Animal Waste in Demand as Fertilizer Prices Rise

10 April 2022

The war in Ukraine is causing a rise in oil and wheat prices. Other items are hard to come by due to international restrictions on doing business with Russia. For example, many countries are seeing less fish than usual, because Russia usually catches and sells a lot of fish.

However, one item you may not think of that often is harder to find than normal. That is the crop-growing aid known as fertilizer.

Fertilizer is added to soil and provides plants such as wheat and corn with nutrients so they can grow. But some of the chemicals used to make fertilizer, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, require a lot of energy. As energy sources like gas, oil and coal get more expensive, so does fertilizer.

A New Holland Agriculture 100 series box spreader distributes manure for fertilizer. (CNH Industrial/Handout via REUTERS)
A New Holland Agriculture 100 series box spreader distributes manure for fertilizer. (CNH Industrial/Handout via REUTERS)

Why a fertilizer shortage?

The Dutch bank Rabobank said 40 percent of the world's supply of potash, or potassium chloride, comes from Russia and Belarus. Potash is an important fertilizer ingredient, and it is not as available as usual.

A company that follows fertilizer in London, CRU Group, said nitrogen-based fertilizer is four times more expensive than it was in 2020. Fertilizer made from phosphate and potash has gotten three times more expensive.

As a result, farmers are more interested than before in using animal waste, sometimes called manure, as fertilizer. The animal waste has some of those nutrients and can be used by farmers to make their soil healthier.

Farmers that raise livestock such as cows and pigs normally have to pay to get manure removed from their land. However, due to the high cost of fertilizer, people are paying the farmers to pick it up.

"Manure is absolutely a hot commodity," said Allen Kampschnieder, a farming consultant. There are long lists of farmers waiting for manure deliveries.

Farm equipment sales rise

The need for manure is also helping people who make farm equipment that helps dry and spread manure. The spreaders are called "honeywagons."

Phinite is a company based in North Carolina that makes manure dryers. The dryers take the water out of the waste and make it easier to spread. Phinite said it has gotten calls for its equipment from farmers in Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana.

One company in Canada, Husky Farm Equipment, makes honeywagons. Some of them can cost $70,000. The company's president, Walter Grose, says they are sold out for six months.

Other companies that make similar products said they are selling more than normal.

Abe Sandquist says he has worked for much of his career to sell manure to farmers. Now, he doesn't have enough. "I wish we had more to sell," he said, "but there's not enough to meet the demand."

In the U.S., high fertilizer costs will likely cause farmers to plant fewer crops. The government notes the amount of wheat stored in the U.S. is at its lowest in 14 years.

Some concerns

The manure will be able to replace some of the fertilizer, but it is not risk-free. First, there is not enough supply. Second, it is costly to transport. And third, there are environmental concerns about manure. Experts believe the manure can make water unhealthy.

As a result, it is hard for farmers that raise pigs and cows to easily get into the manure business.

Jim Monroe is a spokesperson for a large company that raises pigs. He said more farmers are thinking about using manure to help grow crops.

Dale Cramer is unsure about what he will do. He grows corn, soybeans and wheat in the Midwestern U.S. state of Nebraska. He has been trying to get manure for his 2,400 hectares of land. So far, he has not found any.

Kampschnieder said manure prices are almost 100 percent higher than usual.

Pat Reisinger is a farmer in Iowa. He said he is glad he raises animals, because he can use their manure for his corn and soybeans. He is also able to sell a little to his neighbors.

Farm economy changes

Reisinger, however, is unique. In recent years, farms like his are less common.

Instead, certain regions in the U.S. are known for producing items like eggs, milk and meat. That is where the most manure can be found. However, some of those regions are far away from the areas that need the animal waste. As a result, some parts of the U.S. have too much manure and others do not have enough.

Brett Reinford of Pennsylvania raises cows that produce milk. Last year, he told other farmers they could take his manure. No one wanted it. Now he has something valuable.

"I wish we had more," he said.

I'm Dan Friedell

Dan Friedell adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on a report by Reuters.

Do farmers where you live use animal waste to grow food? Write to us in the Comments Section and visit 51VOA.COM.


Words in This Story

ingredient –n. one of the things used to make a food product

expensive – adj. costing a lot of money

livestock – n. animals raised to be used by people for food

consultant – n. a person who gives professional advice for a fee

commodity – n. something bought and sold

unique – n. something different or unlike anything else

region – adj. a part of a country or of the world that is different than another part