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CAFO operators explain relationship with manure applicators

Progressive Dairyman Editor Karen Lee Published on 31 March 2014
Mike Meyer, Mark Fahey, Keith York and Jim Kruger

When the Professional Nutrient Applicators Association of Wisconsin met earlier this year, the group invited four dairy producers to explain what they expect of the nutrient applicators they hire to handle an important task for their dairy operations.

The four producers included Mike Meyer, Mark Fahey, Keith York and Jim Kruger.



Meyer operates a 1,250-cow dairy in Loyal, Wisconsin, that includes all youngstock on a single site. He hires a custom operator to move liquid manure after sand and solids have been separated out. The liquid product is 95 percent water.

At Prairieland Dairy in Belleville, Wisconsin, Mark Fahey farms with his parents and brother. They have 1,200 cows and 2,400 acres. Prior to storage, sand is separated from the manure and the solids are removed. The farm has four manure tankers and hauls half of the liquid manure on its own. The remaining portion is done by a custom manure applicator.

Keith York farms with his twin brother and cousin at Merry Water Farms in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. The 1,350-cow dairy raises youngstock to 1 year old before sending them to a grower.

The farm uses sand separation lanes to remove sand prior to manure entering a three-stage lagoon system. In total, the farm has 18 million gallons of manure storage to hold more than a year’s worth of supply.

At So-Fine Bovines in Westfield, Wisconsin, Jim Kruger partners with Jeff Buchholz to milk 680 cows and crop 2,000 acres of land. Heifers are custom raised off-site. The farm uses sand bedding but does not separate it from the manure. The manure is pumped 850 feet from the barns to a 6.2-million-gallon storage system.



What are your expectations when using a custom manure applicator?

YORK: They come empty the pit and get the manure out to the field. I want them to keep up with technology and use items like GPS and manure injection. I provide my nutrient management plan and expect them to follow it.

One of the keys to the nutrient management plan is good manure sampling. They need to make sure we have enough samples to develop an accurate plan.

I expect their equipment to work. If it breaks down, they will fix it. I don’t require them to work 24 hours, but at certain times of year when we’re up against a restriction, they should have the manpower to get the job done.

I want them to have a relationship with the Department of Natural Resources and to know the local agent. I expect them to have a manure spill plan, just as I have on my farm. While on-farm, I expect them to respect the facility, try to prevent mud on the roads and stay as clean as possible.


MEYER: We’ve been able to develop excellent communication skills between our teams. We want to know when the applicator is going to be there. Particularly in spring, it is a big deal if we need to park a corn planter. We run 1,000 acres of our own land, and the rest has to go on other people’s property. We’ve been successful with the current applicator to meet everyone’s needs.

When they do come in, I expect them to set up, go to work and leave. This year was the exception; our applicator was set up for 30 days due to the weather.

I expect for their equipment to move and that it is well-maintained. We hand them a printout with maps and where to apply. There is room for notes, like if customer wants to use a certain driveway.

We apply manure to land owned by 12 different individuals. I expect them to respect the other people’s land.

FAHEY: Timeliness. If we call and they’re not there, it screws up all of our plans. That is part of the reason we have four tankers of our own. It lets us be flexible. Our nutrient management plan is only as good as it is applied. We are located only a mile from town, so we ask to keep the roads clean as much as possible. Something like that comes back on the farm. They should have good equipment.

KRUGER: Communication is what makes everything click. We have to know the current rules, regulations and setbacks. It has to be a win-win for everyone. We definitely have to have an applicator that is willing to work with sand.


Who should cover the cost if conditions are sloppy and extra time is needed?

KRUGER: In our case, we pay per hour. This past spring, we were shut down for some time due to weather and the costs on everybody’s side increased.

FAHEY: Our applicator charges by the hour and has a trip fee. We have to be diligent enough to call ahead of time.

MEYER: Poor weather conditions are going to add costs. Our applicator invested in semi trailers to be able to haul in sloppy conditions. They are also able to move more manure than what we have the capacity to do.

YORK: That’s why we have more than a year of storage. This year in the fall, most of our manure went to the neighbors. They all want it in the fall when it’s dry. We don’t expect that we are the only person the applicator works for. Our extra storage allows us to be flexible. We spent extra money for that storage, and every third or fourth year we use it so other farmers don’t have to take the manure if they don’t want it.


Would you be interested in setting up a long-term commitment with a specific hauler?

YORK: I like to know what’s going to happen in the future and I’m sure applicators would too. I’d be willing to talk about it.

MEYER: I’d be interested in talking with an applicator on something like that. There is uncertainty in the future, and I see a lot of change coming down the road. This sounds good until we start looking at what could change.

FAHEY: I think at some point manure applicators need certainty, but I don’t know how technology is going to change how we all operate.

KRUGER: Not only does technology impact how we’ve changed, but regulations are always changing. They are putting big pressure on manure hauling in general, implementing a narrower window to work within.


What are your expectations of communication in terms of the nutrient management plan?

YORK: I expect level of nutrients in soil to come down. We soil test and want them coming down a little every year.

MEYER: Our expectations are in detailed records of where the gallons went because we are required to report that. Our applicator will record what they put on and any additional notes on the sheet I hand them. That is really awesome for us.

FAHEY: We’ll walk the fields ahead of time. We have a running log of manure samples and work with our agronomist ahead of time to figure out how many gallons can go where. The applicators will tell us what happened and how much was put on.

KRUGER: We utilize a set of maps, where it is predetermined how many gallons to apply. Depending on the day and weather conditions, we may shift gears – that’s the part that takes the most communication. They’ll write down the number of loads applied and I can communicate it back to the crop consultant.


Do you work with your applicator to plan your crop year?

KRUGER: We have not.

FAHEY: We haven’t either. We usually meet with our agronomist and the guy who writes the nutrient management plan.

MEYER: We have not either. One thing our applicator pointed out to us was that sometimes he’d drive in the yard and that’s the first time he found out we added a new barn and a few more gallons of manure.

YORK: We forgot to tell our applicator we added 500 cows one year. That’s probably something we should do.


What do you do to alleviate concerns in your community?

YORK: Lake Geneva is big tourist area and has a fairly rich population. Our neighbors expect no odor and clear roads. We inject most of our manure, and the population doesn’t complain too much about that. They’d rather see more ag land than more houses.

MEYER: We don’t deal with a large population, but a good portion of manure has to run through the city to reach the fields. We get phone calls from the community immediately. It goes back to each and every one of us, applicators included. We’ve spent a lifetime building a reputation and don’t want it ruined.

FAHEY: Mud on the road is a real big issue for us. If our applicators get the road dirty, we have to shut them down. We inject pretty much everything, and it helps with the smell.

KRUGER: We try to contact neighbors ahead of time. We have a couple of funky hills that are marked by the county highway department to help people recognize there might be large equipment coming over the hill.


If you had an issue or a bad experience, how did you resolve it?

YORK: We did what a lot of dairies do: We didn’t plan for manure when we planned for more cows. The first lagoon we had to have emptied, we hired somebody that didn’t have the right equipment. Since then, we’ve found some good guys.

MEYER: We had a timing issue. Our first year as a CAFO, the applicator came in mid-December to knife manure in. It was an absolute mess with blowing snow. We made a decision to buy a dragline. The equipment dealer contacted our applicators and they bought the system instead of us.

FAHEY: We’re pretty lucky. Our applicators have been very professional. We can assist with timing. If it’s going to be a week, that’s fine – just be honest with me.

KRUGER: We haven’t really had any problems either. We’re always working to avoid that dreaded spill. PD

PHOTO: Developing a good relationship with a custom manure applicator can be critical to the success of a dairy. Four dairy producers, (from left to right) Keith York, Mark Fahey, Mike Meyer and Jim Kruger, discuss what is important to them. Photo by Karen Lee.

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