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A good time to plan

Jonathan Rotz Published on 27 April 2010

As we hit a time in the growing season where things typically slow down a little, now may be the best time to take a few hours to plan your fall and winter manure applications. Although spring is the best time to apply manure, few of us have the storage capabilities to apply all our manure in the spring. This article is for those who will need to apply manure this fall and possibly this winter.

During this planning time, get your latest soil sample results and try to rank your fields based on the needs of the crops that will be growing next year. Make sure to pay attention to the crop you are rotating out of the field this year, the crop you will be planting and the phosphorus (P) level in the field. These will all play a critical role in where the field is ranked.

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Your initial listing of fields should place highest nitrogen (N) requirements on top. Typically these will be corn to corn fields followed by beans to corn, alfalfa to corn and finishing with alfalfa fields. Once these fields have been listed on your nitrogen needs, make sure to take into consideration the P levels of the fields. Fields with high soil P (less than 200 parts per million ppm) should be moved to the bottom of the list so they will be the last to receive manure.

Always consider setbacks when looking at your fields. Don’t plan on spreading manure within 100 feet of the bank of a perennial or intermittent stream, lake or pond, an existing open sinkhole or an active well. Buffers for streams, lakes, ponds and sinkholes can be 35 feet if a permanent vegetative buffer is in place; however, a well’s setback is always 100 feet. These recommendations should be followed by all farmers to help minimize the risk of polluting the groundwater or surface waters.

Now consider the type of manure you have and the fields you want to spread it on. Fields far away from the site of manure production may be given an increased ranking for getting liquid manure, which is typically easier to transport over further distances than pen-pack manure. When fields are close to the manure source, plan on using them for pen-pack manure.

This is also a good time to take your field knowledge and put it into practice. A fall application of manure may be spread on a field that lays wet during the spring. Steep slopes where manure could wash off, especially when the ground is frozen, should be saved for spring application. These slopes are a good place to plant fall cover crops.

Cover crops are another management option to be considered. Utilizing grass cover crops on manure ground retains the manure nutrients over winter in a safe form. This will keep the nutrients in place for the next growing season. Cover crops along with no-till farming will help minimize compaction during fall and winter manure applications. Compaction is minimized through the combination of the cover crops’ live roots growing in the soil and better soil structure from no-till farming. PD

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Excerpts from Penn State Field Crop News, Vol. 8, No. 20

Jonathan Rotz, Extension Educator, Penn State University

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