DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) – High fertilizer costs have left some Iowa farmers coddling up to a previously shunned byproduct of the business – manure.

There’s no indication that Iowans have taken to the smell of manure that hovers around hog lots, but a recent survey from the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University shows that farmers are placing a higher value on the commodity.

Farmers said that’s because manure is a much cheaper alternative to commercial fertilizer. As Dwight Dial of Lake City sees it, people are willing to endure the smell for the savings.

“One year you’re smelly and stinky and they really didn’t want you there,” said Dial, who grows corn, soybeans and raises hogs near the central Iowa town. “And the next year, oh my. We have access to your hog manure to save us money.”

Matt Russell, a food policy project coordinator with the Agricultural Law Center, said the survey of 61 farmers from across the state offered a window into the decision-making of farmers who have been faced with higher input costs than in previous years.

“The value of manure to farmers has definitely increased,” Russell said. “It’s primarily related to commercial inputs and farming costs. The cost of nitrogen has gone up so the cost of commercial fertilizer has gone up and you can get some of the same nutrients from manure for a fraction of the cost.”

Russell said the survey shows evidence that dollars and cents have helped to ease tensions in one of Iowa’s perpetual fights.

The odors coming from hog producers are often the target of criticism from neighboring towns and farmers alike who don’t appreciate the waft from large stockpiles of manure. The survey indicates that farmers, at least, are seeing some value in the manure now, Russell said.

“We have gone, because of fertilizer prices, from a situation where the person who owned manure was maybe even paying to get rid of it, to now, someone is paying them for manure,” he said.

Paul Mugge, who farms near Sutherland in northwestern Iowa, said he has never been anti-manure, but he understands why more people are taking a second whiff of it now.

“It’s never been a scourge to me at all. I’ve always used it. I need every bit of manure I have,” Mugge said. “For most people, now I think it’s about economics. Chemical fertilizer got so expensive this year that we’re all looking for alternatives.”

Mugge and Dial, the Lake City farmer, both said they expect manure will lose some of its charm if fertilizer costs fall in years ahead. For now, though, farmers are smelling only savings.

“When commercial fertilizer becomes cheaper, hog manure will stink again,” Dial said.

WENATCHEE, Wash. (AP) – This year’s apple crop in Washington state is estimated at a record 113 million boxes.

The Wenatchee World reports the Dec. 1 estimate is 3 percent higher than Nov. 1 estimate from the Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association and the Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association.

The previous record in 2004 was 105 million 40-pound boxes.

The manager of the Yakima association, Keith Mathews, says the late harvest was greater than anticipated because growers kept fruit on trees longer to compensate for a cold spring.

The newspaper says that as of Dec. 7, about a quarter of the apple crop had been shipped.

AP-ES-12-11-08 0631EST

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.