By Ty Higgins and Matt Reese
The recent rains have helped rejuvenate pastures and bolster a final cutting of hay, but the ground is still very dry and cracked in many parts of the state. The soil conditions will be important to consider as crops are harvested and manure applications take place this fall.
For Bob Carr, who farms in Licking County, the dry soil conditions will be ideal for applying poultry manure on his fields after corn and soybeans are harvested. He will be applying most of the dry poultry manure on his farm in the coming weeks following corn and soybean harvest on fields that will be planted to wheat this fall or corn next spring. Some of the dry manure has already been applied to wheat stubble as well.
“The majority of the manure is applied after we get the crops off. We do a lot of corn after corn and we primarily put it on the ground before we plant corn. We broadcast and incorporate it,” Carr said. “We run a lighter rate before we plant wheat and the dry weather has not been an issue with the dry manure. It is actually nicer on the dry ground.”
Carr is hoping the dry conditions from the summer months hold up through the fall.
“Mother Nature always has a way of averaging out the rain,” he said. “We already got a pretty good dose of rain. If it gets wet and delays harvest, it could be bad for the crops and it will make that manure application tough. So far, the dry conditions have been ideal.”
The dry conditions and cracked soils are less than ideal, however, for hog and dairy producers and their liquid manure applications. Manure reaching field tile through soil cracks and other direct conduits is referred to as preferential flow. It is crucial for manure applicators to take the proper measures to prevent manure from reaching tile outlets and contaminating water.
If possible, Pork Checkoff Director of Environmental Programs Allan Stokes encourages producers to avoid land application on fields with cracked soils. If that is not a possibility this fall, Stokes recommends working the soil three to five inches deep to remove the cracks and create a more consistent soil that will absorb and retain manure.
“You could also consider multiple passes while applying lesser volumes on any given pass,” Stokes said. “This will give ample time for manure to appropriately soak in to the soil structures.”
Stokes said a third key is to take a look at drainage ditches, outlets, streams and rivers before starting land applying to observe the conditions, even though they may be dry. Farmers should also frequently check tile outlets and surface water areas too when land-applying manure in droughty areas. Checking the outlets immediately and throughout the next 24 hours is recommended depending on how dry the tile is and how far the outlet is from the site of application. Tile plugs and control structures can be used to ensure manure does not exit outlets or they can be used in an emergency situation to stop manure that is already flowing.
“If the rains do start up again, producers need to make sure they don’t see any signs of manure that has moved off the fields,” Stokes said. “They need to be prepared to react if they see a situation like that.”
That is why it is vital to have an emergency response plan already in place.
“Make sure you clearly understand and you have a good and up to date emergency action plan that addresses what happens if you do have an unintended release of manure and be prepared to implement that if it becomes necessary,” Stokes said.
If there is an unintended release of manure — the producer should take steps to effectively deal with the situation, with the first step being to immediately stop land-applying manure in that particular location.
“Producers should then also take steps to retain the manure that may be coming out of a tile drain or other containment devices,” Stokes said. “This will keep the manure from migrating down the drainage way so it can be collected and taken off for proper land application in a different location.”
It is also important to remember that worm holes can have the same effect as cracked soils. Night crawlers and crayfish often burrow directly down to field tile.
“Worm holes are prevalent in no-till. If you’re going out there and applying without working any ground ahead of it, there is a good chance the manure will go straight down to the tile lines,” said Amanda Meddles-Douridas, an Ohio State University Extension specialist. “Just working the ground a little below the surface where you’re applying the manure will sever the ties to the tile lines.”
The nutrient losses from a significant rainstorm this fall could be costly if not managed properly.
“When applying after corn or soybeans in the fall, you need to remember that the manure will be out there all winter,” Meddles-Douridas said. “If you’re not planting a cover crop you don’t have anything taking up those nutrients so you do have a greater risk of losing those nutrients. As fertilizer prices increase, that is money that could be going down the drain. The best practices are to make sure you are incorporating that or injecting it so you are making contact with the soil and that will help hold it there. Or you can use a cover crop with at least 90% surface cover, which will help keep the manure from moving off site and hold the nutrients.”