Animal manure can be used as crop fertilizers or energy fuel stocks, but these uses are limited due to environmental risks, lack of available cropland, lack of available energy production infrastructure and costs, according to an analysis by the U.S. Economic Research Service (ERS), writes Rod Smith for Feedstuffs.

The analysis was ordered by Congress in the Food, Conservation & Energy Act of 2008, which directed that ERS:

* Determine the extent to which animal manure is utilized as fertilizer for crops, including agronomic practices and species;

* Evaluate the impact on agricultural operations and consumers that would occur from limitations on the utilization of animal manure as fertilizer, and

* Evaluate the impact on agricultural operations that would occur from increased utilization of animal manure for bioenergy production.

Livestock and poultry manure has important value as crop fertilizer or as a soil amendment because it contains nutrients that can facilitate crop growth and improve soil quality by increasing organic matter, neutralizing acidity and strengthening soil water-holding capabilities, according to the report.

However, manure may not have the precise combination of nutrients required for optimal plant production and is costly to transport when farmers utilizing it as fertilizer are located some distance from livestock and poultry operations, the ERS researchers noted. Furthermore, manure contains pathogens and presents certain environmental risks if applied in excessive amounts, they added.

There is increasing interest in manure for energy production, they said: Manure can be burned as a feedstock in combustion processes, and methane can be captured from the biogas in manure and burned for electricity generation.

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