Granted, animal wastes will acquire a growing niche among farmers, he says. Even so, he believes that commercial fertilizers, which have been the standbys of Western farming for more than a century, will continue to command center stage.

Mitchell sees a kind of ebb-and-flow effect at work in the future, as row-crop farmers make greater use of animal manures to compensate for spiking costs of commercial fertilizer.

"First of all, there is going to be a gradual decline of commercial fertilizer use, not a precipitous one," Mitchell says. "But manufactured and mined sources are going to get more expensive and that's going to make manures more attractive."

Even so, manures are no panacea, he stresses. They are hamstrung by a few limiting factors, notably the excessive levels of phosphorus that build up as manure is applied season after season.

"Yes, you can put on excessive rates of chicken litter, for example, and produce a beautiful crop of cotton , corn or wheat," Mitchell says. "But if you do it year after year, the phosphorus levels build up and you will end up dealing with environmental issues."

Back to that ebb-and-flow effect, Mitchell says.

"We're going to use manures where we can and supplementing them with expensive synthetic fertilizers, especially on our nonlegume crops — crops such as wheat, grains, corn, forages, pasture grasses and hayfields."

He also foresees closer integration between row-crop and livestock operations, though not to the degree Logsden foresees.

"In the South, especially in Georgia, we're seeing more poultry farmers locating to areas of intensive row cropping," Mitchell says, adding that a similar effect is occurring in the Midwest as more feedlot operations locate near areas of intensive row-crop farming.

Even so, in as specialized a field as agriculture, Mitchell expresses doubt that large feed operators would want to become involved in row-crop production or vice versa.