A less common but effective way to move manure from Point A to Point B is an underground pipeline.

Nov. 1 2022 08:00 AM

A permanent underground pipeline can help farms reduce traffic on roadways and transport manure to hard-to-reach fields.

When a window of opportunity opens to empty out a farm’s manure storage, the yard is suddenly filled with a buzz of activity. Soon, filled tankers will head down the country roads to move manure out to the fields.

To alleviate road traffic, the expense of hauling, and compaction in the fields, dragline application has grown in popularity. These durable hoses are spread across fields, delivering nutrients to the soil in fields that are within a reasonable distance to the farm.

Another similar but more permanent option is the use of underground pipes to haul manure out to a field, where it can then be applied. During a Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Community webinar, Glen Arnold, an associate professor and field specialist for Ohio State University Extension, talked about using pipelines to transport manure.

“Livestock farms continue to grow,” Arnold said. “When more animals are in one spot, you end up with more manure.” For this reason, farms may find value in a more permanent way to move nutrients.

Find the right location

When considering where to install pipelines, Arnold said to locate them where they would provide the most benefit. This could be a hard-to-access field, one that might not be far from the farm but requires several miles of transport down the road to reach it. A pipeline could also be beneficial for moving manure to a satellite pond or a manure processor.

The pipe needs to have both the size (diameter) and strength (pounds per square inch) to handle the volume and pressure needed to move manure through it. Additionally, Arnold said to anticipate the farm’s future needs and design the system with enough capacity so that it can keep up with the manure pumpers and remains useful for years to come.

“If you are going to take the time and investment to put in a subsurface manure pipe in, build for the future of your farm,” he advised.

He said the volume that moves through larger pipes is substantial. While an 8-inch pipe can handle 1,600 gallons per minute, a 10-inch one can move 3,000 gallons per minute. A 12-inch pipe has the capacity for 4,700 gallons per minute, and a 14-inch pipe could handle 6,000 gallons per minute.

Pipelines should be placed below the frost line, Arnold said, so a backhoe or trencher will be needed for installation. Any fixed pipes need to be blown out after each use to keep sand from settling in there, he added.

A real-world example

For David Cunningham, the farm manager for Bridgewater Dairy in northwestern Ohio, his experience with underground manure pipelines has been positive. Their 5,000-cow dairy has close to 6,000 acres of cropland where they apply manure using variable rate technology. A stretch of pipeline is used to carry some manure away from the farm, and Cunningham predicts they will add a longer, larger pipeline in the future.

Prior to joining the Bridgewater Dairy team, Cunningham worked as a crop manager at an Iowa livestock farm that ran 10,000 acres. That operation installed about 9 miles of pipeline to transport manure, a move that benefited the farm in several ways.

“The cost savings were huge, that is what motivated the farm,” Cunningham explained. “Being able to get the trucks off the roadways is huge. We eliminated the truck traffic through the tourist towns that surrounded the farm and also eliminated a lot of the smell,” he added.

To install this length of pipeline, they had to bore under highways, railroads, and state and county roads. “You will encounter a lot of governing agencies in this adventure. Be prepared to deal with all of them,” Cunningham advised. He noted that they had an engineering firm design the projects to help meet the specifications for every group. “It’s very important to follow the rules,” he noted.

When they installed the pipeline, Cunningham said they were hoping to pay it off in two or three years. With hauling costs cut dramatically, the investment was paid off in just 1.5 years. “That was a pretty big deal for us,” he noted.

Relationships are important when moving manure, and Cunningham said they try to stay on a first name basis with folks, from neighbors to town commissioners. “Go above and beyond what is necessary to communicate with these folks, so when you do have an issue or a need, you know these people and they know how important it is to you to do the right thing. Have those lines of communication open,” he said.

The pros and cons

Positives for livestock producers using underground manure pipelines include less potential mess around the farm, which makes neighbors happier. Arnold said it also leads to less road travel and potential road damage, which local townships appreciate. Still further, there is reduced liability with fewer trucks on the road.

A pipeline also offers benefits for applicators. It makes set up faster, as less hose must be unrolled. They are also running fewer tankers on the road, which may save on driver and truck costs. Again, reduced liability is a benefit, along with less labor needs.

One concern about this system is the fact that farms may outgrow it and try to push more volume than it is designed to handle. Another con would be a farm losing access to ground where the pipe was placed. In that vein, farms must get permission to cross ditches and streams to put the pipeline in, which may be a challenge in some locations.

And of course, installation comes with a cost. While variable, Arnold shared one estimate of $158,400 per mile for a 10-inch pipe, if not crossing any roads or streams. Arnold said farms may consider more in-season manure application, such as sidedressing corn or application between cuttings, to help make this investment pay.

“There are a lot of pros and cons to a fixed manure transport system,” Arnold said. “But we know that costs to transport manure will likely increase, and liability costs will continue to rise.”

He continued, “As livestock farms grow in size, they will have to travel greater distances for feed sources. That means our need to travel greater distances with manure will also grow.”

If considering a permanent manure pipeline, Arnold said to plan the system for the farm’s future the best you can. Also be sure to include the buried line in your emergency spill plan.

This article appeared in the November 2022 issue of Journal of Nutrient Management on pages 16-17.

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