Forward Farmer: On Frozen Ground

Cover Crops in the Snow

In Wisconsin the harvest is wrapping up, but a farmer’s job doesn’t stop when the crops come off. Milking, feeding and caring for animals is a constant, regardless of the season. This also means manure to manage and store.

Nutrient cycle, interrupted

During the spring and fall, when farmers spread manure on thawed ground, they kickstart an important nutrient cycle that makes phosphorus and nitrogen available to feed local corn and soy crops. In the winter, however, as ground freezes, this cycle is interrupted. Because the soil is frozen, a winter rain or a sunny day could easily carry phosphorus and nitrogen into nearby streams. This means farmers shift from manure spreading to manure storage.

The Dane County Land & Water Resources Department assists producers throughout the winter and regulates the spreading of pumpable liquid manure on frozen ground to ensure the health of our lakes, streams and waterways. They work with producers to develop spreading restriction maps that designate where the manure can and cannot be spread and educate farmers on spreading options that align with the farmer’s needs. As part of this process, farmers are required to obtain one or more manure management permits.

Manure Management Permits

In order to regulate the construction and maintenance of manure storage facilities and liquid manure application, Dane County requires farmers to obtain two permits. Applications for permits are reviewed to make sure they meet all requirements.

Each application for a Manure Storage Facility Permit must include:

  • Management assessment
  • Site assessment
  • Facility design, construction plan and maintenance plan
  • Nutrient management plan
  • Description of all land that manure is applied to

In order to spread liquid manure in the winter, the landowner has to implement at least one of the following conservation practices:

  • Install a grass buffer strip along a stream, drainage ditch or lake
  • Install a grass buffer strip in a field
  • Install a contour strip
  • Employ contour farming practices and leave all residues on the surface
  • Employ no-till farming practices
  • Create and maintain terraces
  • Chisel plow prior to ground freeze

The Dane County Board of Supervisors requires farmers to avoid spreading during risky conditions, like wet or melting snow or sheeted ice. They also require farmers to avoid spreading on risky areas; for example, spreading on land with more than a 12% grade is prohibited.

In the winter, farmers must heed these requirements while also balancing other considerations to keep their farm up and running. They must consider: When will I have the land and labor available to spread? Will I run out of space to store manure before the ground thaws? If I run out of space, how much will it cost to find alternative manure storage?

Considerations like these complicate the puzzle of winter manure management in the Yahara watershed. Clean Lakes Alliance is working with Dane County and partners like Yahara Pride Farms to build our community’s capacity to manage manure, including tools and techniques like community digesters and windrow manure composting.

Winter manure management: Quick stats

In 2015, LCD staff helped 1,122 landowners implement conservation practices like nutrient management plans and buffer strips. Winter manure spreading permits are good for three years: for 2016, Dane County has 90 active permits on file, compared to 87 in 2015 and 111 in 2014. Manure storage permits are issued once for new or significantly altered structures: 9 permits have been issued for 2016 compared to 9 in 2015 and 11 in 2014.

How you can help

Mikayla Simonson is a native Badger from Taylor, Wisconsin. She studies Life Sciences Communication with a certificate in Business Management for Agricultural & Life Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and will be graduating in December 2016. As Clean Lakes Alliance’s Marketing and Design Intern, Mikayla assists in day-to- day activities, composes Forward Farmer articles and promotes the work of Clean Lakes Alliance. In her free time, Mikayla enjoys hiking at various State Parks, kayaking and running.

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