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Winter Manure Application: Look for Ways to Manage Risk

February 5, 2020


Anna-Lisa Laca

The late harvest of 2019 paired with winter’s timely arrival means a lot of farmers did not get manure on fields before snow or frost. At this point, it’s likely manure storage is filling up and farmers have to figure out somewhere to go with it. According to Cornell’s Karl Czymmek, when considering winter manure application strategies, the most important thing to keep in mind is managing risk. While state regulations vary greatly, here are three possible scenarios that could apply to your farm. 


Inject Manure: If your state regulations allow manure application of this type in the winter, and your soil is only frozen at a shallow level, manure injection is the best way to go, Czymmek says. 


“Get going earlier than you might using a shallow frozen condition to your advantage to minimize compaction but place manure below the surface is a good way to minimize runoff,” he adds. 


Apply Surface Manure Away from Water Sources: In areas that didn’t receive snow cover where soils are frozen hard, issues can arise, says Laura Klaiber a researcher with theWilliam H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute. “Fields that were well-drained prior to frost allows for manure to infiltrate the soil,” she says. “In contrast, spreading on frozen-saturated soils is prohibited because soil that froze when the soil was saturated will have an impenetrable ‘concrete frost’ barrier that prevents manure infiltration and is therefore highly likely to be lost in runoff.”Czymmek advises farmers to check with local soil and water division to see what tools are available to assess your current situation.


Some important things to keep in mind when considering a field is that it’s flat, away from surface water and has vegetated buffers to minimize runoff issues. “If we can get manure in contact with the soil and if there is plant cover like a cover crop that’s helpful,” he says. 


Borrow Storage from A Neighbor: If one of your neighbors was able to get a bunch of manure out of the fall and you weren’t, ask if they have storage they would be willing to share. “That seems crazy, but that would be better than putting manure out in questionable spaces and creating a lot of runoff,” Czymmek says. 


All in all, it’s all about managing risk, he concludes. “I think it's important to note that we're not talking about a guarantee to have no problems, we’re just looking for ways to reduce the risk,” he says. “If I have to spread, I would try to be careful about selecting the sites. Seek soil cover , get manure underground, and get it as far away from water as possible.”


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