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Manure and winter: What’s the scoop?

Can farms spread manure in the winter?

Can manure be spread on snow-covered ground?

These questions have been flooding into the County Conservation District after the recent news concerning Nicholas Meats.

“We’ve had a significant number of people calling to report farms for spreading manure in the wake of the Nicholas Meats decision,” Clinton County Conservation District Manager, Wade Jodun explained. “The Food Processing Residuals, which are sometimes land applied by meat packing plants and slaughterhouses, are regulated in an entirely different manner than manure. They are regulated under Chapter 287 and DEP guidance does not allow their land application when a site is snow-covered or frozen.”

Land application of manure on snow-covered ground, however, is permissible.According to Jodun, “While spreading manure in winter or on snow-covered ground is strongly discouraged because of the increased potential for pollution, it is allowed.”

According to state guidance, every operation in Pennsylvania that generates, or land applies, manure is required to have a written manure management plan. According to Jodun, “if a farm needs to mechanically apply manure in the winter, they must have a manure or nutrient management plan that factors in, and includes, manure application.”

Winter, according to state regulation, is the period from Dec. 15 through Feb. 28; or anytime the ground is frozen at least 4 inches deep; or anytime the ground is snow covered.

During these times, special precautions for land applying manure are in affect. For example, the maximum manure application rate for the winter season is 5,000 gallons per acre of liquid manure or 20 tons per acre of dry non-poultry manure or 3 tons per acre of dry poultry manure per acre. All fields slated to receive manure in the winter must have at least 25% crop residue at application time or an established and growing cover crop. Crop residue are materials left in a field after the crop has been harvested such as stalks, stems, leaves, and seed pods.

The winter provision requiring 25% crop residue would generally exclude winter manure application to corn silage fields that do not have an established cover crop, corn grain fields where a significant portion of the fodder has been removed, and low yielding soybean fields.

Additionally, manure may not be applied during winter on fields with slopes greater than 15% and must be setback from streams, surface water, and wells a distance of at least 100 feet. For questions concerning manure management plans or the application of manure during any season, the County Conservation District can be reached at 570-726-3798.

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