WOOSTER, Ohio — A pilot program in Wayne County’s Baughman Township is looking for a few good entrepreneurs. Make that “entre-manures.”
The project is aimed at transforming manure from what some would consider waste into a marketable product that could be bartered among agricultural producers or sold to gardeners, landscapers and others seeking a “green” source of high-quality fertilizer.
Manure management emerged as an issue during the development of Baughman Township’s comprehensive plan, said Katie Myers, farmland programs coordinator for Countryside Conservancy, one of the agencies leading the project.
Anecdotal evidence suggested there was a surplus of manure in some areas and an excess of demand in others. Some producers indicated they’d be willing to trade manure for other products, such as hay. All that was missing was the “social component” that would connect the supply with the demand, Myers said.
That’s when the wheels started turning.
Baughman Township, the Wayne Economic Development Council, the Wayne Soil and Water Conservation District, and Countryside Conservancy submitted a grant proposal to The Ohio State University’s Center for Farmland Policy Innovation. The result is: MANURE or “Manure Agreements, Nutrient Utilization and the Rural Economy.”
The 12-month program, modeled on similar efforts in Iowa and Wisconsin, will be funded through the Center for Farmland Policy Innovation and the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Rural Rehabilitation Program, with 50 percent in matching funds from Baughman Township, the Wayne Economic Development Council and Countryside Conservancy.
Surveys were sent out to Baughman Township landowners March 23 to gauge interest in the program.
Participants will receive a 50 percent discount on soil sampling or on a manure analysis. There will be no cost to take part, other than the participant’s half of the manure or soil analysis, which will be conducted by the Wayne Soil and Water Conservation District.
“At this point, we’re limiting participation to Baughman Township residents because it’s a pilot project,” Myers said. “We’re hoping it will be able to be replicated in any township or county in Ohio. That’s why we’re working with Ohio State to try to work out the legal issues and the contracting issues.”
The program will give landowners the opportunity to learn about proper nutrient utilization, create model contracts for transactions related to manure, and examine the tax implications of a formalized bartering system.
A system is being developed that will place a value on manure based on its nutrient content and allow buyers to purchase the fertilizer that best meets their soil’s needs.
There’s even been talk of future manure auctions.
“The better they utilize their nutrients, the more opportunity for expansion within the livestock industry or retention of existing livestock operations,” said Brian Gwin, project manager for agriculture at the Wayne Economic Development Council.
A strong livestock industry has a positive ripple effect beyond the farm, too.
“You’re helping retain your processing industry, hopefully, because they have a local supply to work with,” Gwin said. “When you look at Wayne, Holmes, Ashland, Stark, Tuscarawas — that four- or five-county area — we’re four of the top five dairy counties in the state and the top four broiler counties in the state.”
The council is hopeful the knowledge and relationships that result from the Baughman Township pilot project could open doors to future opportunities for area producers, such as the possibility of supplying manure to companies to generate energy.
With Baughman Township’s close proximity to urban areas in Stark and Summit counties, organizers hope there will be plenty of consumers to help turn manure into an economic asset for producers. For area farmers, it could provide a cost-effective alternative to fossil-fuel based fertilizers.
Within a year, Myers anticipates having the tax and legal framework for the program in place, as well as a database of potential participants.
“We have the hope that it will turn into a type of business — a manure brokering business — that we can hand off,” she said.