Spreading manure on farm fields from now until the ground thaws comes with a very high risk of runoff, warns Dennis Frame, co-director of the University of Wisconsin-Discovery Farms Program.

Studies from Discovery Farms cooperating farms indicate that manure applied to snow-covered and/or frozen soils during conditions of snowmelt or rain can contribute the majority of the annual nutrient losses, says Frame.

He lists these recommendations for reducing the risk of manure runoff as temperatures moderate:

  1. Livestock producers who must haul manure from their barns should stack it in areas where the potential for runoff or groundwater infiltration is low.
  2. Farmers who daily haul manure should work with their local conservation departments to identify safe stacking sites that have minimal potential to run off into surface or groundwater.
  3. Those with bedded-pack systems need to be cautious about spreading the manure during this high-risk period. Cleaning lots and getting the manure on the fields before the frost goes out can greatly increase the potential for nutrient losses.
  4. Producers who must haul manure during this high-risk period should identify fields that are away from streams or lakes and have minimal risk of manure running to surface or groundwater.

“We are saying that there is a high potential for manure runoff this year based on the current field conditions and typical weather patterns,” says Frame. “This doesn’t mean it will happen. If temperatures rise slowly, cloudy days or the lack of rain can greatly reduce the chance of runoff. Producers need to listen to the weather forecast and make good management decisions. Good decisions can reduce the risk of runoff events and continue to protect our farms and our water.”

For more information about manure runoff or UW-Discovery Farms, visit www.uwdiscoveryfarms.org.