Jerome Foods Procedures for Handling
and Disposition of Raw Turkey Manure

George Raab
Jerome Foods, Inc.

Jerome Foods is an integrated turkey operation and 1997 marks the 75th year that we have been in business. We grow turkeys and manufacture turkey products from our Wisconsin and Minnesota locations and market over 100 different value-added turkey products nation-wide. THE TURKEY STORE is our main brand. We provide our turkey products to grocery stores, delis, and the food service industry. Being integrated means Jerome Foods owns its hatchery, feed mills, farms, and processing plants. Jerome Foods also contracts with local family farmers, in close proximity to feed mills and processing plants, to raise turkeys.

This year, Jerome Foods company farms and contract growers will grow approximately 300 million live pounds of turkeys and these turkeys will produce about 185,000 tons of manure. There is no question that Jerome Foods must assume responsibility to handle this manure in harmony with the environment and with society if we want to remain in business.

Jerome Foods has developed a manure management program entitled "Jerome Foods Soil Enrichment Program" to effectively handle the manure that is generated on our farms. This program is based on four primary principles that we feel must be accomplished if we are to succeed:

  1. Assuming responsibility to ensure manure is handled correctly.
  2. Protection for the environment.
  3. A desire to be good neighbors.
  4. Knowledge that turkey manure is a valuable organic fertilizer that provides excellent value to local crop farmers.

Assuming Responsibility to Ensure Manure is Handled Correctly

Jerome Foods has developed and organized a separate department, called "Clean-Out," whose responsibility is all aspects of the handling and disposition of the turkey manure cleaned from our barns. The Clean-Out Department employs 25 Jerome Foods team members in two states. The Clean-Out Department in each state is considered a separate cost center with its own management of the manure sales staff and barn cleaning team. An agronomist is also on staff and shared between the two locations.

The procedure used to clean barns is simple, yet effective. Large manure spreader trucks that haul approximately 10 tons of manure per load are driven into the barns being cleaned, and the manure is loaded into the trucks by bobcats. In total, 18 spreader trucks and 11 bobcats are required to clean the barns in a timely and effective manner. The spreader trucks are then driven to the field on which the manure is to be spread or to the stacking site on which the manure is to be stored until it can be spread at a future date.

The total combined Clean-Out Department operating costs were $1.9 million last year and are on track to be approximately $2.0 million this year. It is expensive to finance the necessary resources to handle manure properly, but it has long been Jerome Foods philosophy that to do less could produce much larger costs in resultant effects to the environment and to the communities in which we operate.

Protection for the Environment

  • All turkeys are grown on sawdust and wood shavings bedding. This produces a manure product that is dry (60% to 70% solids). Even though the manure product is very dry, our building construction practice is to blacktop or concrete the floors of all brood buildings (where turkeys are grown the first 7 weeks of their life) and to pack 6"-8" of clay onto the floor surface of all finish barns (where turkeys are grown until market). These barns are completely enclosed, total confinement facilities, There are no runoff concerns for surface water from these facilities and no possibility of groundwater contamination.
  • All spreader trucks are equipped with tarps and trucks do not leave the farm until the manure load is fully covered with a tarp.
  • Our preference is to immediately spread the manure as it is cleaned from the barn, but if crops on farmer's fields or weather conditions make it impossible for our equipment to get on the fields, we must temporarily stack the manure and come back later to spread it. All stacked manure is placed on large company-owned SCS and DNR approved blacktop storage pads or on headland sites that have been pre-approved for use by local governing officials such as, the Townboard Chairman, DNR Compliance Officer, Feedlot Officer or Planning and Zoning Director, (depending on the location of the site).
  • A manure spreading agreement is completed with all farmers who are using our manure on their fields. This agreement documents the location of the field to be spread, crop type, yield goal, previous crop on the field (determines proper nutrient credits are being applied), and agronomic application rate for the crop to be grown. Additional sections of the spreading agreement documents: the presence of and distance to wells from the spreading location, the slope of the land the manure is to be applied to, the depth to bedrock, the distance to any surface water, and a check off that incorporation of manure within 72-hours of application has been discussed with the farmer and is recommended as a Best Management Practice for our turkey manure.
  • Loads of manure are weighed regularly to ensure application rate accuracy. Portable scales are standard equipment for the Clean-out Departments. These scales are set up outside of barns being cleaned for frequent weight checks of trucks leaving the farm. Many of our trucks have been equipped with acreage measuring devices to ensure accurate spreading of the manure being delivered to the field is occurring. This is also an excellent check on the manure spreader calibration accuracy and individual drivers' abilities to accurately apply the manure.
  • Manure is routinely sampled and sent to State Laboratories for analysis of nutrients. Approximately 100 manure samples are collected and analyzed each year.
  • Farmers' soil tests are encouraged and reviewed when they are available. In the absence of soil tests, the State Extension Service Fertilizer Recommendations for Agronomic Crops, in the location the manure is being applied, are followed.
  • Spreading reports are documented for every load of turkey manure transported off of every individual Jerome Foods farm. The report logs the name of the farmer receiving the manure, date the manure was applied, legal description of the acreage spread, crop type, yield goal for the crop, and total tons applied. This information is logged on computer and available at any time for review by regulatory officials or Jerome Foods personnel.

A Desire to be Good Neighbors

Jerome Foods has assumed a proactive approach to keeping neighbors of our farms and the general public informed about our activities in their neighborhoods. One approach we have used is for Jerome Foods representatives to attend town board meetings regularly. At these meetings we ask for input regarding our activities in the township and address any concerns that are raised. We have found this to be a successful and appreciated approach to improving communication with surrounding neighbors and the rural community in which we operate.

Jerome Foods actively participates with other local livestock groups (hog and dairy primarily) to educate the public and each other about livestock agriculture in the community and neighborhoods we operate in.

Jerome Foods sets up booths at several local county fairs to educate the public about our livestock production activities in the community including Jerome Foods Soil Enrichment Program. We support local 4H organizations by purchasing fair animals at County Fair 4H Livestock Auctions.

Knowledge that Turkey Manure is a Valuable Organic Fertilizer that Provides

Excellent Value to Local Crop Farmers

Jerome Foods sells all of the turkey manure that is produced on our farms to local farmers for bedding or as an organic fertilizer. Last year Jerome Foods sales revenue totaled $1.4 million and we are projecting this year's sales revenue to approach $1.5 million. Manure does have value to local farmers if managed properly.

Applying the commercial retail sales value of nitrogen, phosphorous and potash to the first year available nitrogen, phosphorous and potash in turkey manure indicates that our turkey manure has a comparable commercial value of approximately $10-$12 per ton dependent on manure type. There is an additional value for the nutrients found in our turkey manure of approximately $3.50 per ton, bringing the total comparative commercial value of our turkey manure to a range of $13.50-$15.50 per ton.

We realize that the turkey manure we sell may not fit the crop need exactly. For example, phosphorous may or may not be of value to a farmer dependent on his soil analysis and the crop he is fertilizing. We strive to make the best fit possible between the organic manure nutrients, the agronomic needs of the crop and the land where the manure is being applied. Jerome Foods' average selling price will be approximately $8.00 per ton for manure sold this year. Considering the possibility that manure needs to be discounted due to its inflexible nutrient analysis (what you see is what you get), we generally feel that our turkey manure is worth $11-$12 per ton spread on the farmers field, at a minimum. There is a sizeable opportunity for continued revenue improvement based on the difference between the calculated value and actual retail value of the turkey manure being sold.

By accomplishing increased sales revenue by attaining the actual retail value of the manure sold, the Clean-out Department's goal is to improve the department's income statement from a cost center to a profit center. As explained earlier, Clean-out

Department costs are approximately $2.0 million dollars this year while income is projected to be approximately $1.5 million. A primary department goal has been formulated which is simply called "Break-even 2000". By the end of the year 2000, the Clean Out department's goal is to zero out all operating costs with accrued sales revenue. Beyond the year 2000, the Clean-out Department goal is to become a profit center.

Accomplishment of this goal is based on successful completion of the following objectives:

Improved professionalism and further education. We realize that we compete with commercial fertilizer for market share. The product we sell has important advantages over commercial fertilizers. We must continue to educate farmers about improved soil tilth, moisture retention, slow release of nutrients, reduced runoff potential, etc. Jerome Foods is participating with local Extension offices to perform field trials related to the value of turkey manure as it pertains to crop yields and economics versus the use of commercial fertilizers. We continue to monitor accuracy of our programs and procedures and resultant improvement of our level of service as it pertains to manure nutrient analysis, application rates, actual versus planned tonnage being applied, new and improved equipment, manure management planning for our customers, environmental review of the acreage being spread prior to application, involvement with local governing officials and neighbors to proactively communicate and search for opportunities to improve our relationship with them, and improved record-keeping documentation through the use of computers.

Improved marketing techniques. We have developed brochures that explain the Jerome Foods Soil Enrichment Program. Advertising of our product in newspapers, local publications, and yellow pages has been and needs to be a continuing priority. We now have a page on the Internet. Farmer appreciation days, local county fairs, and field trials in conjunction with local equipment dealers and seed salesman have all shown favorable results, and efforts in these areas need to be expanded.

Our team. As so often is the case, Jerome Foods procedures for handling and disposition of raw turkey manure in harmony with the environment and society is not rocket science. For Jerome Foods it really boils down to a quality team of individuals committed to the success of Jerome Foods Soil Enrichment Program. Continued education of our entire team as it relates to ensuring that this harmony does exist is a major priority.

Value adding. We have been researching the sale of composted and/or pelleted, bagged and/or bulk, organic Fertilizers to retail businesses for sale through their locations. This past year we manufactured a pelleted product and experimented with it in local greenhouses. It has been an educational and informative process. Based on our preliminary trial results, we feel this area of sales and marketing warrants additional study which will be continued this year. In addition, we have been experimenting with composting our turkey manure with various carbon sources to see what works most efficiently with our raw manure. Again, the results are preliminary, but in our opinion are worthy of additional testing and research.

To Top