Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Are you listening to your manure storage?

Are you paying attention to what your storage is telling you? Although we have traditionally done most of our manure application in the fall, spring application is becoming more common. There is a variety of reasons for this, ranging from striving from better nutrient management, to labor availability, available application days in the fall, and just general storage management.

This past fall, field conditions were difficult for getting manure application finished in some parts of the state, it got rainy and stayed wet – not exactly great manure application conditions. Add to that that harvest was a bit delayed this year (which means we had lots of manure to get applied and fewer days than normal to get it all done), and we have a recipe for some fuller storages this spring. (That’s not even mentioning that soils cooled to 50-degrees later than normal and once they did they quickly dropped to freezing temperatures). Put all this together and it seems like we should be asking looking at if we have enough manure storage to make it to the fall or if we should be looking at applying some of our manure this spring while our fields are open.
It goes without saying, but one of the most important aspects of being a good environmental steward is managing your manure storage so that it doesn’t overflow. I talk and write often about the right place, right time, right method approach to nutrient management, and these concepts are important, but all the good they do can be quickly washed away if we aren’t managing our storage to prevent overflows from occurring. So what should you be looking at in your storage right now?
You should be assessing how much storage you have left available compared to the amount of manure you anticipate generating until your next application window.  Right now we are looking at somewhere around 6.5 to 7 months (26-28 weeks) until we reach our fall application window. As a rough rule of thumb I’m expecting about 1 to 1.25 inches of manure accumulation in a deep-pit swine finishing barn every week, this means that you are looking at about three feet of manure between now and early October. If you plan on making it until your soils have cooled in the fall, and you will probably be looking at closer to 3.5 feet of manure. Do you have that sort of storage space left? If not, think about using spring as a chance to do a little insurance hauling this spring to make sure we are putting our manure resources to good use now and can pick the best times in the fall too.

Unfortunately, I don’t have numbers like that for different animal species at the tips of my fingers (for lots of reasons, one being that if you build an outside storage you need to account for rainfall, but also can have different shapes to your storage), but hopefully you do. Installing a staff gauge in your manure storage (or having a way that you can accurately estimate how full the storage is) is a great way to compare year-to-year and make sure things are where you’d expect. It can also be useful for detecting a water leak, deterring if outside runoff water is entering your storage or something else funny is happening if you are not filling up at the rate you expected.