Spring manure application and emergency action plans

An alert from: Cornell CALS PRO-DAIRY, Northeast Dairy Producers Association and New York Farm Bureau

A chronically wet fall and extended winter weather have created challenges for manure application and some farms may be facing manure storages that are approaching the full level. Marginal field conditions may call on all your decision-making skills to manage runoff risk. If your storage is or could be in this situation in the coming weeks where you may need to spread manure, work with your planner to revise your emergency spreading plan to identify fields with lowest risk in current conditions. Recognize that risks may be higher than normal across many fields.


Review the Revised Winter and Wet Weather Manure Spreading Guidelines.

  1. Look for options to spreading: can manure be transferred to a satellite storage or to a neighbor’s storage?
  2. Some low-risk fields may have been spread earlier this winter. If these are among the safest fields, such as no history of runoff problems, a second application may be better than shifting to a higher risk field.
  3. Use parts of fields that may be lower risk: farther from streams or other water sources.
  4. In many cases, fields with corn stalks, cover crops or hay crop residue should be lower risk than those with corn silage stubble.
  5. Mixing manure with soil reduces runoff risk, so inject or incorporate manure where practical.
  6. Consider tilling border areas where manure will be applied to catch manure if it moves.
  7. Increase setback distances from streams, reduce application rates where necessary.
  8. Where possible, avoid fields with surface inlets, or maintain significant setbacks from them.
  9. If soils are not frozen, top of slope areas should be lower risk than areas at the bottom of a slope that are near a stream or ditch.
  10. Avoid application in concentrated flow areas where water typically flows when runoff occurs.
  11. Avoid fields with sinkholes, shallow soils or depressions unless manure can be injected or incorporated.
  12. If spreading is necessary, let your DEC inspector know that you are activating your emergency application plan.
  13. Be sure to observe results and note where adjustments should be made to get better results in the future.
  14. Remember, during emergency situations, if applying above the single application rate of 20,000 gallons/acre is necessary to prevent, or respond to, an overflow or discharge from manure storage, you must verbally report to DEC within 24 hours and within 5 days in writing. The same reporting requirements hold for discharges to waters of the State and overtopping of a manure storage. Manure applications that exceed the annual plan rate (like a second application on a field) need to be reported to DEC in the annual compliance report.

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