially if we end up with a warmer fall. And then using something like a winter rye is probably best suited, especially in northern Iowa, if we're going from corn into soybeans. Again, we can get some of that growth in the fall, but then it'll come up and it'll give us some good growth in the spring. So, the winter cereals are typically what we'd really be promoting, but we know that some of the challenges with winter seeding ahead of corn that oats are a nice second option to help us get some growth, get some nutrient uptake occurring when we normally wouldn't have anything.

Dirck Steimel: The yield drag when you're going from cover crops into corn has kind of spooked a lot of people. What's the latest research show about overcoming that possibility for yield drag?

Dr. Mark Licht: Yeah so, we're, again, this is a big area of research right now and one of the things that we think is tied fairly closely with that yield penalty, I'll call it, is, you know, partly just the learning curve with it. So we have a 10 year study with the results of showing us essentially once we get past the first year or two or three of cover crops, we no longer have a yield drag and we're basically yield neutral. And so we know that that's likely associated with, you know, kind of the learning curve. How do we get things terminated? How do we get things planted? How do we manage that new system? Another thing that, you know, we've been, and actually this is an area that we're doing some research on right now is looking at a starter nitrogen for that corn following a winter cereal and anecdotally and what we're hearing from farmers is that having a starter fertilizer, starter nitrogen fertilizer at the time of planting helps that corn seedling along. Again, making it more of a yield neutral type situation. You know, and how much is kind of the golden question. You know, I think initially we would say, you know, starting with something like, you know, 20 to 30 pounds of nitrogen, but yet we have some evidence from some growers that are a little bit more experienced where they're putting on a little bit higher rates and finding that that is working for them. So I think, you know, that's an area that we're doing quite a bit of research on right now. And then the other part of it is I'm trying to get the termination timing down. That green growth from those winter cereals when it gets bumped up or closer to the time of corn planting, we find that there's some additional disease pressure, additional potential for insect pressure associated with basically a green bridge there with those pests. And so if we can get termination timing down where we have a 10 to 14 day window, that tends to be able to help reduce that insect disease pressure. But an area that we're working on right now with a couple research projects that were funded through the Iowa Nutrient Research Center.

Dirck Steimel: What's the best way for people to get a successful start in cover crops?

Dr. Mark Licht: So, one of the easiest things to do or what I really encourage is just starting small. I know that with the equipment sizes today small is maybe hard to do at times. But you know, starting with, you know, a portion of a field, maybe it's, you know, 20 to 40 acres. In an area where you can get to it and, and kind of watch it. You can so to speak, micromanage it. The intent there is I'm really wanting to be able to check in on it and kind of play around a little bit get a learning curve started with it. And then the other thing that I often recommend is start with cover crops ahead of soybeans because what we're finding in our long-term data is that cover crops ahead of soybeans are yield neutral and possibly especially once we get through some of those learning curve years, there's a possibility that we could get a yield benefit from having cover crops ahead of soybeans. So, you know, if we start with soybeans and if we start on a small number of acres, we can kind of get moving in the right direction a little bit quicker.

Dirck Steimel: Farmers planted a lot of cover crops this year because of prevent planted acres. Those cover crops are going to be on a long time. Is there anything that farmers need to watch out for as they get to plant those acres for 2020?

Dr. Mark Licht: The bigger concern with the prevent plant acres that gave a cover crop to them is really just how is that residue going to be managed. So if they planted a warm season, like a sorghum or a millet or a sudan sorghum hybrid, you know, those are going to put on a fair amount of biomass. They're going to kill pretty easily with a first fall frost type mentality. But they're still gonna have that biomass out there, you know, so they may have to end up running, you know, a mower through that or something like that at some point, whether it's this fall or whether it's next spring. If it's, you know, some of our winter cereals, if it's a, you know, the radishes, if it's some clovers and some of those, no additional activities needed this year. You know, and then the big thing would be in the spring terminating them in a timely way. You know, so you're able to go in and get your corn and soybean planting done, you know, in a timely fashion again. I know we've had some talk about using soybeans or corn as a cover crop on some of those acres. The key there, you're going to need to likely, well, I guess it all depends on when they get, when they get planted in and when we have a fall frost, but there's a potential for volunteer corn, volunteer soybeans, from that type of a system. And so just recognizing that, you know, with our herbicide programs next year is going to be a key thing. If we did get any seed production, whether it's corn or soybeans or any of the other cover crops that that were planted, we just have to recognize that and be able to account for with the herbicide programs that we're going to be using.

Dirck Steimel: Okay. Mark one more thing. Where do you think are some good places or a good place that farmers can go to learn more about cover crops?

Dr. Mark Licht: So yeah, Iowa State University, we have a lot of information being generated right now through the extension services is where I would look there. The Iowa Learning Farms, which is a great collaboration between the Iowa NRCS, Iowa Department of Ag and Land Stewardship, Iowa DNR and Iowa State, so there's a lot of information on cover crops being generated and put out through the Iowa Learning Farms. And then the Practical Farmers of Iowa has some really good information as well. So, you know with those three sources, a quick Internet search and I think you're going to find probably more cover crop information than you can digest in, you know, in a few minutes, anyhow.

Laurie Johns: That's some pretty good stuff from Dr Licht. Hopefully it plants a seed that leads you to consider cover crops this year. Okay, now we turn to the topic that probably caused you to play this podcast episode in the first place. The scoop on poop. By now you've probably heard way too many sound bites from those anti-livestock advocates all of them claiming that Iowa has too many pigs, too much manure causing a so-called environmental stink. Of course, farmers know that livestock manure is actually a valued resource, not something to be wasted. So what do the experts say? Dr. Daniel Anderson is a professor in Iowa State's Ag and Biosystems Engineering Department with expertise in manure management and water quality. He actually goes by the handle Dr. Manure on Twitter. This guy literally knows his, well, let's just say stuff. I had a chance to interview Dr. Anderson for the new edition of the Iowa Minute, which you'll be seeing on TV stations around the state. As I always say, there's way too much good stuff to fit into a minute. So we're bringing you, our podcast audience, my complete interview with Dr. Manure. Check it out. Iowa is a place that has a lot of livestock farming and we're known for that. And much has been said about whether we have too much when it comes to livestock and how that's impacting our watersheds. But when you look at the number of animals and the manure, the waste that they produce, you could say it actually is a valuable resource.

Dr. Daniel Anderson: Yeah. So Iowa makes about 15 billion gallons of manure annually. Which sounds like a lot, right? I mean, we think about our household. I mean, if we try and picture that number, it's hard to fathom. But in addition to being very high in many lifestyle categories, we're also a major producer of crops and crops need those nutrients. We're gonna find a way to fertilize them no matter what. And manures are a natural, historic, organic fertilizer that we've used for centuries. And I think when you look at the state of Iowa, only about 30% of the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium we need to actually grow our crops can be supplied by animal manures. So when we talk about capacity and ability to use that as a resource, right? That means we can certainly do that because we're only meeting 30% of our demand. 70% has to come from other fertilizer sources, whether it be anhydrous ammonia, mine phosphorus, so animal manures definitely remains a great fertilizer source in Iowa and something that farmers are continuing to utilize.

Laurie Johns: So only 30%, that means we could actually use more manure?

Dr. Daniel Anderson: That's right. We have land capacity to double our annual production and still utilize it all as a fertilizer. And I think that's a great place to be. If you look around the nation, if you look around the world, that isn't always the case. And when we get to a point where we reach crap capacity, we might start looking at manure as a waste product. But in Iowa, it's really a value added product. It's a crop co-product from animal production where the farmer can take some advantage of it, save on his fertilizer costs for the year, and really recycle it as a nutrient source. And when we talk about sustainability, I think that's really important to us. It gives Iowa an advantage, where the cost of livestock production and the benefit we can get as a farmer are better than most other places in the world and the nation. So, it's a nice thing for us.

Laurie Johns: Tell me the advantages of manure versus anhydrous or some other artificial.

Dr. Daniel Anderson: Yeah, so I think when we talk about different fertilizer sources, one of the things you've probably seen is we've been working on coatings for urea, right? And what we're trying to do is make a slow release fertilizer. Well when we talk about manure, that nitrogen comes in two forms, is both ammonia and organic nitrogen and that organic fraction is already in a form where it sort of a slow release fertilizer. So rather than having to add a lot of complex science or cost to it naturally, it's got some of those benefits that we want. Or if we think about the concept of soil health and talking about improving the microbiomes in our soil and just building soil carbon. All the research says that about 10% of the carbon in that manure is going to become stabilized organic matter. And we know organic matter is really important to us. Higher organic matter in our soil tends to mean that we're going to move water into our soil more quickly, better hydraulic conductivity that can help with flooding. And in addition to that, it also helps hold some of that water in the soil. So, when we talk about a drought resiliency or resiliency to climate change, manures are supplying those things that we actually need in our soil to make it better, richer and make sure that Iowa agriculture can continue to have the great soil resources that we currently do.

Laurie Johns: And we knew a lot more about applying manure than of course, now, I'm thinking cattle with manure spreaders, you know, back in the day. But how most people, how most farmers are applying manure, a lot of innovation is involved.

Dr. Daniel Anderson: That's right. I think a lot of times we think it's just people out there trying to get it out in that field and get rid of it and that couldn't be further from the truth these days. When we look at the technology that goes into these systems to make sure that we're getting the right number of gallons per acre we've really come a long way. Almost every manure spreader, whether it be solid or liquid, is going to have some flow measurement device so that we know what we're putting out there. Whether on the liquid side that might be an ultrasonic flow meter so that we're getting an accurate reading on solid manure spreaders, oftentimes they come equipped with weigh scale. So when we say that in order to meet our crop demand, we want to be out there putting on four tons an acre, we actually know that we're putting on four tons an acre because we have that gps speed. We have instantaneous readings of how much is left in our load. And we really can go out there with certainty and say this is what we're putting on. And I think when we talk about utilizing manure as a resource, that's something that's really important to us, right? Because I think when I was young and we had sort of the spreader that you were referring to that you're just driving across the field, you kind of knew what you were putting on. One load went over here, one load went over there and you hoped it was right. When it comes to the prescription and the technology that we're trying to use now, where it really comes down to talking about small increments of units, 10 pounds of nitrogen, 20 pounds of nitrogen. Having that precision to accurately measure what we're putting on is important to make sure we're making accurate fertilization decisions.

Laurie Johns: There's a lot of science in growing crops these days.

Dr. Daniel Anderson: That's right. A lot of science in growing crops. And I think, you know, it gets a little more complicated every day because we might start looking at zones across the field. Where do we really need phosphorous? Where don't we need phosphorus? What areas are riskier to water quality. And when we talk about the livestock industry, I think we're on the top of that curve, right? We have to fill out a manure management plan that says both what are our crop plants, how much fertilizer do we plan to put there and what does that mean for impact on water quality? Right? And that plan really evaluates all three of those. So by doing so we're making sure that we're helping to protect some of our water quality resources and that the farmer can still utilize that manure as a resource. I think Iowa’s done a nice job that way.

Laurie Johns: Well let's talk about some of that misinformation when it comes to, cuz there are critics out there, you know, talk about whether so much livestock and that's affecting the nitrates in the water and they're to blame. I don't even know what they're suggesting, but somehow that there are too many pigs, period. Right? They pick on that particular thing because the innovation has gone so far from what they maybe remember. But it's a bigger story than that.

Dr. Daniel Anderson: That's right. And I think, you know, I think we often have this picturesque back in the 1950s whether it be cows on pasture or happy pigs and wondering why we've moved in a different direction now with today's agricultural technologies. And the truth is feed efficiency has gone up. So when we talk about sustainability, I think that's an important part of the picture, right? We're using less feed to get a pound of muscle meat on that pig that we can consume. And I think that's a good thing for us. The other thing is manure has become a value added fertilizer. When you think back to these picturesque farms where the pigs were outside, we weren't really capturing a lot of that manure. It was sitting there. We were losing a lot of the nitrogen as it sat there. If it rained, some of those nutrients washed off. And if you think about this as a system where that manure is really a co-product, which is how we value it, that means we weren't taking advantage of it. So when you look at today's agricultural systems, we're restoring that manure in a concrete pit or a in earth and pit where it's lined to make sure that it's staying there to help protect water quality resources and then we're getting it out to the field in a timely fashion when those plants can really utilize those nutrients, that adds value to our operation. Swine finishing farms in particular that manures were somewhere around $35 per thousand gallons of manure. It's going to cost us about $16 to get it out to the field. So that's a value added proposition for our farm. If we think back to the 1950s it probably still costs us somewhere around the same amount to get manure out to the field somewhere in the neighborhood of $16 to $20 per thousand gallons. But we only had about $5 to $10 worth of nutrient value actually in that manure. Right? And that makes it look a lot more like a waste rather than a value added product. And I think that's been a real good driver for our system in Iowa. Right? If it's a value-added product and it's something we can utilize and treat as a resource, we're going to do a better job of managing it.

Laurie Johns: Let's talk about that nutrient value. Is hog manure today different than it was like in the 80s?

Dr. Daniel Anderson: Yeah, I think we've done a few things different that have helped us gain some of that nutrient value and I think one of the things that maybe the human side has to think about is when we talk about our waste stream, it's not just, you know, our raw fecal matter that's in there, right? We use a lot of water for washing dishes, for washing clothes, and that means we have a lot of water to manage. On the hog industry side one of the things that we've done really well is try and minimize water wastage to make sure that for every unit of water we're using in the barn, it's getting run through that pig and actually causing growth and then a little bit for washing barns. Right? But we found newer, better methods to do that and that means those nutrients in our manure get more complicated and it's more cost effective to move them. So, water savings, especially with wet dry feeders or presoaking our barn, when it's time to wash it out between turns of pigs have really done a good job of bringing those nutrient concentrations in the manure up. Now when we talk about has it changed? Not really. It's still manure. It still has that nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, right? It's still that natural product we had before. We're just doing a better job of making sure that it can be more valuable to get to the places where we really need it.

Laurie Johns: I suspect it smells the same.

Dr. Daniel Anderson: It tends to smell the same. I mean, certainly we've changed some diets a little bit and diet does have some influence on odor. We've changed some of our management systems. I think when you think back to, maybe it's sitting on the open lot pigs, that's a surface that's pretty much always exposed to the air. Every time the winds blowing it's taking some of that odor away. As you look at some of our newer facilities, right, we're trying to get that manure to fall down into a pit beneath it. Some of our newer hog barns have changed their ventilation strategies a little bit to try and minimize the amount of that pit air that's probably being exhausted from the barn trying to help with odor control. So certainly manure has always made odor. It still makes some odor, but I think we're trying to do some at least some practices to maybe minimize that odor leaving our site, leaving our facility.

Laurie Johns: So, the manure is more concentrated. Is it more liquid than it used to be?

Dr. Daniel Anderson: On the hog manure side especially, we tend to have more liquid manure facilities. It comes out of the animal about the same. It's just how we've managed it has changed. Right? And I think there's some reasons for that. Liquid manure is easy to build a mechanized system to get that manure out quickly, get it applied accurately in the fall. And I think that works really well for us. Solid manure, it's a little harder to mechanize, right? And certainly we can do it, but, maybe the convenience hasn't always been there with the equipment factor. So, it is certainly we have more liquid manure than we have in the past, but it also helps us get those nutrients right where we want them, get them injected in the soil and get it covered to help minimize some of that odor control.

Laurie Johns: Well I realize I'm asking the right guy here when it comes to different types of manure, but tell me, so is one type of livestock animals’ manure better than another for fertilizing crops?

Dr. Daniel Anderson: I don't think there's one that's better. It really depends on what you need, right? So if I look at, let's say liquid swine manure, that nitrogen to phosphorous ratio is about in balance for what we need for corn and soybeans. And that can work really well for us if we're in a situation where we want to be putting manure on to that rotation every year. If you look at other manure types, let's say cattle, it tends to have higher phosphorus, maybe a little bit lower than nitrogen. And you might say, well that's really a detriment to me, right? Because it's not in balance with what my crop needs. On the other hand, it has more carbon. So if I start thinking about that in a system where I'm going to use it, it might mean I'm only putting on manure every three or four years. So, I stay in balance with phosphorus and I'm supplementing some commercial fertilizer on those other years when I'm not putting manure on. But I'm also helping build soil health a little bit more quickly because I have more carbon on it. So, it's not that one manures better or worse, it's just that they're a little bit different and we have to figure out what we're trying to do in our system and make sure that we're helping keep ourselves healthy and happy.

Laurie Johns: It's easier in a CAFO when you think of hogs anyway to hold that manure when it's all in a place versus cattle. Do we really do that?

Dr. Daniel Anderson: Well we have some cattle that are in bedded pack barns. We have a few deep pit cattle barns and even on our open lot cattle finishing operations, we still tend to stockpile some of that manure. Now it's moving towards maybe bedded pack barns or deep pit barns helps us hold more of that nitrogen in the manure. And certainly we know we use a lot of nitrogen in Iowa. It's important for crop production, right? It's one of our major nutrients. So it does help us make sure that more of that nitrogen stays in that manure where we can actually get it out to the futile field than utilizing crop production. But the other facilities tend to have opportunities to try and control their manure. Just in maybe some of our liquid systems, it's more apparent as you drive by to see exactly how we're doing it.

Laurie Johns: Well, when it comes to nitrogen moving in the watershed, it's not just because of livestock farmers putting on fertilizer.

Dr. Daniel Anderson: Absolutely not. I think that's a common misconception that all of our nitrogen loss is happening because we're fertilizing fields. We have plots in near Iowa state that haven't had any fertilizer of any type put on them in the last 20 years and we are still losing nitrogen into the tile lines from those fields. Right? Iowa soils are very productive. Have a lot of nitrogen naturally in them, somewhere around 10,000 pounds per acre. And every year some of that nitrogen is going to be mineralized. Certainly we want all of it to go into the crop but just because of our cropping patterns, the weather systems that we have, we're going to have some losses. Now when we use manure or other fertilizers, certainly there is greater opportunity for loss. On the other hand, when you really look at the marginal change and how much more nitrogen we're losing, it's really small in comparison to how much is ending up in the crop. Right? That's why we need to put some nitrogen on. It makes sense in our fertilization patterns. In terms of manure, I think there's some challenges that we face, right? We have a seasonal window to get it applied and the last few years have been a little tougher. And I think that's done some interesting things to the industry where we're trying to look at other opportunities, other windows to put manure on whether it be spring, whether it be side dressing after the corns already standing to try and improve that efficiency. But we're already in a situation where our nitrogen use for manures and other fertilizers is relatively high. So at this point where we're really trying to get a little bit better on that curve and every year we get a little bit of marginal improvement. And I think that's really what the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy's about. Looking at where we are today and saying how can we do just a little bit better? What are the practices we can implement to try and help water quality a little bit more? So I think we've already done a lot, but there's, there's definitely more room to go.

Laurie Johns: Well and speaking of, you know, accomplishing a lot. I know that the world looks at us as a model for livestock farming and how we use the waste.

Dr. Daniel Anderson: Absolutely and every year there's a group of swine producers from China who come over and look at the Iowa system. I think when we look at water quality, when we talk about how agriculture should look to be sustainable, China's model has often been, we're going to do some very minimal treatment to our manure and then discharge it out into a stream. And I think in some respects that looks a little bit like what happened for human municipal waste treatment, right? We're going to do some treatment and then discharge it. But when we talk about sustainability, nitrogen is a precious resource to us, right? It takes a lot of energy to make the nitrogen fertilizers to use for crop production. So if we can find ways to make sure that recycling that nutrient, utilizing it as a resource, there's opportunities there. And especially there's parts of China that in terms of their land, their soils, their weather, their climate look a lot like Iowa. And in those cases, those places, they're really trying to start to look at the Iowa system and say, what are you doing that has worked so well for making sure that manure can be a resource, we think it's going to encourage more implementation than trying to just legislate, we need treatment systems and they come over here and try and see what we're doing, look at our equipment and trying to figure out how they can implement there, and I think we started to see that happen over in China. It's certainly a slow process, but there's been progress made.

Laurie Johns: Another question I have to ask, since the critic is out there, are we number one in number two?

Dr. Daniel Anderson: It depends on how you look at it is the real answer. So we do make probably more nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium in our manure than most of the other states around us. In terms of total volume of manure, Wisconsin probably since they're a dairy farm, they tend to have a little bit more water usage on their farm, probably actually makes about the same amount of manure we do. But it's not as value added there. Right? It's a less concentrated fertilizer. So you can't always look at it as a value added is what we have here in Iowa, which I think is really useful for us. Right? I think it's important for us that it can be used as a cost-effective fertilizer because it helps make management better and it basically incentivizes it for the farmer.

Laurie Johns: And Iowa's uniquely positioned to lead the nation in hog farming just as one example.

Dr. Daniel Anderson: Absolutely. I think Iowa's in a great spot because we have so much need for nutrients for crop production. I like to say Iowa's almost never been so manure poor. If you go back to the 1950s, we got a much larger percentage of all our nutrients from animal manures. Right? And since then we've sort of been moving every year more and more commercial fertilizer, in the last five years we finally have a little bit more animal manure, but it's still only 30% of our actual nutrient needs can be met by animal manure. So in general, we've been moving in this trend where other fertilizer sources have become more and more important at the same time that we maybe saw some decreases in water quality. Now manure certainly has some challenges, right? And I'm not going to go around that. Timing's important. Making sure that we're utilizing it correctly with the right application equipment is important, but I think the industry has done a nice job responding, helping develop new technologies and understand what the future might hold in terms of making sure that we can continue to utilize it as a resource.

Laurie Johns: I bet you have a lot of people seek your advice when it comes to manure and what to do with it and how to design a better way.

Dr. Daniel Anderson: Absolutely. We get to talk to about 5,000 Iowa livestock farmers every year. One of the best parts about that is farmers are some of the most innovative people that you will ever meet. And certainly I think they know where the industry is at. They always want to know how to do a little bit better. But my favorite part is they're more than willing to share what they think the future might hold. And I think oftentimes we get to see some interesting ideas about what may work, what might not work, but they're thinking outside the box, right? They're thinking about what are better ways that I can get manure on to make sure that nitrogen in it, that phosphorous in it is really utilized by my crops in a more effective manner. So that happens to be one of my favorite parts of the job. Farmers are creative, farmers care about the land they farm, and they want to make sure that it's going to be there in a better spot for their children.

Laurie Johns: And this is kinda like the crystal ball question. Wow. What's the next generation innovation when it comes to managing the manure, the waste, and putting it to good use?

Dr. Daniel Anderson: Well, I think it's hard to really say, this is what the tea leaf says to me, but I think we'll probably look towards maybe some solid year in segregation types of barns. So separating some of the solids actually from the liquid. That'll give us a little bit more accurate control and make designing those systems a little bit easier and it might delink our nitrogen and phosphorous in some case so we can apply each of them at a more consistent rate. So we talked a little earlier about maybe with cattle manure we might be putting on three years of phosphorus and then having to wait. This will give us a system where we can get back to imbalance for nitrogen to phosphorus so they could put on manure more frequently and ship some of that phosphorus further away from their farm where other people can utilize it.

Laurie Johns: Wow, isn't that guy a wealth of knowledge? We certainly appreciate Dr. Anderson's time and his ability to put this issue into perspective. Anti livestock advocates may claim that Iowa has too much manure, but the facts say that Iowa could actually use a lot more to provide a natural organic fertilizer for our crops. See, it's all about Iowa's farm land. As we wrap up this episode of The Spokesman Speaks Podcast, I'd like to bring your attention to a couple of opportunities. The first one is Iowa Farm Bureau's Grow Your Future award. If you're a young entrepreneur listening to this podcast and you've got an innovative ag related business, we'd like you to head out to and learn more about the award, which has cash prizes for the top three finishers, including a $7,500 prize for first place. So head out to and check that out. The second opportunity shouldn't take too much convincing. We'd really like you to join us at the 2019 Iowa State Fair, which is August 8th through the 18th. Real farmers, real food, real meat. That's the theme at Farm Bureau Park, so we'll be celebrating the value of meat and livestock and we're actually going to be giving away a Traeger Wood Pellet Grill and a Fareway meat package. Really, really nice stuff. Of course we'll have free health screenings at the park each day of the fair and our annual cookout contest on the grand concourse is Tuesday, August 13th, which is also Farm Bureau day at the fair. So much going on and you can learn all about it at That's all for this episode. Be sure to join us for our next episode of The Spokesman Speaks Podcast on August 12th. That episode will feature our interview with the new dean of Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine and more. Until next time, thanks for reading The Spokesman. Thanks for all the great stories and the inspiration and thanks for listening to The Spokesman Speak.

Narrator: Thank you for listening to The Spokesman Speaks, a podcast by Iowa Farm Bureau. Check out more podcasts and articles from The Spokesman at You can also find and subscribe to The Spokesman Speaks Podcast in the Apple Podcasts app, Google Play, and other popular podcast apps. We appreciate your ratings and reviews and welcome your feedback at

About The Spokesman Speaks Podcast

Since 1934,  The Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman has been Iowa’s leading agriculture news source, and today it is the largest circulation ag newspaper in Iowa. While the Spokesman newspaper is available exclusively to Iowa Farm Bureau members, The Spokesman Speaks podcast is available publicly, reaching farmers on-the-go with stories that matter to them. You can find episodes of the podcast here or subscribe and listen in your favorite podcast app, such as Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Stitcher, TuneInRadio, or

We release new podcast episodes every other Monday. Episode 19 will be released on August 12, 2019.