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Manure Setbacks, How Far is Far Enough?         

Natalie Rector
Extension Nutrient Management Educator

Remember the golden rule about spreading manure: do not let it reach surface waters. This can be achieved by the best decisions you make based on weather, rates, application methods, and field conditions.

Some Basic Considerations
The basics for surface applied unincorporated manure include that a) the applicator should observe a minimum of 150 ft setback from surface waters, including ditches and areas subject to flooding; and b) if conservation measures, such as, vegetative buffers are in place they may be sufficient to protect surface waters from runoff. Following these recommendations will help achieve conformance with Right-to-Farm guidelines and provide nuisance protection. But they do not over ride common sense. The goal is to prevent manure from reaching surface water. If you are on a slope, using high rate of manure application, or on a field where conditions still allow manure runoff to reach surface waters, then the 150 ft setback and/or vegetative buffer strip may still not be enough. In this scenario, selecting a different manure application rate, utilizing a less risky field or waiting for an opportunity when manure can be incorporated may be a better decision.

For Right-to-Farm guidelines, if manure is incorporated within 48 hr the setbacks are not necessary. Quicker incorporation is always recommended to both preserve the nitrogen in the manure and ensure against a sudden rain event. Right-to-Farm allows surface applied manure when no-till or hay field conditions make incorporation unfeasible.

Keeping records of manure applications, including field and weather conditions, will be the way to validate your actions. These are guidelines for Right-to-Farm protection. If your farm is under an National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit then be sure to follow those requirements which are mandatory for compliance. Setbacks also may apply for injected manure.

For a complete listing of Right-to-Farm guidelines for manure, visit


Michigan Dairy Review is published and mailed to all Michigan dairy farmers and individuals working in allied industries. With its ever increasing on-line presence, the MDR target audience has spread beyond Michigan and the U.S.; today electronic subscribers are located in places such as Australia, The Scandinavia, Italy, Mexico, Ireland, Peru, and New Zealand.  

The MDR is the primary communications vehicle for research findings, extension programming, and teaching between faculty and staff in MSU dairy programs and the dairy industry. The MDR web site is paid for by the C. E. Meadows Endowment.

April 2012 Topics

Grassland Renovation

Right-to-Farm: Site Selection [2]

Manure Setbacks

Weather Provides Opportunity

Cleaning Overwinter Sites

MSU Extension Educational Sessions

Dairy Farmers' Views of Dairy Policies

When is a Milk Price a "Good" Milk Price?

2012 Employment Taxes

Detecting Mycoplasma Mastitis

Communication with Consumers

New Scholaships for Dairy Students

Dairy Students Awarded Over $95,000

Real-world Experience Via Internship