Snow melt poses challenges for livestock manure management
ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is asking farmers to take precautions as they plan to spread livestock manure on cropland during these warmer days of winter.
As winter gives way to spring, rapid snow melt and potential for flooding pose challenges. Farmers who spread solid manure during winter must ensure it doesn’t run off with snow melt flowing to ditches, streams and other waters.
Manure-contaminated runoff not only threatens water quality, it reduces the value of manure as a crop nutrient, MPCA officials note in a press release. If possible, farmers should refrain from spreading manure during periods of rapid melt. Minnesota rules to protect water quality require a 300-foot setback from surface waters and open tile intakes for all manure spread onto frozen or snow-covered soil.
In Wisconsin, where state rules place some restrictions on land application of livestock manure in winter, farmers can use a “manure management advisory system” to help make decisions. The webpage provides maps that forecast the risk of run-off on a daily basis, and tools for longer term planning. www.manureadvisorysystem.wi.gov/
“We are exploring having a similar system in Minnesota,” said Randall Hukriede, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) feedlot program manager. The MPCA administers state rules for feedlots to help facilitate industry practices that protect water quality. “Our primary goal is to ensure a balance between a healthy livestock industry and healthy natural environment.”
If temporary stockpiling is not possible and manure land application can’t wait, to help reduce the impact of manure applied to the surface of wet, frozen or snow covered soil, choose the flattest field or flattest parts of fields and follow these guidelines:
- Field slope should be less than six percent for solid manure, and two percent for liquid manure,
- Do not apply non-incorporated manure within 300 feet of surface waters. If possible apply manure at even greater setback distances.
- Do not apply in portions of fields that contain other areas of concentrated flow. A 300-foot setback is required for intermittent streams; however most fields also contain other areas such as grass waterways that receive concentrated flow. Keep back as far as possible from these other areas of concentrated flow.
- Choose fields that contain the most crop residue; greater than 30 percent is recommended.
- Avoid fields where the furrows are full of ice and snow.
- Keep application rates low enough to avoid runoff or ponding during application.
- Choose fields that do not have adjacent non-tillable land containing areas of concentrated flow such as ravines, ditches with open side inlets, streams or dry runs. If this is not possible, stay as far away as possible, from these off-field areas of concentrated flow.
When applying manure on snow-covered or frozen soils, producers should avoid high risk periods of runoff: Two or more inches of snow on the ground and maximum temperatures are forecast to exceed 40 degrees within 24 hours, or when there is a prediction of .25 inches of rain forecast within 24 hours.
“Producers should consider short-term stockpiling of manure in the field until after the major snowmelt of the year,” said Wayne Cords, MPCA feedlot program southeast region supervisor. “While this does involve additional time and labor, there are significant benefits in the reduced pollution potential, as one well-placed short-term stockpile poses significantly less pollution hazard than a whole field of surface-applied manure.”
“Producers who are considering surface applying manure to snow covered or frozen soils should work with a crop consultant and complete a Minnesota Phosphorus Index model to determine the phosphorus loss risk, and then choose fields with the lowest risk value to winter-apply,” Cords said. “And NPDES-permitted sites need to carefully read their permit as they have additional requirements and restrictions when applying manure to frozen or snow covered soils.”
Livestock farms that experience manure runoff into waters of the state must report to the Minnesota Duty Officer by calling 1-800-422-0798, 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.
For more information, see the MPCA fact sheet, “Managing manure and land application during adverse weather conditions” at www.pca.state.mn.us/publications/wq-f8-46.pdf, contact your county or MPCA feedlot staff, (See www.pca.state.mn.us/zihy6a1), or call the MPCA at 1-800-657-3864.