Operational costs and neglect of end-users are the main barriers to improving manure treatment in intensive livestock farms

Tan, M.; Hou, Y.; Zhang, Ling; Shi, Shengli; Long, Weitong; Ma, Yifei; Zhang, Tao; Li, F.; Oenema, O.


Improving manure management is essential to actualise a more circular economy in agro-ecosystems. However, the drivers of and barriers to improving manure management and recycling are not well understood. We report farmers’ perceptions of manure management techniques on dairy and poultry farms, with a focus on anaerobic digestion, solid–liquid separation, and composting as common techniques used to facilitate manure management and valorisation. We conducted face-to-face interviews with 338 intensive livestock farmers in China. We hypothesised that farmers’ behaviour is differentially influenced by their perceptions of outcomes, social referents, and controlling factors of the manure management techniques, and by farm and farmers’ characteristics. Results indicated that the actual adoption of manure treatment techniques was limited on the surveyed farms (21% dairy farms, 0%–2% poultry farms; other farms were either not equipped with these techniques or the techniques were not used). Most farms had limited cropland and recycled a small but variable percentage of manure (15%–64% for nitrogen and 25%–95% for phosphorus). Farmers’ perceptions of the environmental benefits of manure treatment and incentives from government agencies were identified as key drivers for the adoption of manure management techniques. High operation cost, low benefit-cost ratios, technical failures, and lack of a functioning manure market were identified as main barriers. Farm scale, farmers’ education and identity also influenced farmers’ intention to use manure treatment techniques. Our results indicate that there is need for capacity building in the whole manure management chain, and for monitoring programmes. We argue that greater attention and governmental support should be allocated to (i) the actual operation of treatment techniques (instead of investment subsidies), and (ii) to the end-users of manure treatment products, who need appropriate application machines.