DR. Don Research Update
September 30, 2003
New EPA manure management regulations will make manure more available to crop farmers

By Don Lotter, Ph.D.


September 30, 2003: U.S. livestock and poultry farms generate more than 350 million tons of manure annually. In February 2003, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), several decades behind schedule, finally came out with guidelines for the disposal of manure from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). A June, 2003 report by the USDA’s Economic Research Service indicates that as a result of the new guidelines, manure will become more widely available to crop farmers at a lower cost, and possibly at a negative cost, in which crop farmers are paid for accepting manure.

Manure is beneficial to crops up to a certain amount per unit of land, after which water pollution problems arise from leached nitrogen and runoff-borne phosphorus. Currently fewer than a quarter of large hog operations and large dairies are spreading their manure on adequate crop land acreages to meet the new EPA guidelines. The rest are over-applying.

A problem has been that there are many crop farmers, especially organic farmers, who live too far away from CAFOs to benefit from the CAFOs’ need to dispose of their manure. These farmers end up doing without manure or paying for its transport.

A result of the new EPA regulations, the report states, will be that the cost of the large CAFO operations will increase by up to 7% because of the increased cost of manure disposal. Cost increases to small and medium sized CAFOs will be minimal. This should eventually drive down the size of CAFOs and help to disperse them into areas where crop land is available for manure disposal, making manure more available to more crop farmers.

The report uses two scenarios, one in which farmers make 40% of their crop land available for disposal, and one in which they make only 20% of their crop land available. Costs to CAFOs will be higher if only 20% of crop land is made available. Factors affecting acceptance of manure spreading are odor, compaction by manure spreading machinery, and uncertainty about the contents of the manures – i.e. nutrient levels, salts, weed seeds etc.

Phosphorus is the critical nutrient, not nitrogen, in calculating the amount of crop land needed to spread a unit of manure. In other words, the phosphorus in a ton of manure will necessitate the spreading of that manure over a larger amount of land than if one calculated the amount of land needed to satisfy the nitrogen standard for the same manure.

Just as an aside, if all of that manure was used on all organic farms in the U.S., the result would be an excessive of 88 tons per acre per year (about 10 times too much).

Source: Manure Management for Water Quality: Costs to Animal Feeding Operations of Applying Manure Nutrients to Land
Agricultural Economic Report No. (AER824) 99 pp, June 2003 Available as pdf at: http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/aer824/

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