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Serving: WI

Winter is Risky Time to Spread Manure

Farmers warned not to spread when snow is melting.

State agriculture and water quality officials urge Wisconsin livestock farmers to avoid applying manure if rain is forecast for their area or snow is melting or expected to melt.

Avoiding manure spreading when rain or snow is running off the land may prevent manure from being carried into lakes, streams and groundwater where it can cause water quality problems for producers, neighbors and local waterways. If delaying manure application is not possible, farmers should take special steps to reduce the risk of manure running off.

"Farmers are some of Wisconsin's best and most enduring stewards of our land and waters. We know that they want to do the right things, so a quick reminder serves us all," says Richard Castelnuovo, with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Data collected by Wisconsin's Discovery Farm and Pioneer Farm programs show that melting snow presents one of the riskiest conditions for manure applications in Wisconsin, according to Gordon Stevenson, who leads the Department of Natural Resources' runoff management section.

While manure runoff events are less frequent than in the recent past, most of those that do occur involve manure that had been spread on fields and ran off into nearby waters.

"Winter is a particularly risky time of the year to be land applying manure, so it's best not to spread if you have the storage and can hold off for favorable conditions," he says.

Many smaller operations may not have the storage available to avoid applications on frozen or snow covered ground. There are, however, additional steps farmers can take to minimize the risk of runoff and prevent unintended consequences for the farmers, their neighbors and local lakes and rivers.

Stevenson and Castelnuovo encourage farmers to take these steps to help minimize the risks of runoff events occurring:

• Contact your county Land Conservation District, certified agronomist or your manure hauler to help identify fields with the lowest risk of runoff under frozen or snow-covered ground conditions.

• Pay attention to weather forecasts including predicted rain and potential warming trends that could result in manure runoff; avoid spreading manure during these times if possible.

• Where possible, apply manure on fields with minimal or no snow cover. Getting manure in contact with the soil surface may be a key component to minimizing the risk of runoff.

• Minimize the potential for groundwater impacts by avoiding applications on fields with shallow soils or that have nearby wells, sinkholes or exposed bedrock.

• Be aware of field conditions at the time of application. If a particular field is covered in ice, do you have other fields that represent lower runoff risks? Do you have storage available?

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