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Delayed harvest has producers scrambling

December 16, 2009  By Jennifer Stewart


Delayed harvest has producers scrambling

The wet Midwestern fall and delayed
harvest has left many producers scrambling to apply manure and empty manure
storage facilities before the ground freezes.

December 10, 2009,

West Lafayette, Ind. – The wet Midwestern fall and delayed
harvest has left many producers scrambling to apply manure and empty manure
storage facilities before the ground freezes.

"The best time to apply postharvest manure is after the
soil temperature cools down, and ideally when soils are dry," said Tamilee
Nennich, Purdue Extension dairy management specialist. "Once we start
having freezing soils and snow cover, application of manure needs to stop
because of the greater potential for manure run-off. During this time it can be
especially risky."


Even before soils freeze, there are still risks with fall
manure application – especially when there is excessive soil moisture.

"The biggest concern about applying manure in the fall
is wet soils," Nennich said. "We want to make sure that manure, and
especially the nutrients in the manure, stay in the soil."

Because this fall has been so wet, Nennich said field
selection is key when producers look to apply manure.

"It's made it really challenging for producers to get
out in the fields and to actually find dry enough fields and the time to be
able to apply the manure," she said. "Producers should apply manure
in the fields that are the driest and have the best drainage. They need to make
sure not to apply manure to fields with an abundance of wet spots or where
runoff is more prevalent.

Another factor producers can look at is the nutrient value
of the soil in each field. It's better to apply manure where soil nutrient
levels, especially phosphorus, are lower.

For farmers with fields that are not suitable for manure
application right now, one option to consider is whether neighbors might have
fields better suited for application.

"Manure is expensive to haul and it's best to keep it
close to home, but farmers need to take a look at their fields," Nennich
said. "Sometimes it is better to haul it to a field that is farther away,
or, in some cases, it might be a good idea to talk to neighbors. Maybe some of
their fields would actually be better for manure application."

Once fields are selected, producers need to keep in mind the
precautions they can take to keep nutrients in the soil.

"A lot of producers inject manure," Nennich said.
"That's a great way to make sure the nutrients stay in the soil. If manure
is spread on the soil surface, it provides a lot more opportunity for nutrients
to run off. So incorporating manure instead of leaving it on the surface is
very advantageous.

"Producers also need to pay attention to buffer areas,
and if there are any sensitive areas, like low spots, avoid them. If it's
possible, leave even greater buffer distances, especially in areas with down
slopes, to try to prevent run off."

Nennich also suggests that farmers consider capping tile
drains so nutrients don't leach out through the soil and potentially end up in
surface water.

Even when field selection and the necessary precautions are
kept in mind, the time crunch to empty manure storage facilities is presenting
producers with concerns.

"It becomes a challenge because manure storage
facilities do need to be empty going into winter because oftentimes six months
of storage is needed before manure storage facilities can be emptied in the
spring," Nennich said. "If we have a wet spring it can also be
challenging to get into fields."

For farmers who have done all they can but still face
serious storage issues, there are few options available.

"The reality is that it's a tough situation because
there's not a lot that can be done about it," Nennich said. "Manure
has to be contained one way or another. So, it either needs to be applied
correctly or contained in a manure storage facility. Having a spill is
extremely serious, so we need to make sure we prevent that from

One agency that can help farmers is the Indiana Department
of Environmental Management (IDEM).

"I would encourage producers to contact IDEM in
difficult situations," Nennich said. "They have an agriculture
liaison who will be more than happy to work with producers to discuss various
options. It's definitely better to work with them to make sure they are aware
of your situation and know that you're doing the best you can to manage your
manure properly."

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