Minimize negative impacts of winter manure spreading

Farmers can make management decisions to protect water resources while spreading manure this winter.

Livestock farmers face many challenges. One of the most daunting is deciding where to apply manure during the winter months. Rumors and fears about winter spreading bans have been circulating for years. The major concern with winter application of manure is losing manure nutrients in surface runoff from fields. Michigan State University Extension encourages farmers to be aware of different tools and practices that can minimize potentially negative effects associated with winter manure application, especially those that farm in priority watersheds such as the Western Lake Erie Basin and Saginaw Bay watersheds.

A conservation practice that farmers can implement to minimize manure runoff while capturing manure nutrients is to spread on fields that have a cover crop. Cover crops can capture and hold onto the manure so that it is less likely to leave the field. This practice may decrease the risk of manure nutrients running off into surface waters or leaching through field tiles. Cover crops can uptake the manure nutrients in the spring for an early growth. This not only means healthier plants but it also decreases the likelihood of nitrogen leaching through the soil and getting into groundwater. Another benefit may be an increase in biomass production, which equates to an increase in organic matter. Cover crops can improve soil health and less fertilizer may be needed for crop production.

If you would like to learn more about cover crops, the Midwest Cover Crops Council (MCCC) is holding its annual business meeting followed by a one-day conference this year in Michigan. The MCCC conference will be held on March 15, 2017 at the Crowne Plaza 5700 28th Street SE. Grand Rapids, MI 49546. The MCCC business meeting will precede the conference on March 14. Event details are available here. This event is an opportunity for farmers, researchers, educators, agency personnel, NGOs and agribusiness to learn from one another about the latest information in successful cover cropping. Michigan State University Extension is hosting the meeting and conference. The theme of this year’s conference is “Making Cover Crops Work - Experiences from the Field.” In addition to joint sessions on cover crop termination and inter-seeding of cover crops, three concurrent sessions will feature cover crop use in field crops, vegetable crops and forage/grazing systems. CCA and RUP credits are pending. Exhibitors providing cover crop and other ag-related services will be present. Register on the MCCC annual meeting page.

A new tool is in the toolbox for Michigan livestock producers to use when making decisions on when and where to spread manure. The MSU EnviroImpact Tool is part of the Michigan Manure Management Advisory System that was been developed through a partnership between National Weather Service/NOAA, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP), Michigan State University (MSU) Institute of Water Research, Michigan Sea Grant and MSU Extension. The MSU EnviroImpact Tool provides maps showing short-term runoff risks for daily manure application planning purposes; taking into account factors including precipitation, temperature, soil moisture and landscape characteristics. Anyone that is handling and applying livestock manure in Michigan can use this tool to determine how risky it will be spread manure on their fields.

The MSU EnviroImpact Tool is currently under development and will be available soon. Livestock producers, manure applicators and others are encouraged to preview the tool and provide feedback. If you interested in accessing the tool and providing feedback, please contact either Shelby Burlew, MSU Extension, at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or Jason Piwarski, MSU Institute of Water Research, at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) for access to the tool’s website.            

For more information on which cover crops will be the best for your farm and practices that will help protect water quality contact Christina Curell, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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