Site Visit: Puck Enterprises in Iowa

By Jason Doré, Assistant Chief Counsel for External Affairs/Director of Information

As the son of an Iowan farmer, Ben Puck has strived to build a business that not only provided him with the ability to maintain his family farm, but also helps others in the small communities of Iowa to be able to do the same.  He’s able to do this by using something that is abundant on all cattle and pork farms, manure.

When it was Puck’s time to take the reins of the family farm, the timing was far from ideal. America was in the midst of the late 1970’s farm crisis. While maintaining the family farm, Puck did whatever he could to generate off-farm income, including bailing hay and sheering sheep.  Ben and his wife Kathy ultimately started a manure application business, Puck Custom Enterprises, Inc (PCE), in 1979 utilizing vacuum trucks acquired with the help of a SBA loan.  Puck’s manure application systems are now far more advanced than his original vacuum trucks.

Their business concept is fairly simple: collect the manure produced by cows and pigs on the farm and apply it as fertilizer for the crops. Through the years, Puck began developing his own products and solution to apply manure as fertilizer. To use the manure application process, farmers install slats beneath where their cattle and hogs feed and sleep. This manure is stored in tanks and then distributed through Puck’s applicator system as a liquid throughout the soil. Though PCE is still in the application service business, the majority of PCE’s revenue is now generated from the sale of manure application equipment.

PCE has 70 employees and is based in Manning, Iowa, home to approximately 1500 residents. The company is still family-run. One of Puck’s sons is the general manager, his daughter leads the marketing team, another son is the senior engineer and his wife, Kathy, is the bookkeeper.

PCE sells its innovative dragline manure applicator systems throughout Iowa, New York, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. The state of Iowa accounts for approximately 30 percent of PCE’s sales.  According to Puck, there are approximately 500 manure application businesses in the state of Iowa employing in excess of 8,000 employees.

Though the benefits of manure application are plenty according to Puck, it has not become a common practice throughout every farm state or country. Puck has literally traveled the world to tell and demonstrate the benefits of utilizing manure as fertilizer.  He passionately explains its benefits for the environment, its increase in crop yield, improvement of the top soil and ultimately increases the value of the land.

“I don’t think anyone does it as well as we do in Iowa,” Puck said.

According to Puck, the other regions that do utilize manure applicators often apply it on top of the soil where rainwater can wash it away. In Iowa, PCE’s applicator systems apply the manure 3 to 15 inches deep in the soil. This prevents a runoff caused by rain. Fertilizer, manure and chemicals produced, when washed away by rain often ends up in the water supply.

Puck passionately explained the need for a clean environment and believes utilizing his PCE process will help provide clean water and air.

Puck said that EPA’s regulations on liquid manure pose a challenge to his business and are not designed in a way that produces the best environmental outcomes. When asked about other federal regulations that were overly burdensome for his business, Puck replied: “There’s a whole list of them…”

Of those, these two were at the top of his list:

He pointed out Dodd-Frank banking regulations that have led to the demise of small community banks which did most of the farm lending in  rural communities. Puck expressed a desire to get young people involved in the manure application business as he believes there is room for another 3000 of these businesses in the Iowa market, but it takes access to a significant amount of capital and that is not readily available in many rural communities, in his experience.

The EPA mandate of Tier 4 engines has increased cost of his products by upwards of $40,000 in one year. He believes this mandate will push people to rework their Tier 1 engines and build their own equipment which will ultimately be more hazardous to the environment than the current Tier 3 engines.

Puck concluded: “The opportunity today to achieve the American dream is to own your own business.  Regulations hinder that.”

Advocacy was in Iowa for Regional Regulatory Reform Roundtables July 17-19.

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Jason Doré is Advocacy’s Director of Information/Assistant Chief Counsel for External Affairs. He can be reached at