Dig for Profits with Manure Injection Systems
Manure injection is a niche equipment market, but it can be a profitable venture if dealers do their homework.
John Dobberstein, Associate Editor
With the escalation of commercial fertilizer prices, farmers are rediscovering liquid manure as a valuable, cost-saving commodity that enhances fertilization of crops and boosts yields.
The method used to apply liquid manure in fields is also evolving, with interest in manure injection or incorporation steadily growing in many regions of North America.
Traditionally, liquid manure, or slurry, has been applied on top of the soil with various types of surface applicators. While this approach has worked to some extent, research shows that large amounts of nutrients, including 30-70% of nitrogen (N), can be lost.
Surface application, with no injection or incorporation, creates potential for surface water pollution from excess nitrogen or phosphorus. State governments have become more aggressive in regulating how manure is being applied, and some are requiring farmers to have formal manure management plans.
Losing nitrogen to the atmosphere is like losing money, says the Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute. A 1 million gallon manure storage area with an average nitrogen content of .02 pounds per gallon contains about $6,000 worth of nitrogen. Losing 30% of nitrogen through more inefficient methods, like sprinkler irrigation, means an $1,800 loss.
Mick Zoske, owner of Zoske’s Sales & Service in Iowa Falls, Iowa, says the potential for savings through manure injection isn’t hard to sell to customers. Zoske’s business manufacturers the Winske TSS 404 no-till manure injector toolbar and markets them through Jamesway’s Nutri-Jector system.
“It’s not hard for a farmer to save $20,000-$70,000 in fertilizer costs in a year by injecting manure,” says Zoske, whose dealership also sells Balzer and Yetter manure application equipment.
Odor complaints from new residents populating rural areas have also forced farmers to look at manure injection. (An Ohio State University study from 2007 says injection can eliminate as much as 90% of the odor and ammonia associated with manure application.)
Iowa is one of the leading markets for this equipment. Injection of hog manure has been required there for more than a decade. Injection is also growing in some areas of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Indiana and New York.
Ken Prince, operations manager for Sebringville, Ontario-based Nuhn Industries, says manure application fell out of favor with row-crop farmers 20 years ago, when commercial fertilizers were much cheaper. Times have changed.
“The window to apply manure is getting tighter and tighter” because of regulations on when it can be applied, says Prince. “But there are huge benefits with injection, especially in dry climates where you can add nutrients and moisture to the soil.”
Custom applicators used to dominate the manure injection field, but more and more farmers are doing it on their own to control the timing and, in some cases, the quality of the application.
“It’s not been hard to sell the injectors. About 80% of our new vacuum tanks are going out with them,” says Jim Hodel of Jim Hodel Inc. in Roanoke, Ill., a full-line dealer of Balzer liquid waste application equipment. “Ten years ago, that was about 50%,”
Injection Has its Challenges
Manure injection technology enables liquid manure, or slurry, to be injected or incorporated several inches below the soil, where the nutrients can be utilized by growing plants. The injection is usually done by a special toolbar connected to a tanker or dragline system.
Dragline systems include a storage agitator, manure pump, main line from the
It takes a high level of knowledge about the equipment market and individual customer needs to sell manure injection systems successfully, says Mick Zoske, owner of Zoske’s Sales & Service in Iowa Falls, Iowa. “There’s not a single injection unit out there that will work perfectly for everyone in every situation.”
pump to the field, a drag line to connect the main line with the injection equipment in the field, an injection implement, and tractors to move the system through the fields.
Another option is a large vacuum or slurry wagon equipped with an injector that can be filled from the main line in the field. Several companies make these tanks, including Balzer, DM Machinery, Jamesway, Houle and Nuhn.
Dragline systems — while capital intensive with the need for tractors, pumps, and hoses — have enjoyed popularity where soil compaction is a concern. But that problem has been mostly alleviated with flotation tires available for the tanks, Zoske says.
Injection toolbars vary widely in terms of design, but often include high-strength plastic hosing, a hydraulic manifold and shanks that dig trenches in the soil to accept the slurry. The toolbars can be designed for a variety of soil conditions and terrains.
Manure injection isn’t without its challenges. Because the nutrients are present in low concentrations, hog manure must be applied at very high rates — typically 4,000 gallons or more per acre. And the cost for manure injection usually increases as the application rate decreases and the distance from the manure storage site increases.
Hilly or rocky terrain can be taxing on the equipment, and the manure injection sytsems typically take more tractor horsepower than other types of application.
Injection can also be a challenge for no-till farmers who leave residue on the ground for soil nutrients. Residue rot-down is becoming a problem on acres with BT corn.
“The root worm-resistant corn plants are becoming difficult to get manure injectors through,” says Zoske, who designed and built Winske injector toolbars several years ago to tackle residue issues. “There are probably 3 or 4 brands of equipment out there a farmer can use for low-disturbance.”
Technology is Advancing
On the plus side, technology has the potential to improve manure injection results. Soil testing, GPS and variable-rate technology is helping some farmers apply slurry more efficiently.
Manufacturers are also trying to resolve issues like tough soil or trash. Mountain Lake, Minn.-based Balzer showed a prototype manure injection unit for strip-till during the National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville. “You can use it to put manure on in the fall with guidance systems,” Hodel says.
Nuhn makes several different types of manure injection toolbars. Nuhn’s S-Tine injector incorporates manure in the soil and provides the best finish. Another model with Dietrich shanks can go through old corn stalks and inject manure 4-6 inches deep. “It is excellent for no-till,” Price says.
Jamesway’s new Level-Lift mounting system — part of its Nutri-Jector High-Speed Injector System — addresses problems with toolbars not remaining parallel to the ground as they raise or lower, which could change the injector shank angle.
Jamesway, based in St. Francois, Canada, says the Level-Lift system maintains the proper angle at any height so operators can simply set the necessary depth.
Some companies make systems that “incorporate” manure into the ground through a slightly different technology.
AerWay’s SSD patented Precision Manure Application System uses “Shattertine” knives, 8 inches long and evenly spaced on 7.5 inch centers. The twisted knives cut 8-inch slots that fracture the surface and subsoil. The pockets create a “reservoir sponge,” the company says, that accepts and holds the manure in the cropping horizon. This dramatically reduces run-off and odor, says Matt Mayer, regional sales manager for Norwich, Ontario-based SAF-Holland, which makes AerWay equipment.
“You’re getting the manure across the full landscape of the soil in 0-8 inch depths, which helps the feeder roots in crops get the nutrients,” says Mayer.
A farmer using AerWay’s system also has more manure management flexibility when it comes to application timing and crop type, Mayer adds. “In addition to corn and bean ground application, the AerWay system can be safely used on hay and forage crops during the growing season, which benefits farmers’ crops and helps them manage manure storage levels.”
DM Machinery of St.-Simon, Quebec, makes a “multi-till manure incorporator” that uses a star-shaped tine to improve soil aeration as the liquid manure is applied and infiltrates the soil. DM Machinery also makes a 4-6 row “subsoiler” manure injector.
Having both types of technology ensures that customers have the right kind of tools for their farm, says Don Blaney, DM Machinery’s export salesman for the U.S. and Canada.
“It’s impossible to have one tool that does everything,” Blaney says. “You’re not going to take a subsoiler into a hay field, it would destroy everything. In a cash-crop area where there is some livestock, the subsoiler is more important. The incorporators are more important in hay production areas with dairy farmers.”
Walter Manders of Manders Equipment LLC in Ohio has developed the “Crop Enhancer” — an umbilical cord-style applicator hitting the market this spring that can be used to side-dress manure near standing crops.
“I talked to a few of my longtime customers and they’re excited about it. It opens up another window during the application season that we currently don’t have,” says Alan Neese of Neese Inc., a manure application equipment dealer in Grand Junction, Iowa, who recently bought one of the devices.
“Environmentally, it’s very friendly because they’re putting the manure on when the crop needs it, so you don’t worry about leaching as much. Typically the ground is dryer that time of year.”
Market Knowledge a Must
Those involved in the manure injection industry tell Farm Equipment that relatively few implement dealers sell manure injection systems. Should a dealer see an opportunity, copious amounts of homework must be done to offer the right kind of equipment for their market.
Zoske says it’s important for sales people to acquire industry and product knowledge, and to share that knowledge with other team members so they can point customers to the right equipment.
“There’s not a single injection unit out there that will work perfectly for everyone in every situation. I’ve been around manure injection for 17 years, and I try to train the two guys who sell with me so they have the same knowledge,” Zoske says.
Choosing a product line is a crucial decision for a dealer, as well as deciding how big of a territory they’re willing to cover.
Manure application dealers tend to have large territories, much like those with self-propelled sprayers, says Neese, who sells Nuhn manure application equipment, Versatile tractors, Brandt grain-handling equipment and Meyer’s manure spreaders.
Dealers need to know the horsepower and down-pressure requirements of the line they’re interested in, and how many gallons per acre the equipment can apply.
“There’s not a lot of choice on product lines, and most manufacturers give dealers a pretty wide area to service, because the equipment isn’t as demanding as something like tractors,” Neese says.
While the margins for selling the equipment are decent, Neese says, “The equipment is big and it’s hard to transport. In the spring and fall seasons, I don’t think you’ll see customers bringing in their tankers for a tune-up.”
“One of the major considerations is how much livestock is in the area that you service,” says Mark Strait, assistant manager for sales, parts and service for Eldon C. Stutsman Inc. of Hills, Iowa, a multi-faceted business that has been selling manure application equipment since the 1970s.
One of the largest Houle slurry tank dealerships in the U.S., Stutsman also owns Bazooka Farmstar Inc., a Washington, Iowa, manufacturer of manure injection toolbars, pumps, dragline systems and hose reels.
“To be successful selling this equipment,” Strait says, “they will have to take trade-ins and there’s a learning curve to make that work. They must consider whether it would work well with the other lines of equipment they sell.”
Demonstrations or “field days” are one way interested dealers can find out how a manufacturer’s equipment performs. But dealers should keep a watchful eye.
“Some of these companies will run their equipment dry, and at low speeds, trying to improve the performance of the machine, which really turns the customer off,” Zoske says.
“I always make sure I have water or manure in there, and that we run it at high speeds. Some of the competitors do it at 2-3 mph, but we do it at 8-10 mph. You really turn heads when you do that, because that’s how the unit will run in the field. I would shy away from the stuff that isn’t being run that way.”
Dealers must know many gallons per acre farmers want to put on, whether they’re on flat ground with heavy residue, or steep, rolling terrain with light residue. Are they applying manure through corn stalks, bean stubble or in pasture?
To make a convincing argument for their own brand, dealers must also know the lines they’re selling against, too.
“If you know the competition’s equipment as well as you know yours, it’s a lot easier to sell your own equipment,” Zoske says. “Your equipment might not be the best in every performance category, but when you’re standing there and you say ‘Someone else’s is better on this, but ours is better on this and this,’ that really grab’s a customer’s attention.”
Precision agriculture movement has found its way to manure injection, and that might present an opportunity for a dealer to up-sell farmers on the systems they’re using.
Hodel estimates 65% of the manure injection systems he sells include flow meter systems, and 15-20% of the purchases include a new equalizer system supplied to Balzer that ensures an equal amount of slurry is distributed through the lines during injection along uneven ground.
“More and more guys are doing precision placement of manure, or doing it with strip-till,” Hodel says.
Service Takes Dedication
There seems to be difference of opinion from dealers interviewed by Farm Equipment on whether selling parts and servicing manure injection equipment will do much for a dealership’s bottom line.
Hodel says his business sells lots of replacement coulters or sweeps for injectors.
Zoske agrees there are some parts-and-service possibilities. “The manure injector is a heck of an opportunity to make money just in parts sales for the injectors — especially if the ground freezes and they’re forcing it into the ground.”
Depending on the type of injector, leaf springs, bearings and cracked hoses may need to be fixed or replaced.
“Nothing else out there takes the abuse that an injector does,” Zoske says. “It doesn’t matter what color brand it is, it’s going to break. If not today, then tomorrow. I always tell the guys coming in for parts that if they’re not breaking something, they’re not running it very hard.
“Having an inventory of parts is a necessity. You’ve got a high turnover on those parts. They won’t sit on the shelf for long.”
Another necessity is having service technicians that know the equipment, and a shop that can handle the machines.
Stutsman has two full-time parts people and two technicians that do mobile service for manure application and dairy equipment, as well as three technicians in the shop.
“You are supporting a business that makes all their money in a 12-week period, so you have to have the people and parts to keep them running, and you have to have people at least on call on the weekends, nights and holidays,” Strait says.
“From the time of harvest until it freezes up, it will have to be a priority to service the manure customers to be able to build a large and growing business.”