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Is it Time to Reevaluate Your Manure Storage and Application?

The first three months of 2020 once again brought saturated conditions across Ohio. Figure 1a shows that precipitation totals for January – March 2020 range from approximately 5 inches in Lucas County up to 20 inches in parts of Franklin, Delaware, Fairfield, Licking, Tuscarawas, Harrison, and Carroll Counties (blue shading). These totals are close to average for this period across Ohio’s far northwestern and southern counties, but well above average (compared to 1981-2010) across the central portions of the state (Figure 1b). The previously mentioned counties along with parts of west central and northeastern Ohio 175-200% of normal, nearly double the long-term average. Indeed, 2020 is off to a wet start.

Figure 1: a) Accumulated precipitation in a) inches and b) percent of normal (1981-2010) for January 01 - March 31, 2020. Figures generated at the Midwest Regional Climate Center (https://mrcc.illinois.edu/).

Figure 1: a) Accumulated precipitation in a) inches and b) percent of normal (1981-2010) for January 01 – March 31, 2020. Figures generated at the Midwest Regional Climate Center (https://mrcc.illinois.edu/).

With wet conditions this season, and several wet autumn and winters in recent memory, questions rise regarding manure storage and how management of lagoons may be changing due to long term trends. Figure 2 shows the annual and seasonal trends in precipitation for Ohio from 1960 – 2019 (2020 for the December, January, February period (Figure 2b)). Figure 2a shows that annual, precipitation over this period has increased 1.35 inches per decade, with an annual average close to 45 inches during the most recent decade. Figures 2b-e show strong trends in all seasons, with the largest trends during winter (December – February) with a 0.43 inch per decade increase since 1960. Winter is also a time of the year when we experience very little evaporation, so this large trend can have a big impact on storage capacity. Other strong increases of 0.38 inches per decade and 0.34 inches per decade are found in summer (June – August; Figure 2c) and autumn (September – November; Figure 2d), respectively. Analyzing individual monthly trends for Ohio reveals the strongest trends occur in June (0.30 inches per decade) and October (0.24 inches per decade) with the smallest trends in July, August, and November (not shown). 

Figure 2: a) Annual and b-e) seasonal precipitation for 1960-2019 (2020 for Fig. 2b). The 1981-2010 means, along with linear trends (inches per decade; blue) and 9-point smoothed binomial filter (red) are included. Figure are generated by NOAA National Centers for Environmental information, Climate at a Glance: Statewide Time Series, published April 2020, retrieved on April 10, 2020 from https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cag/.

Figure 2: a) Annual and b-e) seasonal precipitation for 1960-2019 (2020 for Fig. 2b). The 1981-2010 means, along with linear trends (inches per decade; blue) and 9-point smoothed binomial filter (red) are included. Figure are generated by NOAA National Centers for Environmental information, Climate at a Glance: Statewide Time Series, published April 2020, retrieved on April 10, 2020 from https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cag/.

This increase in rain fall is just one of many factors that may be contributing to your manure storage filling up faster than when it was new, creating storage challenges every spring. We are receiving over an inch more rain fall each decade, each inch equals 27,154 gallons more per acre of surface water that enters your lagoon each year. Some of our lagoons have been around for 2 or 3 decades with our any modifications. Just from increased rain fall you are seeing decreased months of storage. Somewhat scary, but a 30 year old lagoon with a half-acre of surface area would be catching an extra 40,731 gallons of water on average compared to when it was new.

The next challenge with aging lagoons is sedimentation of solids within the lagoon. This challenge is even greater when dairy operations are using sand bedding. Options for removing sediment from both our door and below barn lagoons are available. Complete agitation while pumping can help greatly with sediment but be cautious of harm gas to livestock and humans that may be produced. With outdoor lagoons the occasional use of an agitation boat can help bring sediment into solution that conventional agitators cannot reach. Some lagoon treatments also help break organic solids down and keep them in solution with the liquids in the lagoon. Many producers have seen these improve the number of gallons they can remove from under barn lagoons.

Many farms have also slowly grown the number of animals on the farm since there lagoon was built. Along with capturing more surface water to better protect the environment. This all leads to more challenges with lagoons being fuller than you wanted each spring.

Manure produced by livestock species (gallons)

 Options for increased storage

  1. Based on the changes in weather and increased livestock on your operation you may want to consider either expanding your current lagoon or digging an additional lagoon. Before constructing additional manure, storage be sure to talk to your local soil and water conservation office. They can help engineer your manure storage structure and may have funding available through NRCS to help offset the cost of your additional manure storage.
  2. Very similar to option one is to build a satellite pond close to some of your other crop land to increase your storage capacity. This satellite pond will save you road time, to improve efficiencies when weather conditions allow you to land apply manure.
  3. Contract with dairy or swine facilities who have gone out of business but still have lagoons to take your extra manure. There are many variations of this, but often the livestock owner gives the manure away and pays transport cost to this storage structure. The owner of the storage structure then pays the manure application cost.

Options for increased application window

  1. Apply manure to hay fields between cuttings but be cautious of the possibility of spreading John’s disease to young stock if the forage is feed to anything except cows.
  2. Find opportunities to keep small grains or a mix of annual forages in the rotation. This will allow you to have alternative application windows but will only alleviate the problem if you are having issues emptying lagoons in the fall.
  3. Apply manure to newly planted corn or emerged corn through the V4 growth stage using a dragline system. This window also helps improve manure nitrogen utilization.
  4. Utilize a mix of application equipment. While it is often more economically efficient to hire a custom operator, owning equipment to haul a portion of your manure close to the barn can help alleviate this pressure. During the first dry window each spring you can haul some of your manure until the custom operator arrives.

As weather conditions continue to change and livestock numbers grow on your operation so does your need for increased manure storage. Planning now for the future is the only way to not have sleepless nights every spring. Each option will come with its own cost but will also save you many headaches and sleepless nights in the years to come. While on many farms today it is not the best time for a large financial layout overflowing lagoons can cause even greater financial harm.   

Source: Ohio State University

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