Posted: January 29, 2019

Weather challenges have influenced application; high-risk winter applications require special considerations.

By Rob Meinen, Extension Associate

Weather impacts both manure application and loss of nutrients on crop utilization.

Weather has certainly provided challenges this past year that have influenced manure application.

Wet soils, delayed harvests and rainy days all suspended manure applications through late summer and fall.

The storage capacity for both liquid and solid manure may soon force producers to consider manure application during high-risk winter conditions.

No matter what type of manure or nutrient management plan a farm has, there are some principles that should be considered.

An overriding philosophy should be to place manure nutrients where you want them and where they will stay.

Nutrients that move are an economic loss and an environmental liability.

There are a lot of unknown weather events between application in the winter or spring and crop uptake.

Ultimately this philosophy strikes a balance between crop production and environmental stewardship, and is positive for economic, agronomic and conservation goals.

Since manure application between growing seasons comes with inherent risk, Pennsylvania state laws require extra planning, conservative application rates and setbacks from water.

In manure management programs, winter is defined as the dates between Dec. 15 and Feb. 28.

Field conditions outside of these dates also trigger winter manure application restrictions when there is any snow on the field or if soil is frozen to a depth of 4 inches or more.

All farms that generate or utilize manure must have a manure or nutrient management plan for all applications.

In order for application to occur during the times above, individual fields must be included in a plan before application occurs.

Each field must be individually evaluated prior to application to determine if it can appropriately receive manure.

Consideration is given to a number of field conditions that minimize risk of manure nutrient movement to water during these high-risk times.

A few common parameters across programs is the requirement to have 25 percent or more ground cover or an established cover crop on land that will receive manure.

This ground cover slows runoff and promotes water infiltration to hold nutrients in place.

The shallower the slope, the less risk. State guidance indicates that the maximum slope to receive manure during winter is 15 percent.

Of course, application setbacks are a simple and effective tool to minimize runoff risk.

In most cases state guidance indicates a setback distance of 100 feet from streams, lakes, ponds, active water wells and springs during these off-season applications.

Most land managers know the spots in their fields where water runs during the worst winter precipitation and melting events. Do not place manure in these locations no matter what ground cover, slope or setback distance exists. Save those spots for spring application.

Check with state guidance for full details.

A great resource is to contact your county conservation district for assistance. Employees at the district want to help you move forward.

Applying manure with their planning advice and assistance can limit stress and uncertainty for the producer. It's always better to have things square before you apply than to allow lack of planning to create issues later.

Sometimes a surplus of manure can be overwhelming for the application resources you have on hand. In such a case consider contracting with a professional manure handler to do your dirty work.

Certified haulers have the equipment and knowledge to get your job done quickly and correctly.

Commercial manure haulers in Pennsylvania must be certified by the state's program. To find a certified hauler that services your area, visit Certified manure brokers can also be found at this location.

This year, the weather has some brokers sitting on a stockpile of poultry manure that may be readily available for you to import for summer crops.

The state's Commercial Manure Hauler and Broker Certification Program began in 2006. As of this past December there were 704 certified individuals.

A recent Penn State survey of this service industry demonstrated that certified haulers are familiar with manure application regulations. The survey showed that certification increased participant knowledge, thus enabling the individual to make wise in-field decisions. The 218 survey respondents worked on an average of 40.3 farms per year.

Increasing the knowledge of professionals across so many acres certainly helps crop response and lowers environmental impact.