Fall manure application: Part 5 Dealing with a full pit in a wet fall

This fall we have seen quite a bit of untimely rain, making it difficult to get out into fields and empty pits. In the fifth and final podcast of the Fall manure application series, UW-Extension experts talk about strategies you can use to help with this fall.


Liz Binversie, Agriculture Educator, Brown County UW-Extension


Kevin Erb, Conservation Professional Training Coordinator, UW-Extension

Richard Halopka, Crops and Soil Agent, Clark County UW-Extension


Time: 7:19 minutes


Liz Binversie: Greetings, I’m Liz Binversie, Agriculture Educator for Brown County UW-Extension and today we’re going to talk about strategies for this fall’s manure application. With me today are Kevin Erb, Conservation Professional Training Coordinator for UW-Madison and UW-Extension, and Richard Halopka, Crops and Soils Agent for Clark County UW-Extension. Kevin and Richard, with all of the rain we’ve been getting it certainly has made it more challenging getting those pits emptied, what are your recommendations for farmers this fall?

Richard Halopka: Well, I think one of the first things that farmers need to do is to take a look at their farm. That would be the simplest solution. Review the soil test types that they have present on their farm. Select the field that might have better drainage and may have a better carrying capacity to carry the load of the weight from that equipment if it’s going to go on the field. Then from that group of fields or if those fields are not adequate you may have to look at other alternative fields on the farm that may be used. It could be a field that’s currently in a perennial crop that you may be thinking of rotating in the next year or so. Another option would be to take a look at rather than using a tanker equipment in something where you’re carrying that weight into that field, would I be able to bring in a hose drag, a custom operator, and maybe will that carry better in these fields than what we can do with this tanker type equipment? One other option or thing to consider when you’re doing this also, we have the field conditions that we want to work with but we may also have to look at altering rates of application just to get through a short time period so we don’t have that manure pit running over. One of the last points is to work with your local town officials. With some of these heavier rains, some roads may have some questionable areas on them where they may not be able to carry all the weight or all the traffic. It might be good just to talk to your local town officials when you’re working on these town roads, just in case there are some concerns. With that I’d like to pass it off to Kevin now to cover a few other options we can take a look at.

Kevin Erb: Thank you Richard. One of the things I’ve had several farmers ask me over the years is, “Well, could I add an extra foot, foot and a half, two foot of soil around the berm of my existing pit to gain myself existing storage in a wet year like this?”, and that’s really not a good idea for a number of reasons. One is that you’ve got the real potential to damage and weaken your storage structure by driving on that berm with a heavy load of soil or with a payloader or earth-moving equipment. The reason is that manure storage is engineered and designed not to let liquids through as soil is compacted. On top of that we’ve got vegetation, we’ve got topsoil, and when I put soil on top of that—especially if it’s saturated—it’s not as strong as the original structure. We do run the risk of the head pressure in the storage of manure can work its way through and actually cause a leak. Bottom line, it’s really not a good recommended practice to add additional soil around your manure storage to gain additional capacity. If we can’t add to our existing storage, what about looking for a neighbor’s manure storage? The key thing there is really looking to find one that’s well built, well designed because the last thing we want to do is to create another problem. Now, your county land and water conservation departments, NRCS, and most counties with manure storage ordinances have the engineering drawings. They’re going to be able to look it up and say, “Yeah, this was designed and it can adequately handle it” or “No, this is really designed under an old standard and it’s really not recommended”. For our smaller operations or medium-sized operations out there, a written agreement really is essential that kind of outlines who’s responsible for emptying this, who owns manure, all of those kinds of things. For the CAFOs, the large permitted farms, it gets a little more complex because under the state rules you actually have to have the DNR’s permission and that pit has to meet certain standards. If a large farm wants to use a small farm’s manure storage as a temporary measure, then that large farm has to get that small farm’s engineering drawings approved. It does take a little bit of time in order to get that done. If you don’t have the option of another manure storage, as Richard said, maybe your land isn’t suitable. Maybe a neighbor’s land is. They may have a field that’s a little bit lighter soil, a little bit drier. The key thing is to get an agreement in writing. I don’t care if a lawyer does it or if it’s done on the back of a napkin, but really spell out how much is going out there, what’s the rate, who’s responsible for the nutrient management plan, explaining the setbacks. It’s important to know if there’s certain neighbors that might get upset if manure is spread too close to their house, and then sharing information on that nutrient management plan back and forth between the agronomist is really essential. In closing here before I turn it back to Richard, I’ve seen a lot of times where farmers have asked their agronomist to sit down, work out an arrangement, and then come back to the dairy producer and the cash grain farmer, and say here’s the best way to go about this, and everybody seems to be happy with those kinds of arrangements. Richard?

Richard Halopka: Just to kind of wrap these things up: the written agreement that Kevin mentioned. I know that I do have them here in my office—just a generic example of one. Pretty much what Kevin said. Basically you can just write it out and have both people sign it. As we go 6 months, a year, down the road, there’s no disagreements. It’s very important to have that. Talk with those local officials if you’re going to be hauling in an area where, as Kevin mentioned, neighbors are not accustomed to manure hauling. It might be neighborly just to have a conversation with some of those residents. With that, hopefully going forward Mother Nature will cooperate with us and we’ll be able to get through this fall, the manure hauling season, without any real incidences or problems.

Liz Binversie: Thank you Kevin and Richard for joining us today and sharing these great recommendations. If you’d like to reach them, you can do so by email.