In response to economic and environmental concerns, and as a result of increasing educational, cost-share and regulatory programs, the number of livestock producers who test their manure has increased dramatically in the last five to ten years. Despite this trend, many livestock producers still do not test their manure on a regular basis. Difficulties with sampling, variability in test results and concern about the accuracy of nutrient availability estimates have led many producers to question the value of manure testing.

Increased customer demand, the need to fill information gaps and the desire to promote the value of manure testing have resulted in, agricultural laboratories devoting more resources to manure analysis and promotion of their manure testing and nutrient management services. There has been a corresponding laboratory need for information and technical assistance for development and improvement of manure analysis methods, quality control and assurance, reporting and interpretation of results. Extension educators, local governments, private industry and others who work with farmers also desire more and better information about manure sampling and testing. The Manure Testing Laboratory Certification Program was developed in order to help fill these needs.

The MDA implemented a Manure Testing Laboratory Certification Program in 1996 to assist laboratories in ensuring the accuracy and credibility of manure test results, to promote voluntary adoption of manure testing practices, and use of test results in nutrient management planning by livestock producers. These goals are being accomplished through development and use of standardized manure analysis methods; laboratory proficiency testing; information and technical assistance provided to laboratories, educators and private industry; and promotion of manure testing and nutrient management planning services provided by laboratories, dealers, consultants, applicators and others.

Benefits for laboratories include:

  • Independent evaluation of laboratory performance;
  • Access to technical assistance for development and modification of sample handling, analysis and reporting methods;
  • Establishment of the accuracy and credibility of analysis results;
  • Promotion of manure testing and related services through producer education, listings of certified laboratories distributed by State Extension Services and government agencies, and use of certified laboratories by dealers and consultants; and
  • Qualification to provide required manure analyses for producer cost-share and regulatory programs.

Testing industry support for the Manure Testing Laboratory Certification Program has been enthusiastic from the beginning. Program participation has grown from 14 laboratories in 1996 to 45 laboratories in 2021. Participating laboratories are located in approximately twenty-five states and four Canadian Provinces. Certified laboratories now analyze the majority of manure samples tested in the Midwest.

This program is the only manure analysis proficiency-testing program in North America. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is seeking to expand lab participation throughout the U.S. and Canada. This is especially important as more states and provinces establish and increase their regulation of feedlots. More livestock producers will be required to develop manure management plans that include basing manure application rates on manure nutrient content. Access to accurate test results and consistent, simplified information on sampling and interpreting results will be necessary to enable farmers to comply with these regulations and also to fulfill cost-share requirements for manure testing.

Participation in the FAQs about the Manure Testing Laboratory Certification Program is voluntary. However, use of an MDA-certified laboratory is required by Minnesota Natural Resources Conservation Service for their Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)-funded nutrient management plans, and by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for manure management plans included in permits.

In addition to laboratory proficiency testing, the program provides information to laboratories on sample handling, analysis methods, quality assurance and control, and reporting of results. Assistance in establishing and promoting manure testing services, refinement of analysis methods and trouble-shooting is also provided. The program evaluates standardized analysis methods. Support for research in the areas of manure testing and management of manure nutrients is provided, as well as assistance with educational and training programs in manure and nutrient management for a variety of audiences.