Environmental Benefits of Manure Application

For centuries, animal manure has been recognized as a soil “builder” because of its contributions to improving soil quality. Environmental benefits are possible from manure application if manure and manure nutrients are applied and timing and placement follows best management practices. When compared to more conventional fertilizer, manure properly applied to land has the potential to provide environmental benefits including:

    • Increased soil carbon and reduced atmospheric carbon levels
    • Reduced soil erosion and runoff
    • Reduced nitrate leaching
    • Reduced energy demands for natural gas-intensive nitrogen(N) fertilizers

Manure Effects on Soil Organic Matter

Manure contains most elements required for plant growth including N, P, potassium, and micronutrients (Manure as a Source of Crop Nutrients and Soil Amendment). However, it is manure’s organic carbon that provides its potential environmental value. Soil organic matter is considered nature’s signature of a productive soil. Organic carbon from manure provides the energy source for the active, healthy soil microbial environment that both stabilizes nutrient sources and makes those nutrients available to crops.

photo of solid manure spreader
Manure is comparable to commercial fertilizer as a plant food and, if applied according to a sound nutrient plan, has environmental benefits over commercial fertilizer. cc2.5 manure nutrient management group

Several long-term manure application studies have illustrated its ability to slow or reverse declining soil organic levels of cropland:


    The ability of manure to maintain or build soil organic matter levels has a direct impact on enhancing the amount of carbon sequestration in cropped soils.Manure organic matter contributes to improved soil structure, resulting in improved water infiltration and greater water-holding capacity leading to decreased crop water stress, soil erosion, and increased nutrient retention. An extensive literature review of historical soil conservation experiment station data from 70 plot years at 7 locations around the United States suggested that manure produced substantial reductions in soil erosion (13%-77%) and runoff (1%-68%). Increased manure application rates produced greater reductions in soil erosion and runoff. Additional studies during years following manure application suggest a residual benefit of past manure application.

    Overview of Manure Impacts on Soil (Mark Risse, University of Georgia). Visit the archived webinar for additional videos on carbon, fertility, and soil health.

    Manure Effects on Soil Erosion

    In addition, surface application of manure behaves similarly to crop residue. Crop residue significantly decreases soil erosion by reducing raindrop impact which detaches soil particles and allows them to move offsite with water runoff. Data has been published showing how manure can coat the soil surface and reduce raindrop impact in the same way as crop residue. Therefore, in the short-term, surface manure applications have the ability to decrease soil erosion leading to a positive impact on environmental protection.

    Organic Nitrogen

    In addition, organic N (manure N tied to organic compounds) is more stable than N applied as commercial fertilizer. A significant fraction of manure N is stored in an organic form that is slowly released as soils warm and as crops require N. Commercial fertilizer N is applied as either nitrate or an ammonium (easily converted to nitrate). Nitrate-N is soluble in water and mobile. These forms contribute to leaching during excess precipitation (e.g., spring rains prior to or early in growing season) or irrigation. Manure N’s slow transformation to nitrate is better timed to crop N needs, resulting in less leaching potential. In fact, manure N is a natural slow-release form of N.

    Energy Benefits

    Recycling of manure nutrients in a cropping system as opposed to manufacturing or mining of a new nutrient resource also provides energy benefits. Commercial nitrogen fertilizers consume significant energy as a feedstock and for processing resulting in greenhouse gas emissions. Anhydrous ammonia requires the equivalent of 3300 cubic feet of natural gas to supply the nitrogen requirements of an acre of corn (assuming 200 lb of N application). Phosphorus and potassium fertilizers also have energy requirements for mining and processing. Substituting manure for commercial fertilizers significantly reduces crop production energy costs

    It is important to remember that the environmental benefits of manure outlined in this article are only beneficial when best management practices for reducing soil erosion are implemented in concert with proper levels of manure nutrient application and use.

    Recommended Reading on Environmental Benefits of Manure


  • Authors: Rick Koelsch, University of Nebraska, and Ron Wiederholt, North Dakota State University
  • Reviewers: Charles Wortmann, University of Nebraska, and Steve Brinkman, Iowa NRCS
    Last reviewed on October 25, 2022 by Leslie Johnson, Animal Manure Management Extension Educator, Nebraska Extension.

Transforming Manure from ‘Waste’ to ‘Worth’ to Support Responsible Livestock Production in Nebraska

The University of Nebraska – Lincoln (UNL) Animal Manure Management (AMM) Team has supported the environmental stewardship goals of Nebraska’s livestock and crop producers for many years using multiple traditional delivery methods, but recently recognized the need to more actively engage with clientele through content marketing activities. A current programming effort by the AMM Team to increase efficient manure utilization on cropland in the vicinity of intensive livestock production is the foundation for an innovative social media campaign.

What did we do?

content marketing plan
Figure 1. Content marketing plan to direct traffic to the AMM Team website.

While traditional extension outputs remain valuable for supporting the needs of clientele who actively seek out information on a topic, “content marketing” is a strategic tactic by which information is shared to not only attract and retain an audience, but to drive impactful action. Social media platforms are popular tools for delivery of current, research-based information to clientele; a key barrier to effectively using social media for content marketing by the project directors has been time. For instance, using Twitter efficiently requires regular attention to deliver messages frequently enough to remain relevant and to do so at times when user activity characteristics demonstrate the greatest opportunity for posts to be viewed and disseminated. Because this proved to be a challenge, a content marketing plan (Figure 1) was initiated using “waste to worth” as the topic of focus.

Three major components were identified as being critical to the success of the project (Figure 2): design of high-quality graphics that are tied to online content and resources and are suitable for use on Twitter, Facebook, or other social media platforms; development of a content library containing packaged content (graphic + suggested text for social media posts) that is easy to navigate and available for partners to access and utilize; and development  of a communication network capable of reaching a broad audience.


circles containing graphics, content library and communication network
Figure 2. Components identified for successful content marketing effort.

An undergraduate Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication (ALEC) student was recruited to support graphical content development using three basic guidelines: 1) Eye-catching but simple designs; 2) Associated with existing content hosted online; and 3) Accurate information illustrated Canva.com was utilized by team members  to design, review and edit social media content (Figure 3).

Content Library

Completed graphics are downloaded from Canva as portable network graphics (*.png) and saved to Box folders, by topic, using a descriptive title. When posting to social media, hashtags, mentions and links to other content help (a) reach users who are following a specific topic (e.g. #manure), (b) recognize someone related to the post (e.g. @TheManureLady) and (c) direct users to more content related to the graphic (e.g. URL to online article). For our content library, each graphic is accompanied by a file containing recommended text (Figure 4) that can be copied and pasted into Twitter or Facebook.

content example graphics
Figure 3. Graphical content examples for the “waste to worth” project
content example with sample text
Figure 4. Sample text to accompany a related image when posting on social media

Communication Network

content distribution network diagram
Figure 5. Content distribution network diagram.

Disseminating our messages through outlets outside the University was identified as a critical aspect of achieving the widespread message delivery that was desired. As such, agricultural partners throughout Nebraska were asked to help “spread the word about spreading manure” by utilizing our content in their social media outputs, electronic newsletters, printed publications, etc. Partners in this project include nearly 30 livestock and crop commodity organizations, media outlets, agricultural business organizations, and state agencies in Nebraska (Figure 5).

The effort to distribute content through the established communication network was launched in September 2018. Each month, three to four graphics with accompanying text are placed in a Box file to which all partners in the distribution network have access. Partners are notified via e-mail when new content is released. Folders containing prior months’ releases remain available to allow partners to re-distribute previous content if they wish.

What we have learned?

Since launching, 34 partnering organizations (Figure 6) have helped disseminate content to 50,000+ producers, advisors, allied industry members, and related professionals each month. Invited media appearances (radio and television) by team members have increased substantially in the past six months. For instance, the Nebraska Pork Producers Association hosts a weekly “Pork Industry Update” on a radio station that is part of the Rural Radio Network. Team members have recorded numerous interviews for broadcast during this weekly programming spot.

parter organizations
Figure 6. Partner organizations contributing to content distribution.

Page views within the AMM Team’s website (manure.unl.edu) increased by 139% from the fourth quarter of 2017 to the fourth quarter of 2018. Additional analytics are being collected to better define routes by which traffic is reaching the AMM Team’s website.

Future Plans

A survey is being prepared for distribution to audiences targeted through this project to assess impacts of this effort on changes in knowledge and behavior related to responsible use of manure in cropping systems, recognition of the AMM Team as a trusted source for manure and nutrient management information in Nebraska, and quality of AMM Team outputs.


Amy Millmier Schmidt, Associate Professor, Biological Systems Engineering and Animal Science, University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), aschmidt@unl.edu


Rick Koelsch, Professor, Biological Systems Engineering and Animal Science, UNL

Abby Steffen, UG Student, Ag Leadership, Education and Communication, UNL

Additional Information

Sign up for monthly notifications about new content from the UNL Animal Manure Management team at https://water.unl.edu/newsletter. Follow team members and the AMM Team.

Animal Manure Management Team    Amy Schmidt

Twitter: @UNLamm    Twitter: @TheManureLady

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/UNLamm/    Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/TheManureLady/


Rick Koelsch

Twitter: @NebraskaRick


Funding sources supporting this effort include We Support Ag, the Nebraska Environmental Trust, and the North Central Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education (NC-SARE) program.



The authors are solely responsible for the content of these proceedings. The technical information does not necessarily reflect the official position of the sponsoring agencies or institutions represented by planning committee members, and inclusion and distribution herein does not constitute an endorsement of views expressed by the same. Printed materials included herein are not refereed publications. Citations should appear as follows. EXAMPLE: Authors. 2019. Title of presentation. Waste to Worth. Minneapolis, MN. April 22-26, 2019. URL of this page. Accessed on: today’s date.

Nutrient Planning on Swine Farms


LESSONS LEARNED – See links below for more detail.
Mouse over the bottom of the slide to slow or pause slides.

Thirteen swine producers from Corn Belt states participated in a project with faculty from University of Nebraska and Purdue University to understand the movement of nutrients (nitrogen and phohsphorus) on commercial swine facilities. These farms ranged in size from 2,000 to 16,000 head finishing capacity with most farms being wean to finish or feeder pig to finish operations. The project team developed a whole farm nutrient balance for each farm for both 2006 and 2007 based upon farm specific data.

Primary project outcomes include an understanding of the primary sources of nutrients arriving on these farms, the magnitude of imbalances experience by these farms, and the value of specific nutrient management practices to minimizing the nutrient imbalances experienced by swine production.

To learn more about the concept of Whole Farm Nutrient Balance (WFNB), the lessons learned from this on-farm research, and the tools developed for use by producers, the following introduction is suggested:

WFNB for Pork Production – An Introduction

Lessons Learned


Archived Workshop on WFNB

  • Introduction to WFNB
  • Lessons Learned from 13 Commercial Swine Facilities
  • Introduction to WFNB Tools


This project was funded by The National Pork Board. The authors wish to extend their appreciation for the financial support provided for completing this on-farm research project.

Overview of Nutrient Management Lessons Learned

About the Participating Farms

Take Home Message
Thirteen swine farms demonstrated significantly better nutrient management over previous studies as measured by Whole Farm Nutrient Balance. Feed program for phosphorus, manure storage selection, and nutrient plan implementation proved to be the most critical factors.

Thirteen pork production facilities in Indiana, Iowa, and Nebraska were engaged in defining their whole farm nutrient balance (WFNB) for two one-year periods (2006 and 2007). The average balance observed for these farms is reported in Figure 1 with the results of individual farms summarized in Appendix A (2006) and B (2007). These farms ranged in size from 2,000 to 16,000 head finishing capacity with most farms being wean to finish or feeder pig to finish. Two farms included sow facilities. Most farms included a crop production component ranging from 0 to more than 2000 acres. All but two farms were operated by individual families. Eight farms operated a contract swine operation, four were independent and one was an integrated operation.

Information was collected and analyzed independently for 2006 and 2007. While information was shared with producers at the end of 2006, no effort was made to encourage farm management or practice changes by the participating farms. Procedures used for collecting data in 2006 were discussed with farms at the end of 2006 and, if appropriate, modified procedures were implemented in 2007 for data collection only. In all cases, those modified procedures were also applied to the 2006 results.

WFNB Results

On average, 1.5 lbs of nitrogen entered these 13 farms from off-farm sources (Inputs – see green arrow in Figure 1) for every 1 lb of nitrogen leaving as Managed Outputs (see yellow arrow in Figure 1). This ratio ranged from 1.1 to 2.5 lbs input per 1lb managed outputs. Feed was the single largest source of inputs on average (79% of all inputs) followed by fertilizer (11%). Animals, legume fixed nitrogen, and nitrates in irrigation water accounted for the remaining 10%.

On average, phosphorus input to managed output ratio was 1.5 to 1 with a range of 0.8 – 3.3 lbs input to 1 lb managed output for the 25 farm-years of data collected (13 in 2006 and 12 in 2007). Again feed represented the single largest off-farm source of phosphorus (85%) with fertilizer and animals accounting for the remaining phosphorus inputs.

Critical Control Points

An analysis of several critical control points have been reviewed from the results of WFNB for these 13 farms. Based upon these reviews it is our conclusion that the following factors are the most critical control points for avoiding excess accumulations of nutrients on farm or losses from farms:

  • Phosphorus in purchased feeds.
  • Type of manure storage system.
  • Implementation of manure nutrient management plan.

Figure 1. Average whole farm nutrient balance for 13 corn belt farms for 2006 and 2007. See WFNB for Pork Production – An Introduction for additional explanation of Inputs and Managed Outputs.

The results also suggest that some additional factors will influence WFNB and the resulting accumulation of and loses from farms:

  • Crude protein (and nitrogen) in purchased feeds.
  • Density of animals to land base.

Finally the results provide insights that the following factors have little or no influence on WFNB and the resulting accumulation of and losses from farms:

Comparison to Other Species

The WFNB has been applied primarily to dairy farms in previous research. Spears et al. (2003) conducted whole-farm nitrogen balances on 41 Western dairy farms. On average 2.8 lbs of Nitrogen entered the farm for every pound leaving as a managed output. Castillo et al. (2000) estimated whole-farm nitrogen balances from European dairy farms to range from 1.2 – 2.3 to 1. Studies conducted prior to most nutrient management planning efforts also revealed relatively high whole farm imbalances. Fox (et al, 1994) reported whole farm balances for five dairies that ranged from 2.6 – 4.2 to1 (nitrogen) and 2.4 – 4 to 1 (phosphorus). Koelsch (2005) reviewed whole farm nutrient balances on 33 beef finishing and swine farms from 1996. Nitrogen balance ranged from 0.8 – 4.0 to 1 and phosphorus balance from 0.5 – 4.8 to 1.

WFNB values observed in previous research was significantly higher than observed with the 13 swine farms. This may be explained in part by the degree of implementation of nutrient plans, the utilization of feeding technologies such as the use of dietary phytase, and the degree of integration of animal and crop production into the same farm. In general, the results of the swine operations that participated in this study suggest significantly better nutrient management over previous studies.


Castillo AR, Kebreab E, Beever DE, France J. 2000. A review of efficiency of nitrogen utilization in dairy cows and its relationship with environmental pollution. J Anim Feed Sci 9:1–32.

Koelsch R. 2005. Evaluating livestock system environmental performance with whole-farm nutrient balance. J Environ Qual 34:149–55.

Spears, RA, Kohn RA, Young AJ. 2003. Whole-farm nitrogen balance on Western dairy farms. J Dairy Sci 86:4178–86.

Klausner, S. 1995. Nutrient management planning. p. 383–392. In K. Steele (ed.) Animal waste and the land-water interface. Lewis Publ., New York.


Results of On-Farm Measurement of WFNB

2006 Results – Appendix A

2007 Results – Appendix B

Return to Introductory Page for WFNB Resources

Authors: Rick Koelsch, University of Nebraska; Joe Lally, Iowa State University; Alan Sutton, Purdue University

This project was funded by The National Pork Board Project

Identifying the Source of Pathogen Contamination of Water

Tracking the source of pathogens has been the focus of considerable scientific effort. The Environmental Pathogens Information Network (EPI-Net) provides information including fact sheets addressing “Tracking Microbial Pathogens” and “Role of Indicators in Pathogen Detection”.

Tracking Methods

Sheridan Haack, PhD, Research Hydrologist/Microbiologist, US Geological Survey, Michigan Water Science Center summarizes tracking methods as follows:

“There are three general ways to determine the sources of microbial contamination of water. The first, and most obvious, is to search the landscape for direct contributions and potential sources and to establish that microorganisms (or the source material) could move from the source area to water. There are several methods, ranging from dye-tracing studies to sophisticated hydrologic modeling, that can establish these connections…

The second method is to examine the affected water for changes in water quality that might arise from the potential source. Nutrients (nitrogen or phosphorous), certain chemicals such as chloride, or the ratios of chemicals such as bromide and chloride, have been used to indicate sources such as septic effluents or manure. More recently, sophisticated analyses have shown that chemicals such as human-use pharmaceuticals or personal care products may be useful in tracking fecal pollution from wastewater treatment plant effluents…

In rural environments, pathogens may originate from confined or pastured livestock, home septic systems, wildlife, or rural community waste treatment systems. Source identification can be challenging. CC2.5 LPELC

Finally, a logical (if not simple or inexpensive) approach is to evaluate whether the fecal indicator bacteria (or pathogens) themselves indicate the source, which is termed “microbial or bacterial source tracking” (MST or BST). In the last 5 years, several reviews of the state of this science have been produced (see references). In general, these reviews indicate that each method can produce some useful results for distinguishing between human, livestock and wildlife sources of fecal pollution, especially for small-scale studies with limited source inputs. However, all these methods have technical difficulties, and most are not ready to be broadly used in support of management decisions. The best approach to source determination is to acquire multiple lines of evidence using several techniques.”

Page Manager. Rick Koelsch, University of Nebraska, and Janice Ward, US Geological Survey.
Reviewed by: Dan Shelton, USDA ARS, Jeanette Thurston-Enriquez, USDA ARS

Separation Technologies for Capturing Nutrients from Manure

Exporting phosphorus and possibly nitrogen from larger livestock operations as well as regions of large livestock populations is often essential for protecting water quality. Solids (and nutrient) separation technologies are an option for concentrating nutrients for export. This webinar introduces three approaches to solids separation that are being applied in commercial settings. This presentation was originally broadcast on January 18, 2019. More… Continue reading “Separation Technologies for Capturing Nutrients from Manure”

Making Sense of Treatment Technology Options for Livestock Farms

Have you ever wondered whether manure should be treated on your livestock operation? What technology will work best in your situation? This webinar discusses strategies for selecting the right technology to meet your farm’s needs and reviews some proven and emerging technologies that are showing promise for the dairy industry. This presentation was originally broadcast on February 16, 2018. More… Continue reading “Making Sense of Treatment Technology Options for Livestock Farms”