By Christina Currell, Educator
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 also take up the manure nutrients in the spring for an early growth. This not only means healthier plants, but it also decreases the likelihood of nitrogen (N) 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.
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 provides maps showing short-term runoff risks for daily manure application planning purposes, taking into account factors such as 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or Jason Piwarski, MSUInstitute of Water Research, at email@example.com 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, firstname.lastname@example.org.