The Basics of Manure Management Planning

Published on Thu, 02/21/2019 - 2:39pm

 The Basics of Manure Management Planning

 By Jaclyn Krymowski for American Dairymen

Environmental concerns and regulations grow more pressing for agriculture each day. In the public, government, and industry sectors manure handling (and lack thereof) are frequently talked about. A single accident can cause a fortune in legal fees and pull a farm under at lightning speed. Think about the last time you saw a manure spill making headlines, simultaneously projecting a poor image of modern animal agriculture. With a few steps of prevention, such nightmares can be very avoidable.

Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are required by law to have a detailed and official manure management plan (MMP) in place. In certain states, the law already requires any operation that spreads, produces or moves manure have one. There is a lot of speculation that this will eventually become the norm nationwide.
Some farm managers may be mistaken that because they don’t currently meet requirements to reach legal CAFO status, they don’t need to be as concerned about having as stringent an MMP in place. Regardless of your dairy’s size and management system, an MMP has a place on every farm.

What exactly is an MMP?
According to a factsheet from Penn State, “Manure Management Plans include contact information and general information about the farm... identif(ies) manure and fertilizer application rates for each crop group, manure application setbacks from environmentally sensitive areas, and requirements for winter application.”
An official MMP also includes farm maps which identifies fields, acreage, watersheds, manure storage areas and more, along with detailed records of manure application and handling. You will need to keep your manure storage system up to date and account for any pastures also holding manure.
There are a few different aspects and applications of the MMP at various levels on your farm. These include applying and spreading manure, manure storage, runoff control and water protection. Areas in which these are relevant include the barn and dry lots, outdoor access and pastures. You will have to consider all these aspects whether you are handling manure solids, slurry, liquid or all of the above.
Because manure management recommendations and requirements vary state by state, be sure to be familiar with your state’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). Your extension offices and universities are full of great resources and information to help you develop and implement an MMP.

Manure application
It is in a farm’s best interest to get soil and nutrient test results before any application is ever done. This can help you pinpoint exactly what you are taking out and putting into your acreage. You are probably familiar with rotating hauling manure with your planting and harvesting schedule. Hopefully, you are able to set up your storage so that you will not have to spread in the winter. If this is not possible, and at times it is not, extreme caution will be necessary to avoid runoff when things melt.
If you are spreading solids be aware that the spreader needs regular calibration. These can be most difficult to calibrate and apply uniformly in the winter.

Low Disturbance Manure Application
Much like conservation tillage practices, the goal of low disturbance manure application is to minimize the physical disturbance of the soil.  Unlike traditional applications, where the manure is incorporated by cultivating the land, low disturbance manure applications either consist of broadcasting or surface application. However, surface application is susceptible to nutrient loss through surface runoff. Therefore, it is recommended that transitioning producers, who have yet to establish the full benefits of improved soil infiltration, try manure injection, a new technique that injects the manure directly into the soil. This method helps reduce the risk of nutrient loss through surface runoff; however, it does disrupt the soil more than surface application. Fox Demo Farms is working with producers to identify which of these practices is best suited for northeast Wisconsin.  Manure injection is a low-disturbance system which places all of the manure below the soil surface, so it offers the same benefits of incorporation, without the harmful effects of tillage-based practices.

There are a variety of enclosures appropriate for storing all forms of manure. This includes walled enclosures, lagoons, above-ground tanks and underground pits beneath floor slats. Official legal MMPs require a minimum of 60 days storage capacity. For liquid manure, you will also need to account for extra inches of space in case of an unusual rainfall event to avoid overflow. Check with the storage requirements set by your state’s NRCS to be sure yours are up to date.

Lots and runoff
If you have either dry or concrete lots, you will need to have an appropriate runoff basin to avoid seepage and contamination. This is why having a runoff basin to catch excess liquids is often necessary to have at the low end of concrete lots. These to, should also account some extra space to account for excessive rainfall that could cause an overflow.
Another thing to keep in mind is the sometimes-overlooked dangers of silage fluid leachage and run off. Be very mindful of where you are storing silage bags and bunkers. Water sources, slopes and ditches should all be avoided. Silage leachage can be just as detrimental to water sources as manure spillage and can also cause significant damage to the soil.

Protecting watersheds and streamlines
The USDA-NRCS requires a minimum setback from water sources when manure is applied. The this can be a vegetative barrier of 35-feet. If possible 100-feet is preferred and, in some cases, necessary, especially where there is lack of vegetation. In the winter for snow and ice-covered areas this setback is moved to 200-feet.
Water sources, included ground wells, ponds and streams must be clearly marked on the accompanying MMP map. For obvious reasons, your manure storage facilities must be away from these areas to avoid spillage and contamination.
Purdue University has developed a software to help create official MMP plans, this can be used in conjunction with mapping software offered by the University of Missouri. This program is used by operations across the states and accounts for all the legal requirements of manure management to be addressed. If you are required by law to have an official MMP in place, it may be beneficial to seek consultation as you develop and review your plan. While it certainly isn’t the most enjoyable task you’ll ever do for your farm, a little work now could be the difference between a pleasant relationship with the NRCS and an unwanted phone call when a spill is traced back to your operation.