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Spread Manure in Winter with Great Caution

Natalie Rector
Extension Manure Nutrient Specialist

Knowing what fields are apt to have surface runoff in the spring is also a good indication of what might happen if manure was applied. Fields such as this one should not receive surface applications of manure during any season.

For many dairy producers and other livestock farmers, surface-spreading manure during the winter is necessary. This practice comes with inherent risks of variable weather conditions but eventually the snow will melt and the ground will thaw. 

Producers need to watch the weather forecasts just as closely in the winter as they do in the summer. Weather predictions calling for rain or a thaw are red flags to stop manure applications. 

What to Do When Snow Melts
If soil conditions are saturated when winter sets in there will be less space for additions of manure to be absorbed during thaw events.  

The worst case scenario is when there is rapid snowmelt before the ground has a chance to thaw. In this instance, the snow turns to water and has two options before it can infiltrate into the soil: either runoff or pond. These situations need to be prevented. A discharge of manure nutrients to surface waters is a violation that can be enforced by the Department of Environmental Quality and a situation, which no producer wants to create. 

1. Avoid negative situations by prioritizing fields for winter time manure applications. Begin by figuring out how many acres are needed for wintertime spreading.

After harvest is a perfect time of year to drive the perimeters of all fields and assess the risks each field has for wintertime spreading. First of all, know where any surface waters are and what they connect to.

This can be done by drawing on your own knowledge, using soil survey maps or FSA aerial maps. These maps will be especially important when dealing with land you rent or know less history of. As you drive each field, ask yourself what would happen if manure was applied to this field and there was a rapid spring melt? Then follow up with, what could be done ahead of time to prevent or minimize the situation. 

Two of the most important factors in prioritizing fields for winter-time spreading are slope of the field and if there are surface waters adjacent or close enough that run off would reach them. 

Portions of fields that slope (especially greater than 6%) directly to surface waters should not receive manure during the winter. Fields with slopes greater than 3% should not receive liquid manures.

But even fields with less slope, may carry water off site and reach surface waters. These fields may benefit from observing setbacks from surface water during spreading, reducing rates and (or) seeded buffer strips along water courses to decrease the risk of runoff reaching surface waters.

Fields with surface drainage inlets are naturals to catch runoff; and if the runoff contains manure the inlet will take the manure to the surface water outlets. These areas of fields should be avoided during surface applications regardless of the time of year. Even with low risk fields, strategize what practices you have to reduce the risk of spring-time runoff even more.   

2. Fall tillage that leaves soil surfaces rough or better able to soak in manure may be an option on certain fields. Seeding a cover crop on fields that will receive manure over the winter is another option. Applying manure whenever the soil conditions allow and reducing the rate per acre of manure applications will also help reduce the risk of runoff. Utilize your own knowledge of the fields and common sense to tell you what fields need the most attention. 

3. Keeping records of field applications is not only a good idea, but necessary to receive Right-to Farm Nuisance Protection and to show that you are following a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan (CNMP) if you have one on your farm. 

4. Plans are only good if they are communicated to all family and farm operators. Once you have prioritized and strategized which fields will be utilized for winter spreading, be sure that the person hauling the manure is informed and aware of any areas where setbacks are needed or portions of fields that should not receive manure at all.

No single factor causes runoff and over all, no set of circumstances guarantees manure won’t reach surface waters. Weather changes day to day and so does the risk; reduce your risk by having a plan in place and being prepared to make day to day decisions on winter spreading.

5. Always have an emergency plan in place, for the unfortunate event of a manure release to surface waters. In such an instance, cease spreading immediately, contain the discharge if possible and report the incident to DEQ. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Pollution Control hotline is: 800-292-4706 and the Michigan Department of Agriculture’s spill response is 800-405-0101.

Michigan Department of Agriculture, Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices (GAAMP) for Manure Management and Utilization states: manures should not be applied to soils within 150 ft of surface waters or areas subject to flooding unless:
a) Manure is injected or surface- applied with immediate incorporation (48 hrs.)
b) Conservation practices are used to protect against runoff and  erosion losses to surface waters.

As land slopes increase from zero percent, the risk of runoff and erosion also increases, particularly for liquid manure. Adequate soil and water conservation practices should be used which will control runoff and erosion for a particular site, taking into consideration such factors as type of manure, bedding material used, surface residue or vegetative conditions, soil type, and slope.

Application of manure to frozen or snow-covered soils should be avoided, but where necessary,
a) solid manure should only be applied to areas where slopes are 6% or less,
b) liquid manure should only be applied to soils where slopes are 3% or less. In either situation, provisions must be made to control runoff and erosion with soil and water conservation practices such as vegetative buffer strips between surface waters and soils where manure is applied.

For more of the manure management GAAMP, visit:  www.michigan.gov/mda.




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