Previously published by Ohio Farmer online
Throughout the growing season, and particularly this fall, there were a lot of rainfalls — off and on. Not only did fields fill up with water, but manure ponds and lagoons did also, and that might make some farmers a bit nervous.
Ohio had the third-wettest year ever in 2018, and there’s been little letup since then, leaving farm fields across the state saturated. For farmers with a lot of livestock, spreading manure onto wet or frozen land as fertilizer is not an option right now, and manure ponds are filling up fast.
Because manure ponds and lagoons are outdoors and uncovered, they collect not only animal waste from livestock, but also rainwater. Indoor pits located under livestock holding facilities, such as hog barns, also collect manure; those are also reaching capacity.
“Week after week and month after month have gone by, and there have been very few opportunities to get the manure applied,” says Glen Arnold, a manure management specialist with Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.
Usual practice unworkable in 2018
Typically, farmers with a lot of livestock, such as dairy cows or hogs, pump out their manure ponds and pits in the fall, after harvest. The ponds then fill up through the winter, when farmers are limited in terms of spreading manure on fields as fertilizer, due to runoff concerns. Harvest got delayed last year because of rain, however.
Even after harvest, there were few days when manure could be applied to fields because the land was already saturated with rainwater. And in Ohio counties with tributaries that flow into Lake Erie or Grand Lake St. Marys, state laws limit when farmers can apply manure or other fertilizer to prevent the nutrients from getting into the water.
With so few opportunities to spread the manure, many manure ponds, lagoons and pits didn’t get fully emptied before winter arrived. And since then, opportunities to spread the manure have been few. It is very unusual for farmers to have so few days to apply manure, Arnold says.
Arnold and Sam Custer, Ohio State University Extension educator in Darke County, which has a significant number of hog producers, are working with farmers to consider options and find additional times during the growing season to apply manure. Last year, they field-tested a method found to be effective for applying manure in the spring on fields with growing corn.
For now, farmers can pay the expense of pumping and transporting their manure to other ponds with more space; expand their ponds; or just wait, hope the rain stops, and then begin spreading their manure onto drier fields.