Monday, October 6, 2014

Preparing for Fall Manure Application

It seems another fall has arrived, and with it another crop harvest. Though this time of year is busy with numerous activities, it is also one of our primary manure application periods. To make sure you are ready, begin preparing for manure application now. This will allow you to streamline the process and helps insure proper nutrient application rates. To ensure you are getting the most from your manure resources we have the following tips:

Collect a representative manure sample and submit it to a certified lab for analysis of major crop nutrients. Taking manure samples prior to land application provides nutrient analysis results for planning application rates and is recommended if applying at a nitrogen limited rate; sampling during application can be used to determine the actual amount of nutrient applied. Use your nutrient analysis results to determine the appropriate application rates for each field based on the nutrient needs and current soil conditions.

Prior to beginning land application, review your manure or nutrient management plan and make necessary updates. In particular, pay attention to the application methods and separation distances specified for each field. Review these with your employees and/or commercial manure applicators. Know and follow land application separation distances from neighbors, public use areas, and water sources. Map these out on aerial photographs of your fields, clearly designating areas of potential concern, special features, and areas to avoid when applying manure. Train your employees and commercial applicators to read the maps and stay clear of the designated areas. Check to be sure your (and your employees) manure applicator certification license is current. If you find your license has expired contact your local ISU Extension office to schedule an appointment to attend training. If you are not sure of your current applicator certification status contact the DNR Licensing Bureau at 515-281-5918.

Inspect your manure handling and application equipment. Make sure it will be ready and function correctly. Replace or repair anything that needs to be fixed to prevent leaks and spills. Don’t forget to check your safety lights and the slow moving vehicles signs as well. Repeat these checks daily throughout your manure application season. Take the time to calibrate the equipment so you know what you are applying. Would you be satisfied if a co-op did not know how much nutrient they were applying? Of course not, treat manure the same way. Calibrating may take a little time, but the effort will increase your ability to take advantage of your manure resources. With ammonia rich manures, try to delay application until soil temperatures are 50°F and cooling. By waiting for cooler soil temperatures, the applied ammonia will have a better chance of being retained in the soil and benefit crops next spring.

Do you have your emergency action plan ready? There are no simple solutions for manure spills, but thinking through your specific situation and having a plan in place minimizes the environmental and safety risks. Check over your existing emergency action plan, update it, and review it will all your employees to make sure they are ready to respond if the need arises. If you are hiring a custom applicator, ask to see their emergency action plan and make sure it is appropriate for your farm. Keep lists of important phone numbers and contact information for excavators, neighbors who can help, DNR field offices, and emergency response units up-to-day and posted where everyone can find them. Manure spills happen; being prepared to respond to them will help protect water quality. Similarly review your biosecurity protocols. Manure can serve as a transport vector for many animal diseases including PEDv. Good biosecurity is not supposed to be easy, it will be inconvenient, but it’s worth it. Communication with your application crew about biosecurity practices both prior to and during the manure application is key. Beforehand make it clear what your biosecurity expectations are and learn about the precautions they are taking. During application, maintain a line of separation and offer a water source away from the barn for equipment clean-up. Follow-up afterwards about what worked, what didn’t, and how to improve biosecurity the following year.

The number one complaint about manure application is the odor. Work with your neighbors to let them know about your manure application plans. If possible tell them how long it might take, how long you plan to apply the manure, and how long they might expect to smell the manure. Inquire about any outdoor events in the neighborhood and try to avoid applying during or just prior to these activities. This might seem like a lot of effort, but in many cases an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Finally and most importantly, be safe. Fall is a busy time of year, often leading to long hours and rushing to get things done. Take the time to get some rest, take breaks, and slow down. Happy hauling and be safe. 

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