Managing Manure to Avoid Overflow

Manure storage facilities on Wisconsin farms typically overflow in April, August, or the dead of winter. Kevin Erb, Conservation and Nutrient Management Specialist with the Division of Extension, shares steps to avoid an overflow while also staying within regulations and keeping nutrients in the field.

Managing Manure Storage

1. Take Advantage of a Window in Soil Conditions

There are pros and cons to applying manure in the spring or fall. For example, spring application can delay planting. If it’s wet, spring application can also create soil compaction, hurting yields. Fall spreading is not immune to issues, either. Fall application gives nitrogen and other nutrients time to leave the field via air or water runoff after a snow or rain event.

“It’s a balancing act,” Erb says. “It’s really good to take advantage of a window when you have ideal soil conditions. Always be prepared when that time comes and picking the right fields to go on is critical.”

2. Check Your Manure Storage

Even if you’ve done your due diligence clearing space in your manure storage facility for the winter or summer, farms may see a plugged pipe, a water break, or another issue in the barn that can fill manure storage sooner than it should.

Whether you have 50 cows or 5,000 cows, it’s recommended to walk out to your manure storage at least once a week to make sure it’s not filling up faster than you expect. Newer storage facilities have a MOL or maximum operating level marker to use as a reference.

3. Follow Application Regulations

Farms may be under multiple sets of regulations from DNR permits to local ordinances. These limit how much and where you can apply manure.

If your manure storage facility does experience a mechanical failure, you may have to take action and apply manure during a time when application is not permitted. In those cases, permitted farms need to be pre-approved by the Wisconsin DNR or follow a plan determined by your local ordinance.

If you don’t fall under application regulations, it’s recommended to avoid high-risk fields not just for environmental protection, but to retain those valuable nutrients for the crop.

“The key thing is to use common sense,” Erb says. “If you do have to spread, pick the safest fields to use, work with your agronomist, your county land and water conservation department, and refer to your nutrient management plan. We can all take steps to improve profitability and protect the environment.”

Reach out to a Rural Mutual agent to be make sure your farm is protected through all of Wisconsin’s seasons.