Like other pig farmers in Missouri, Scott Phillips agrees that one of the most positive changes in the industry was when pigs were moved out of the dirt and mud and into modern barns. In the barns, the pigs are always clean, dry and well fed. However, he insists the other big change he has observed since his dad started raising pigs in 1967 is the way pig farmers treat manure.
“It used to be that manure was just a by-product of pig farming that had to be disposed of,” Scott said. “Now, we look at hog manure as a valuable resource. We’re not only testing the manure to determine the nitrogen, phosphate and potash levels, but we’re applying it to our fields in response to soil tests, using the most environmentally friendly methods possible.”
In Phillips’ case, he says he establishes a fertilizer program, based on average dryland corn yields of around 160 bushels per acre. Hog manure is then injected directly into the ground at a rate that supplies the target rate of nutrients, based on soil tests. By injecting manure nutrients via a system that drags a supply hose behind it, Phillips not only ensures that the future crop receives the full fertilizer value of the manure, but guards against runoff — thereby protecting water quality.
“Being able to test manure for its nutrient level is one of the most valuable changes that have taken place in just the past few years,” he adds. “Manure from deep pits under the barns, for example, will test higher in nitrogen than manure from a lagoon, simply because there’s not as much volatilization. However, with accurate analysis, we can generally get all of our fertilizer needs from manure without having to purchase any chemical fertilizer.”
As Phillips notes, manure also helps build the carbon content and moisture-holding capacity of soils, something commercial fertilizers cannot do.
“I look back at the way it used to be when farmers had pigs outside,” he says. “You could always tell it was a hog lot, because you’d see 20 acres of bare dirt. You can only guess where all that manure went after a hard rain.”
The manner in which manure is handled isn’t the only environmentally sustainable practice pig farmers have adopted in the past few years, though. Pig farmers, today, are also working hard to control odors by planting windbreaks to help disperse air and reduce the potential transfer of odor from farms. Others are using pit additives, managing the feed blend, isolating production buildings and ensuring proper building ventilation to reduce odors and gases.
Perhaps Keith Schoettmer, a pig farmer from Tipton, Indiana, and the 2015 America’s Pig Farmer of the Year, sums it up best when he says, “We are constantly aware of the importance of protecting the environment. As farmers, our livelihood is tied directly to the land, and good stewardship is fundamental to any successful farm.”