I often hear people spouting off how much hog manure is produced on family livestock farms and making outlandish claims on how it is used. I’ve decided it’s high time we all consider new, factual sources to shed some light on the subject.
According to Iowa State University, pigs, cattle and poultry in Iowa produce a combined 50 million tons of manure every year. Although a figure like that on its own sounds like an exceptional amount, per ISU researchers, 50 million tons is only enough to fertilize 17 percent of Iowa’s cropland! For some reason, people who are opposed to advances in agriculture like to focus on pig farming and claim waste from pigs is just piling up, but hog manure is a valuable, organic resource—one that is coveted by those who work the land.
Today, on Iowa farms where pigs are housed indoors, the manure is often stored underneath the barn in a concrete pit, keeping it separate from the pigs. Photos that opponents use of large lagoons full of manure are more common in other states, but not so much in Iowa anymore. If farmers have more manure than what they need for their own crop ground, they work with neighboring farmers who often want to buy it to fertilize their own crops. It does not go to waste, and it is certainly not dumped carelessly. First, throwing manure around is like throwing away money, in a webinar with Iowa Learning Farms, Dr. Dan Andersen said hog manure has a more than $1 billion-dollar price tag in nutrient value in Iowa. Second, don’t forget farmers often get their drinking water from the same source as other rural or urban residents, so they care how it’s used.
Prior to application, many farmers get a sample taken of the manure’s nutrients and match that up to soil samples taken from their fields. This ensures the right amount is applied for a crops’ needs. When it is time to apply the manure, it can be pumped straight from a secure, underground pit through a long drag hose that is hooked up to an “injector” bar drug behind a tractor. Through this system, manure is incorporated a couple inches below the soil surface, not lying on top. If you’re handling a certain amount of manure or are a commercial applicator, you have to be certified through a collaboration between Iowa State University and the Iowa DNR. In fact, that’s one way manure adds value not just to a farmer, but it can create jobs in rural towns.
Animal manure sometimes takes the blame for health issues. Smells from livestock farms are accused of causing conditions such as asthma, yet many researchers have observed what they call a “farm effect” in kids living on a family farm, particularly ones with livestock. This “effect” is a reduced prevalence of asthma, respiratory issues and even enhanced immune systems due to a youth’s early exposure to dust and allergens.
Although the industry isn’t perfect, technology is helping farmers improve every year. Many Iowa pig farmers plant trees around their barns or put additives in manure pits to reduce smells from traveling to their neighbors, and more research is being done in Iowa to neutralize odor. There’s also work being done on the pairing of manure and cover crops to reduce loss of nitrogen to waterways, and using manure is a way to increase soil health by returning organic matter to the earth according to experts within the U.S. Cooperative Extension Service. Livestock farmers are working to being part of the solution.
So, sure, we can believe people who make t-shirts, politicians who have a bias toward the advancements of modern agriculture or the media who admit that it’s easier to get clicks on their story if they paint a villain but in a time of #FakeNews, it’s important to seek out relevant sources to answer our questions and separate the truth from the… you know what.
By Caitlyn Lamm. Caitlyn is Iowa Farm Bureau's public relations specialist.