To Manage Fall Manure Application Carefully

On September 28, 2019

To Manage Fall Manure Application Carefully

As the fall manure application season gets rolling in full swing, extension agronomist Rob Meinen reminds us important priorities are to keep your nutrients on site and assure all workers remain safe through the hauling season.

It is important start off by looking ahead. Considerations for spring manure handling should begin now. Manure applications in the coming weeks will help to determine storage capacity later should winter weather linger longer than expected. Smart, well-planned application in the fall may prevent hurried, stressful application in the spring during weather and soil conditions that present high risk of nutrient loss.

Every producer should be aware of storage capacity both in volume and in time, for both liquid and solid manures. Know the months or weeks that it takes to fill your storage. Safe planning should allow manure to accumulate without removal to the field until the end of March, or longer. To accomplish this consider emptying the storage this fall. For liquid storages, accumulation of solids can rob you of precious storage space and time. If solid buildup currently exists in your storage make efforts to agitate and remove it. Routinely monitor and record your storage depth.
Fall and winter are seasons when prioritizing manure application location is critical. It is best to place the nutrients on (or in) the soil where they will remain until plant uptake. Ideal lands are ones that have a crop that will grow through the fall such as hay or an established cover crop. Ground cover is important. Crop residue or growing plants should cover 25% or more of the soil surface. The residue helps to hold nutrients, prevent runoff and erosion, and increases infiltration.

Winter is right around the corner. Concerning manure application winter is defined as 1) calendar dates between December 15 and February 28, or 2) ground is frozen 4 inches or deeper, or 3) any amount of snow is on the field. Risk is elevated when soil is snow-covered, frozen or saturated. Care should be exercised. Every field that receives winter manure application is required to be identified in a nutrient or manure management plan. These identified fields must contain proper groundcover of 25% or more. Setback distances from surface waters and wells are 100 feet in the winter, unless the farm’s plan specifically allows closer application.

Please think of the task ahead not as manure application, but rather as manure nutrient placement. If you place the nutrients at a location and in a manner where it will stay until it can be taken up by the desired crop. If the nutrient moves, then the effort did not meet agronomic and environmental goals. If you know nutrients move after placement then a management change is needed. This is an area where experience with your land can pay off. Honest evaluation of historical occurrences on the land through dormant months will help identify areas within fields or entire fields where runoff risk is greater. These may be very small areas such as a swale or steep hillside. Challenge yourself to keep every precious manure nutrient component where you place it.
Always pay attention to safety. It is everyone’s responsibility to assure the safety of workers, visitors, livestock, and especially children. Remember that complacency kills. An unseen danger exists when gases are released from manure. The gas of largest concern is hydrogen sulfide, which can be deadly at modest concentrations. However, any gas can be deadly if it displaces oxygen. Risk of gas exposure is greatly increased when manure is agitated or moved. Both liquid and solid manures can release gases at hazardous levels.

It is highly recommended that manure handlers wear a gas monitor. These monitors will give an alarm when dangerous gas levels are reached. Monitors can be purchased or rented. Pay attention to your body and move to fresh air at the slightest sign of gas exposure. We call these triggers Body Alarms and they include respiratory discomfort, headaches, dizziness, loss of motor skills, anxiety, and severe irritation of throat or eyes. Shut down agitation processes if exposure is suspected and move immediately to fresh air. By all means avoid confined spaces, but keep in mind that many exposure incidents occur at outdoor, open-air storages. Have a safe application season.

Manure Dragline Disc Injection System, Photo: Leon Ressler, PSU

To Clean The Combine To Prevent Weed Seed Distribution

Combines are one mechanism for the spread of herbicide-resistant seeds from one field to another; thorough cleaning and knowledge of the combine’s prior use can prevent the introduction of new herbicide-resistant weeds to your fields.

In recent years emergence of Palmer Amaranth and waterhemp as herbicide-resistant weeds are gaining ground in Pennsylvania. Extension Agronomist Bill Curran has mentioned fields in Southeastern PA in which a heavy infestation of herbicide-resistant waterhemp could be seen growing in clear rows throughout the field. How could such a weed growth pattern happen? In this case, a combine harvest in another field last season helped introduce and distribute the seeds. If the weeds are growing in defined tracks, that could indicate that the seeds have landed there from a combine that had the weed seeds riding on it from a previous harvest in an infested field.
Pigweed seeds are very small and can hide in tight areas of the combine. Since a single plant can contain upwards of 500,000 seeds, the introduction of even a few seeds can spark a serious and costly infestation.

Steps can be taken to help ensure that herbicide-resistant weed seeds, such as Palmer Amaranth and waterhemp, are not spread to new fields via the combine. One step in prevention is to harvest herbicide-resistant weed-infested fields last. Know whether the combine entering the field has recently been in a field containing herbicide-resistant weeds such as waterhemp or Palmer Amaranth. If so, take the time needed to clean it or consider other available options. Herbicide-resistant pigweeds were introduced to Pennsylvania through transportation from other areas such as the Midwest and southeast where populations are more abundant. Therefore, when purchasing a used combine from out of state or from a county in PA with known Palmer and waterhemp populations, take the necessary time to completely clean the combine before use.

Utilize an air compressor to remove the bulk of the weed seeds from the combine. Then check the rock trap, as weed seeds and debris may be caught here. Drop the rock trap and blow it out with the air compressor between fields. Open trapdoors to clean the grain auger and tailings processor with an air compressor. On a rainy day, consider a thorough 4-5 hour combine cleaning as a rainy day activity. Since weed seeds can also travel on tillage equipment, clean this equipment after infested fields as well.

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