Crops, environment benefit from proper application of livestock manure on harvested fields

Contact: Forrest Peterson, 320-441-6972

Fall is a busy time for farmers, and not only for the crop harvest. Livestock producers will be applying billions of gallons or pounds of stored manure to fertilize next year’s crop.

Just as it is important to plant and harvest crops correctly, manure application also requires proper techniques to get the most value from fertilizer and avoid polluting waters with runoff. Details are available on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's (MPCA) Feedlot nutrient and manure management webpage.

Years ago, at small, diversified farms, farmers used small tractors and wagons to spread solid manure after harvest. Today, the bulk of livestock manure — much in liquid form — comes from large operations. 

MPCA feedlot program officials encourage livestock farmers and manure applicators to check their equipment, review manure application rates, and be aware of nearby sensitive land and water features.

As with all aspects of farming, weather is a major factor — not only for land-applying manure, but also for open manure-storage basins. With the recent history of above-average rainfall, livestock producers using basins are encouraged to keep an eye on levels and prevent overflows. 

The MPCA advises listening to the weather forecast and avoid applications just prior to predicted rain. Reduce application rates if field and weather conditions are not ideal.

Farmers who apply manure during winter should review their manure management plan now to determine which fields are the most suitable to receive winter applications. If frozen soil prevents incorporating manure, a 300-foot setback from sensitive features is required. Fields for winter application should be level, distant from sensitive features, and have crop residue. Avoid spreading when furrows contain ice or snow. 

Avoid spreading manure during March and February when snowmelt or rain runoff can occur while the ground is still frozen. Wisconsin Discovery Farm’s field scale research has determined that manure applied during March and February has highest chance of runoff.

The following practices will help lead to a successful fall manure application season:

  • Check equipment for broken hoses, loose connections, leaking valves and gaskets.
  • Avoid damage to manure storage areas; agitate and pump only at designated areas.
  • Observe sensitive features in fields and any within 300 feet of field borders. Those requiring a setback include: Lakes, rivers, intermittent and perennial streams, sinkholes, drainage ditches with side inlets or without berms, and open tile inlets. All manure applications within 300 feet of a sensitive feature must be incorporated within 24 hours and before rainfall.
  • Review manure application rates. Follow University of Minnesota-Extension Service agronomic recommendations for calculating manure rates and nutrient needs. Guidelines are available on the U of M Extension Service website.
  • Wait to apply manure on coarse-textured soils until soil temperature drops below 50 degrees. Using a nitrogen inhibitor can reduce nitrogen losses on early applications.

Be prepared for mishaps. If a spill or equipment failure should occur:

  • Be sure all personnel are safe.
  • Stop the spill: Close a valve, drive a vehicle onto a drag line hose, or turn off a pump.
  • Use tillage to slow spill movement toward sensitive features in fields, build dirt berms, or use hay, straw or corn stalk bales to absorb the spill.
  • Plug culverts and open tile intakes.
  • Call for help, such as a septic tank pump truck to recover the spill.
  • Review your emergency response plan. A planning sheet can be found on the Feedlot permit information forms webpage.
  • For all spills, call the Minnesota Duty Officer at 800-627-3529.