DATCP: Farmers Urged to Avoid Manure Spreading if Rain or Melting Snow Likely


Contact:  Jane H. Larson, (608) 224-5005, DATCP Public Information
          Gordon Stevenson, (608) 267-2759, DNR Runoff Management

MADISON – With rain and warmer temperatures ahead, state agriculture and water quality officials urge livestock farmers to avoid applying manure if rain is forecast or snow is melting or expected to melt.

Avoiding manure spreading when rain or snow is running off the land may prevent manure from being carried into lakes, streams and groundwater where it can cause water quality problems for producers, neighbors and local waterways. If delaying manure application is not possible, farmers should take special steps to reduce the risk of manure running off.

“Farmers are some of Wisconsin’s best and most enduring stewards of our land and waters. We know that they want to do the right things, so a quick reminder serves us all,” says Richard Castelnuovo, with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Data collected by Wisconsin’s Discovery Farm and Pioneer Farm programs show that melting snow presents one of the riskiest conditions for manure applications in Wisconsin, according to Gordon Stevenson, who leads the Department of Natural Resources’ runoff management section.

In March 2005, DNR documented 20 manure-related incidents, the vast majority of them involving manure that had been spread on fields and ran off into nearby waters. The incidents polluted lakes and rivers, contaminated drinking water wells, and caused fish kills in Lafayette and Vernon counties, Stevenson says. 

“Winter is a particularly risky time of the year to be land applying manure, so it’s best not to spread if you have the storage and can hold off for favorable conditions,” he says.

Many smaller operations may not have the storage available to avoid applications on frozen or snow covered ground. There are, however, additional steps farmers can take to minimize the risk of runoff and prevent unintended consequences for the farmers, their neighbors and local lakes and rivers.

Stevenson and Castelnuovo encourage farmers to take these steps to help minimize the risks of runoff events occurring:

    • Contact your county Land Conservation District, certified agronomist or your manure hauler to help identify fields with the lowest risk of runoff under frozen or snow-covered ground conditions.

    • Pay attention to weather forecasts including predicted rain and potential warming trends that could result in manure runoff; avoid spreading manure during these times if possible.

    • Where possible, apply manure on fields with minimal or no snow cover.  Getting manure in contact with the soil surface may be a key component to minimizing the risk of runoff.

    • Minimize the potential for groundwater impacts by avoiding applications on fields with shallow soils or that have nearby wells, sinkholes or exposed bedrock.

    • Be aware of field conditions at the time of application.  If a particular field is covered in ice, do you have other fields that represent lower runoff risks? Do you have storage available?

    • If possible, work the manure into the soil provided the soil is not frozen and it can be done properly and you are still able to comply with your conservation plan.

Even if operators follow these precautions, runoff events may still occur, Stevenson says.  Once that happens, the key is to minimize the impacts. “Immediately report runoff events to DNR using the 24-hour spill hotline: 1-800-943-0003,” he says. “Not only are operators legally required to report such events, but we have staff who are trained and experienced in taking measures that can reduce impacts to water quality.”

Farmers should also have an emergency plan in place to address such instances, Stevenson says. Knowing the equipment you have and who to contact can help to avoid serious water quality impacts. In some cases, by working together, the farmer, DNR, DATCP and county staff have been able to avoid serious water quality impacts.