Remember that your CAFO permit requires you to have (and document) a minimum of 6 months’ storage capacity sometime between November 1 and December 31. That is so that you don’t have to spread manure during the winter months. Many farms are using winter spreading as a tool for getting manure out to crop fields through the year; however this should be done cautiously.
Some farmers have been getting pushback on this practice from the DEQ. With the algae bloom in Lake Erie that resulted in the city of Toledo not having drinking water for a couple of days this summer, I expect the pressure on agriculture to limit winter spreading to grow stronger. I also know the Manure and Nutrient Management GAAMPs task force has been asked to look into the latest research on winter spreading to ensure that the best practices are still followed in Michigan. But like many of the tools that farmers have in their toolboxes, we are finding that if they are used improperly or without the proper safeguards, the tools can become ineffective or can cause more problems further down the line.
Winter spreading of manure is a tool that we can use, but we have to make sure that the situation is right and that the potential risks are worth the reward. Contact us to help you determine which fields are more appropriate for winter spreading. In Michigan we have a checklist/tool that allows us to determine fields that have a lower risk for manure runoff. The MARI (Manure Application Risk Index) takes into account various factors that would help to mitigate nutrient runoff during the winter. These are things like field slope, soil type, manure application rate and crop residue. Most of these things are fairly obvious when it comes to keeping manure in the root-zone. Steeper slopes mean more runoff, higher manure application rates mean higher potential for runoff, and a field with very little crop residue is more likely to let runoff happen as opposed to a field with lots of crop residue.
Think back to your own fields this past winter. How do you think your fields fared? Did the manure you applied in the fall stay put? How about the manure you applied during the winter? Were the manure nutrients still there when your crops needed them? That is the key. If not, now is the time to reassess your practices last spring and fall to try and figure out why. Give us a call to help you develop a plan for next year.