Emergency response to manure spills – Are you prepared? Part 1

With spring-like weather finally arriving in most parts of Michigan, livestock producers are looking to get in the field to spread manure before planting season arrives.

There are no simple solutions to a manure spill, but thinking through your specific situation, and monitoring daily can help prevent, or at least minimize, the environmental risks and potential regulatory issues. Due to the long, harsh winter in addition to a late starting spring livestock producers are quickly realizing that there may be a shorter than normal window to spread manure prior to planting. Michigan State University Extension recommends that all farms have an emergency response plan in place to deal with potential manure spills this spring. It is important to discuss the emergency plan, location of the emergency phone list and the expected responses with the entire farm crew.

Writing down your emergency response plan will help you respond quickly and effectively in the case of a manure spill. Essentially, if a plan has been written down on paper and shared appropriately,  the custom applicator crews or farm employees are more apt to remember it and use it in the case of a manure spill. Also, a written emergency response plan demonstrates responsible preparation to state agency staff (MDARD and MDEQ) and may reduce the cost of remediation and clean-up. There are three important components to an emergency response plan: emergency contact list, plan of action and site maps.

Emergency Contact List

It is important to write down the emergency phone numbers in the order that they should be called. For example, you may need to contact the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) Agriculture Pollution Emergency Hot Line  at 800-405-0101, your county sheriff or local police, neighbors, backhoe contractors, EMS, county engineers, county road commission and drain commission and commercial applicators. Be sure to consider including contacts necessary to obtain permission to enter the neighboring property to contain a manure spill or notification of downstream water users. Include your own farm information on this contact list and post the information at each livestock facility site, the office, the owner or manager’s place of residence and frequently used vehicles or tractors. Cell phones are also a great tool for storing emergency contacts – just make sure that all of the information is updated on a regular basis.

Plan of Action

The plan of action details the necessary procedures to control, contain and clean-up a manure spill. In order to effectively react to different manure spill situations, you will need to plan for each of these specific situations. Consider planning for spills that may occur on the farmstead or production site, en route to the manure application site or in the field during application. For example, an emergency response for a ruptured pipe at headquarters may be different than the response to a manure spill on the roadway. Part 2 of this MSU Extension News article series will go in depth on the Four C’s of Manure Spill Response.

Site Maps

The last component for an emergency response plan is to include sketched site maps of livestock facility locations, surrounding areas within a one mile radius of the facility and each field on which manure is applied. Aerial photos work well as a base for field maps and should available at your local United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Service Center or available on-line through the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Web Soil Survey. Field maps should pinpoint manure application setback distances and any designated public use areas, watercourses, property boundaries, field access roads and gates. The following are things to consider marking on any of your site maps: buildings and fixed equipment, catch basins, electrical service boxes, manure storage structures and pump-out ports, valves, pumps, etc., open drains, slope direction and drainage patterns, tile intakes, tile outlets, water main connections and shut-off valves and water wells (include abandoned/unused). It is also a good idea to include directions to get to the field from the livestock facility written or typed on each field map.

For more information, emergency plan templates can be found on the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program website.