Manure Treatment Technology Adoption by Swine and Dairy Producers: Survey Feedback


Sound management of manure is essential to optimize its benefits for soil health and crop production, and to minimize costs and environmental risks. Along with changes in farm scale and practices, modern farms are increasingly looking to process or treat manure to address problem areas and to take advantage of market opportunities on their operations. A variety of manure treatment technologies are available and new technologies continue to be developed for managing nutrients, solids, energy, water, and other components of manure. But, while these new treatment technologies hold potential to improve the environmental, economic, and social sustainability of livestock and poultry production, questions remain regarding producer adoption of treatment systems on their operations. To improve our understanding of decision-making processes employed when producers evaluate and adopt manure treatment technologies, the authors conducted a survey aimed at dairy and swine producers in the Midwest.

What did we do?

Two surveys were developed, one tailored to dairy producers and one for swine producers. All operation sizes and production systems were included. The surveys were administered using Qualtrics, an online survey platform. Questions asked covered manure-related practices in animal facilities, manure handling, and land application. Additional questions asked producers to prioritize their needs for manure treatment, factors influencing technology selection, current technologies being utilized, and principal barriers for adoption. Respondents were asked to select up to three critical outcomes for their farms’ manure treatment technologies, the most influential factors (or technology characteristics) for manure treatment adoption, and the main barriers for technology adoption. The authors collaborated with Nebraska Extension and with state producer associations to reach swine and dairy producers in Nebraska and other Midwest states, with the survey first launched in the fall of 2021. Magazine articles, radio programs, listservs, and social media were used to promote the surveys.

Responses were analyzed using descriptive methods. Eighteen respondents provided information to characterize seven swine farms and ten dairy operations. Swine respondents had farms in Nebraska (7), Iowa (2), and Ohio (1). For dairy, 7 of the farms were in Nebraska and 1 was in Minnesota. Swine farm systems were divided between the ones that had farrowing (farrow-to-finish and farrow-to-wean systems) and the ones without it (grow-to-finish and wean-to-finish systems) (Table 1). Respondents were asked to provide insights for their farms’ primary manure management systems. A dairy operation’s primary manure management system was defined as the one receiving manure from the lactating cows. For swine, the primary manure management system received manure from the gestation sows or the finishing herd. For both swine and dairy, secondary systems were defined as utilizing separate storage and handling facilities.

Table 1. Herd size information of dairy and swine farms represented in the survey responses.
Species and herd type Number of farms Herd size – average Herd size – range
Dairy – lactating cow herd 8 933 30 to 2,150
Swine (farrowing) – sow herd 4 2,762 250 to 7,500
Swine (finishing) – finisher herd 5* 23,600 1,200 to 70,000
Note: *One finishing farm did not share its herd size information.

What have we learned?

The dairy and swine farms demonstrated differences in manure treatment needs and consequently adopted different treatment technologies (Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 1. Farm characterization and manure management of ten swine farms.
FTF = farrow-to-finish
PSOP = partially slotted open pens
PP = pull-plugs
FTW = farrow-to-wean
ISWPSF = individual stalls w/partial slotted floor
DP = deep pits
GF-F = grow-finish or finishing
ASFB = all slotted-floor building
FL = flushing
WTF = wean-to-finish
CH = chemicals
AE = aeration
LA = lagoons
AD = anaerobic digestion
CO = composting
Figure 2. Farm characterization and manure management of eight dairy farms.
CS = corn stalks
Sd = sedimentation
DD = direct drying
Mch = mechanical
TL = treatment lagoon
Co = composting
Stt = sand settling lane or basin
AE = aeration
NS = no separation
AD = anaerobic digestion

The most-used technologies in the primary manure management system for each industry were: mechanical separation, sand settling lanes, and sedimentation basins for dairy farms; and addition of chemicals, treatment lagoons, and composting for swine operations (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Manure treatment technologies being used in primary manure management systems.

Allowing water to be reused and exporting nutrients were the primary desired outcomes of implementing manure treatment technologies for dairy and swine farms, respectively (Figure 4). Accordingly, 6 of 7 dairy farms were recycling water in their operations, while only 1 out of 10 was doing so on the swine side.

Figure 4. Primary desired outcomes of the implementation of manure treatment technologies in swine and dairy farms.

Diverse factors influenced the selection of the implemented technologies in both livestock operations. Low management demand, low maintenance, “performs best functionally” (best performance achieving the desired goals of manure treatment), and low initial cost are among the most-mentioned factors (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Factors that most influenced the selection of implemented manure treatment technologies.

Swine and dairy farmers identified initial cost, operational cost, and return on investment as the primary barriers to future technology adoption (Figure 6). Management demand was another important barrier among swine producers.

Figure 6. Barriers of highest concern when upgrading manure management systems on farms, especially through the adoption of manure treatment technology.

None of the survey respondents used membranes, electrochemical precipitation, or gasification technologies, demonstrating that cutting-edge manure treatment technologies are being more slowly adopted by regional livestock producers. The high cost and potential high management demand of these technologies could be barriers for their adoption.

Future plans

Our research work has moved into qualitative exploration. Focus groups will be held with swine and dairy producers, where they will discuss and share their manure treatment needs and desired outcomes from new treatment options. These activities will be organized online and will allow producers to share their manure management perspectives for the present and future. The results of our surveys and focus groups are being used to inform a decision-support tool being developed as part of the Management of Nutrients for Reuse  (MaNuRe) project. Our findings will also be used to help develop extension programs that meet the needs of producers for manure management in Nebraska and neighboring states.


Juan Carlos Ramos Tanchez, Graduate Research Assistant, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Corresponding author email address

Additional authors

Richard Stowell, Professor of Biological Systems Engineering, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Amy Schmidt, Associate Professor of Biological Systems Engineering, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


Funding for this effort came from the USDA NIFA AFRI Water for Food Production Systems program, grant #2018-68011-28691. The authors would like to express gratitude to Dr. Teng Lim and Timothy Canter (University of Missouri), Mara Zelt, and Lindsey Witt-Swanson (University of Nebraska-Lincoln) for their relevant support to this study. We would also like to thank the staff at the Nebraska Pork Producers Association and the Nebraska State Dairy Association for their collaboration on our research.