Somerset—What are some of the signs of spring? Common answers include the return of robins, the increased length of daylight, and the emergence of green grass and flowers. Along with these, one definite sign of spring is the application of manure on farm fields.
Tanks of liquid manure have been slowly filling over the winter months. Pens of bedded pack manure have been building and are ready to be cleaned. Because the ground is no longer snow-covered or frozen, and (hopefully by the time you are reading this) the mud has dried, spring is an excellent time for manure spreading.
What are the restrictions and where are they located? The Manure Management Manual uses the term Environmentally Sensitive Areas. As I have discussed in previous articles, most manure management issues are actually water quality issues. Therefore, it is not surprising that the most environmentally sensitive areas include water bodies and water sources. As a result, extra precautions need to be observed when applying manure near these areas..
For surface water such as streams, lakes, and ponds the standard manure setback distance is 100 feet. That distance is measured from the top of the bank.
That distance can be reduced to 50 feet if all of the following conditions are met:
— a recent soil test (taken within the past 3 years) shows that phosphorus levels are not in the excessive range
— no-till planting practices are used
— a cover crop is planted on the field
The setback distance from surface water can be reduced to 35 feet if a permanent vegetated buffer is maintained along the water body. This can be a set-aside, wildlife habitat type of buffer or it can be a harvested buffer such as a permanent hay strip.
For manure applied during the winter season, the setback from lakes, ponds, and streams is 100 feet, period.
For an existing open sinkhole, there is a 100 feet manure setback.
Drinking water sources require special attention. There is a 100 feet setback for wells or springs that are used for private drinking water. There is a 100 foot setback for wells or springs that are used for public drinking water. Note that some municipalities or water companies may have longer setback restrictions.
Keep in mind that these setback distances are the minimum. It is OK to use longer distances if there is a higher potential for manure runoff.
How do producers reach their crop yield goals in areas where manure cannot be applied? It is important to note that the Manure Management Manual does not restrict fertilizer applications in these areas.
Communication is very important. We know where our farm wells are. We probably know where our neighbor's well is located. What about those rented fields and the neighbors adjacent to them? If we do not know the location of those water sources, we need to take the time and find out.
It is not enough for the farm owner to know this information. Often times, several people are involved in the manure application process. Whether it is a regular employee, a custom hauler, or a family member helping during this hectic time, it is crucial for this information to get to the person on the truck or tractor.
Spring is certainly a busy time of year on farms, and manure application is one of the reasons for this. With some advance planning and some extra precautions near environmentally sensitive areas, producers can use manure nutrients to help reach yield goals and also maintain good quality surface water and groundwater.
If you want to discuss this subject in more detail or discuss a specific situation on your operation, please contact me.
Somerset Conservation District
814-445-4652 ext. 5
The Manure Management Manual can be viewed online at the following: www.elibrary.dep.state.pa.us/dsweb/Get/Document-86014/361-0300-002%20combined.pdf
(To learn more about the Somerset Conservation District, visit www.somersetcd.org.)