Behind in Manure Application? Please Move Forward Smartly

ROBERT MEINEN Senior Extension Associate Expertise

Weather can be extremely challenging when it comes to timely manure application. The following principles should be considered when making plans for your next weather-delayed application.



Weather is a large driver of impact of manure application on crop utilization of manure nutrients as well as risk of environmental loss of those nutrients. Weather has certainly provided challenges through the past year that have influenced manure application. Wet soils… delayed harvests… rainy days… All of these suspended manure applications through late summer and fall for producers of all sizes. Storage capacity for both liquid and solid manures may currently or soon provide challenges that force consideration of manure application during high-risk winter conditions.

Winter Manure Application

No matter what type of manure or nutrient management plan a farm has, there are some principles that should be considered during these times. An overriding philosophy should be to place manure nutrients where you want them and in a manner that they will stay where you want them until a crop can harvest them. 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. Striking this balance is positive for economic, agronomic, and conservation goals.

Since manure application between the time one growing season ends and the next begins comes with inherent risk, Pennsylvania state laws require extra planning considerations and conservative application rates and setbacks from water. Across all Pennsylvania, manure management programs winter is defined as the calendar dates between December 15 and February 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 manure applications. In order for application to occur during the times outlined 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 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% or more ground cover or an established cover crop on land that will receive manure. This ground cover slows runoff and promotes water infiltration, which can 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%. Of course, application setbacks are a simple and effective tool to minimize runoff risk. In most cases state guidance indicates a setback distance or 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. By all means, 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 correctly. 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 issue later.

Consider a Commercial Manure Applicator

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 you can visit the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s PAPlants website and search those that service your county by using the drop-down menu items “Manure Hauler/Broker” and “Service Area Search”. Coincidentally, certified Manure Brokers can be found at this location. This year 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 individuals certified in the program. 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 work 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.

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