Monday, June 16, 2014

Waste Management on Hog Farms

The Hatton meeting regarding a proposed hog confinement operation brought up a slew of questions. In fact, a list of questions—which were somewhat answered—were handed out at the meeting.

So, with that in mind, how about a little Q&A? The following questions are from the community meeting and I will briefly answer them to the best of my knowledge and ability. 

What is the management plan for air quality and smell control?

While every farm is different, there are a few options. On our farm, we rely on trees to help control odor and fans to maintain air quality within the barns. Some farms also add air scrubbers, which basically ‘scrub’ the ammonia out of the air to reduce atmospheric ammonia. To my knowledge, these are not widely used yet because of cost but they are still in the development phase and I look forward to seeing how they develop in the future.

Another fantastic invention that is gaining popularity is digesters. Digesters convert methane gas into electricity. These are fascinating but again, there is a cost issue so not everyone uses them.

One last way we control odor is by knifing manure into the ground instead of using a traveling gun or running it through a center pivot irrigation system.

Explain how below-building waste pits work.

Basically, the pig does his business wherever and whenever he (or she) pleases. Then, their ‘business’ falls through the slat flooring and is stored in a reinforced concrete basement that is about 8 feet deep and the same length as the barn. Then, twice a year—in the fall and spring—they are pumped out and knifed into the field as a natural fertilizer.

Pit under construction.

What is the average nutrient value of the waste? Does it add organic matter to the soil or only nutrient value?

The great thing about manure is that it is basically a nutrient package deal. Just like the phone and TV companies, they bundle it. In most cases, manure provides all your phosphorus and potassium needs and the bulk of your nitrogen. Of course, only soil and nutrient testing will give a for sure answer to what is there and what isn’t but those are the three nutrients farmers always need and they are the three that are always present in manure. For farmers that don’t use manure, they have to purchase separate chemical fertilizers to cover each of these nutrient needs. Manure also adds organic matter that improves overall soil health. If you care to learn more about the nutrient and economic value here are a couple resources:

Nutrients and Value of Liquid Hog Manure

Economic Value of Liquid Hog Manure

 Will the hog urine be applied to the soils and what is the expected effect on soil quality due to urine?

I was surprised to see this question on the sheet, but it is a valid question. Yes, the poop and pee fall through the slats and into the same pit so it’s all mixed up together into one big pot of liquid gold. See previous question for soil quality concerns

How frequently will the waste pits be pumped dry?

Every fall and spring the fields get feed—by way of manure.

Do you have any questions about farming? Let me know in the comments and I’m happy to answer them.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Raising Havoc in Hatton

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking at a community meeting in Hatton, Mo. Of course, I wasn't exactly invited to speak. I just temporarily took over the mic because that's how I roll. Aaron, my husband, begged me not to go up there. "Just leave it alone," he said. He's not much on public speaking and certainly doesn't like to stand out in a crowd. But, I just couldn't help myself. I couldn't stand there and let the crowd verbally beat down the farmer and his family without anyone to speak up for not just him but pig farmers everywhere.

This meeting was due to a proposed sow facility that an Iowa company wants to build on a Hatton farmer's land. Basically, the family farm in Hatton is teaming up with the company in Iowa to accomplish two things: 1) The Iowa company wants sows closer to Missouri finisher facilities, 2) The family farmer gets all the manure. Some may say the family farmer is getting the crappy end of the stick, but manure is invaluable to a farmer. It decreases costs, adds valuable organic nutrients to the soil and reduces the use of petroleum chemicals like anhydrous-ammonia.

The meeting was fun, for me anyway. I had forgotten just how much I love public speaking, especially when I'm talking about my family's farm. I also get a kick out of mild controversy. This meeting also reminded me that education is needed more now than ever.

Despite the efforts by farmers, ag organizations and others, consumers seem to be shifting further away from agriculture and more towards misconceptions. There's the belief that there is only one way to farm and that there must be some sort of rivalry between farmers--organic vs. modern, small vs. large, old-school vs. new technology, etc. Why?

The moral of this story is simple: If you ever get a chance to go to a community meeting regarding a local farm family, please go! In fact, any chance you get to share your farm story, do it.

My family didn't have to go to this meeting. We don't even live very close to Hatton and we have absolutely nothing to do with this business venture. We went to support a fellow farmer. We went because it was the right thing to do. I didn't have to speak. I could have just sat in the back row and kept my thoughts to myself, but I didn't. I saw an opportunity to represent farmers and I jumped on it.

My challenge to you: Make a point to share your story. Tell a neighbor, write a blog post, post something on Facebook or Twitter or go to a local meeting and start a conversation. It's easy to ignore the issue, but at what cost?

Consumers deserve to know where their food comes from and farmers—not lobbyists, extremist groups or the like—are the best ones to educate them on this matter. It's a heavy burden, but one we must carry.