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Consider short-term in-field manure storage

Short-term, or temporary, manure storage sites are a management tool that can provide flexibility and economic savings to farm operators.

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“Using temporary storage sites gives operations the flexibility to stage manure for future manure application,” says Deanne Madsen, sustainable agriculture resource specialist with the Alberta government. “While spring application may be ideal for annual crops, it is not always achievable due to the already busy season, road restrictions, wet soils or equipment availability.”

Sometimes harvest delays push back fall activities, preventing timely manure application. Other times of the year present a greater risk for manure application and nutrient loss than others.

The least optimal time for manure application is on frozen or snow-covered ground. Risk of nutrient loss is much greater as infiltration is limited and plants are not growing to use applied nutrients.

“The flexibility of establishing short-term manure storage sites can be an indispensable tool to stage manure for future application and avoid application when the risk of nutrient loss is greatest. To minimize any potential environmental impacts, operators may want to have a plan in place to identify and use short-term in-field storage sites, and consider permanent manure storages sooner than later.”

For livestock operators with outdoor facilities, using short-term sites can save time and money during clean out. Short-term manure storages allow for timely cleaning of permanent manure storages, livestock pens or corrals. Operations can clean out manure when timing is convenient or when conditions for removal minimize damage to the pen floor liner and before spring road bans are in effect. These sites can also function as composting sites reducing the volume of manure to haul, thereby reducing manure transport costs.

“Short-term manure storage sites can be used to reduce road damage and further reduce manure application costs by using large end dump trucks to move manure to the field to store over the short term before reloading and spreading,” points out Madsen.

Positioning the manure piles down the centre of the field allows the spreaders to operate from the storage pile out to the field edge and back. The spreaders do not leave the field and are not empty for long, helping increase applicator efficiency. The time is spent spreading manure, not travelling empty and wasting costly fuel. Managing manure this way also reduces road traffic, minimizing road maintenance costs and nuisances for nearby neighbours.

“When selecting a location for short-term manure storage, select a site that will not cause concerns for neighbours or the community. Avoid placing it close to public gathering places like churches and community halls, as well as neighbouring residences. If that is not possible, use setbacks to reduce potential conflict.”

Also consider sites that will not cause traffic or visibility issues by interfering with sight lines at road intersections and potentially causing accidents. Following good neighbour practices will help build good will in the community and a positive profile for the industry.

Short-term storage is a practice which is regulated by the Agricultural Operation Practices Act (AOPA). The Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB) can address sites that are too close to public gathering places if it is causing an inappropriate disturbance. The act allows the NRCB to require at least a 150-metre setback from short-term manure storage sites and neighbouring homes.

According to the act, operators are also responsible to ensure any runoff from short-term manure storage does not create a risk to the environment or leave the property. To avoid these issues, evaluate the surface water flow of the site and select a location that if the conditions are wet you can still access with equipment, does not flood, and retains runoff in the field. To reduce these risks, ensure the storage site is at least:

  • 100 m (about 328 ft) away from a water well or spring
  • 1 m above the water table, and
  • 1 m above the one in 25-year maximum flood level

The site must not be located within 30 m of a common body of water when the land slopes toward that water body with a slope of 4% or less, 60 m for a 4% to 6% slope, and 90 m for less than 12% slope. Any steep land that slopes more than 12% towards a common body of water must not be used to store manure.

“Good site selection guards against nutrient losses in overland flow; otherwise, nutrients can potentially be carried from the site by runoff. To avoid nutrient hot spots in the field that may lead to crop lodging or increased nutrient loss, move the short-term manure pile around to distinct locations.”

AOPA requires operators that use short-term storage to store solid manure for only 7 months over a 3-year period. For example, if you store in early November and spread in late May (7 months), you must not use that spot again for another 2 years.

Soil testing and locating piles in fields where the manure can be applied to meet crop needs will also ensure you meet the regulations and not exceed nitrogen or salinity limits. Record on a map where you had the short-term manure storage, so you are confident you are selecting a new site in the future.

“When it comes to getting the most benefit from using short-term solid manure storage sites, select the best possible site to minimize risks to surface water, groundwater and soil health while reducing impacts on neighbours,” says Madsen.

For more information, call 310-FARM (3276), email [email protected] or contact the nearest NRCB field office.

For more information, see:

Short-Term Solid Manure Storage Requirements

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