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Cool, wet fall poses challenges for land-application of manure

Tue, Dec 8th, 2009
Posted in Agriculture

October's cool, wet weather delayed more than the crop harvest. At some livestock farms, full manure basins created anxious moments for farmers awaiting harvested fields so they could land-apply manure. Fortunately, November's warmer, drier weather allowed the harvest and land-application to catch up.

Recognizing Minnesota's unpredictable weather, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) officials are developing advice for livestock producers who deal with the impact of wet weather on manure management.

Each fall after harvest, farmers pump millions of gallons of liquid dairy, beef and hog manure from storage basins and inject them into the soil as fertilizer for next year's crop. When land-applied at proper rates and setbacks from sensitive features, such as open water and drain tile intakes, the manure benefits crop production while minimizing the impact on water resources.

"If livestock producers find themselves in a bind, we really encourage them to seek out our feedlot staff for advice," says Randy Hukriede, an MPCA feedlot program manager. "By working together, we can find the best possible solutions.. County staff, such as feedlot officers, extension and Soil and Water Conservation offices can help, too."

While planning for such situations is essential, many tools are readily available to manage livestock manure during adverse conditions. All suitable measures should be used to avoid overflows of liquid manure storage basins, and to keep surface-applied liquid manure outside the 300-foot setback from sensitive features.

After December 1, feedlot owners with a National Pollutant Discharge Eliminations System (NPDES) permit, who wish to apply liquid manure to frozen soil, must notify their state feedlot program representative. This notice should include an aerial photo that clearly outlines the location of the proposed land-application. It is also important to contact your county regarding any local ordinances. Helpful practices:

• Begin to land-apply immediately on portions of harvested fields that have dried sufficiently.

• Pump manure-storage basins partially and land-apply in spring.

• Look for other available fields belonging to neighboring farmers, or other approved manure-storage space.

• For better access to wet fields, fill tankers to less than capacity.

• Reduce the impact of manure applied to the surface of wet or frozen soil: Avoid steep slopes; seek fields or parts of fields with less than six percent slope for solid manure, two percent for liquid manure. Or, apply to fields with greater than 30 percent residue.

• Stay 300 feet away from sensitive features, such as surface waters and open tile intakes.

• Till along contours to create furrows to capture any potential runoff.

• Avoid floodplain or flood-prone areas.

• Keep application rate low enough to avoid runoff or ponding during and after application.

• Check with the county regarding local ordinances.

• Report any discharges from land-application or liquid-manure-storage-area overflows to the State Duty Officer (Call 800-422-0798), and take immediate action to reduce environmental impact, such as creating temporary berms to stop discharge; temporarily plugging culverts and drain tile intakes to prevent manure inflow; and soaking up liquid with absorbent material, such as hay, straw, cornstalks or wood shavings.

• Do not construct or modify your basin without approval from the MPCA or county feedlot officer.

• Do not store manure in unpermitted basins.

• Be prepared: plan ahead.

While not much can be done about the weather, it is possible to be prepared to better deal with the impact of bad weather on manure management and land-application. A little more investment in storage, conservation practices, and planning can be a very cost-effective form of insurance. It also reduces the risk of economic loss of nutrients from surface-applied manure without incorporation.

• Arrange to have a portion of land-application acres planted with small grains and other early-harvest crops.

• Attempt some spring land-application to create more fall and winter manure storage.

• Install vegetated buffers and blind tile intakes to alleviate 300-foot setback.

• Develop a contingency plan.

• Ensure that all land-application equipment is calibrated and in good condition.

• Expand liquid manure storage capacity.

For more information, contact your MPCA regional office (Call 800-657-3864.) or county feedlot officer (See, or go to the MPCA feedlot Web page at

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