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Glen Arnold (right) was recognized with the Pork Industry Service Award for his work with manure in 2018.

Manure spill prevention

By Rory Lewandowski, Extension educator, Wayne County, Ohio State University Extension

Typically, dairy farms have an opportunity after corn silage harvest to pump down lagoons and get manure hauled and applied. Hopefully, all goes well, without any accidents or manure spills, but hope is not a spill or accident prevention plan. Livestock operations that store, haul, and apply manure need to have an emergency response plan to handle manure spills and escapes. Preventing manure spills is one important component of that plan. A good start to preventing manure spills is to understand some common reasons manure spills occur, as well as where in the process from storage to application spills commonly occur.

At the 2018 Manure Science Review in late July in Hardin County, Glen Arnold, OSU Extension Manure Management Specialist, gave a presentation on manure spills and escapes. During his presentation, Arnold said that manure spills/escapes occur at three different locations and/or phases of manure management. One area is on the farmstead itself, close to farm buildings and facilities. Most of these manure incidents are actually escapes and are the result of manure pit overflows, manure pond overflows, and/or lot runoffs.

Manure spills can happen during the transport of manure. As farms and applicators strive to do a better job of matching up manure nutrients with fields needing those nutrients, manure is getting transported longer distances. During transport, manure spills are the result of flipped manure tankers or semi-truck tankers, manure hose leaks, or improperly secured manure loads.

The third area where manure spills/escapes happen is on the field, during or shortly after the manure application. These spills are the result of surface runoff or rapid movement through the soil profile and into field tile.

Kevin Erb, from the University of Wisconsin Extension in a webinar on the topic of manure spills, said that generally manure spills happen for one or more reasons. One is mechanical failure of equipment used in the handling and application of manure. Often these cases are truly accidental due to unforeseen situations and circumstances.

Another reason is the improper application of manure or improper storage management. Improper application is over application of manure based on field conditions or field fertility level. Improper storage management includes not monitoring storage closely enough, resulting in an overflow situation.

Finally, manure spills can occur due to negligence. Negligence can be defined as failure to exercise reasonable care or maybe even knowingly increasing the risk of a manure spill. This could be something like failure to maintain equipment in good working order, performing tasks when under serious sleep deprivation, or ignoring a manure plan or weather forecast.

Identifying the where/when manure spills/escapes occur is useful, especially when combined with an analysis of why manure spill/escapes happen. Taken together, they identify areas of risk that include both manageable factors as well as those factors outside of the farm’s or applicator’s control. With each of these causes, the farm manager needs to identify what can be done to minimize risk, including such things as periodic and regular equipment checks/maintenance, emergency shut-offs, employee/applicator training, work schedules that provide adequate rest, up-to-date manure management plans that guide application rates, weather monitoring, and record keeping.

Manure spills/escapes happen despite planning, preparation, and best intentions. Therefore, the farm needs an emergency plan. The plan should spell out what to do, who will do it, and who to contact in case of a manure spill/escape. Quick response can minimize detrimental effects; delays make a bad situation worse. In his presentation, Arnold said that your spill plan should contain cell phone numbers of key people who can help and you need to know who responds to text messages. You should know: Who has equipment to block a ditch or stream? Who has equipment to pump manure out of a stream or ditch? Who has tile plugs? Who can transport the spilled product you are cleaning up? When manure gets into a stream, be prepared to pump 20 to 25 times the volume of the manure that entered the stream according to Arnold. Where will this pumped product go? How will you get oxygen back into the stream and who has that equipment? As part of their preparedness, some farms keep a manure spill kit available. A list of some materials and resources to include in a manure spill kit is available at: http://tiny.cc/manurespillkit.

A publication titled “Emergency Action Planning for Livestock Operations” by Purdue and Michigan State Universities lists four “C’s” of a manure spill response plan: 1) control the source of the spill/escape, 2) contain the spill, 3) clean up the spill, which involves assessing the extent of the damage and restoring the affected area, and 4) comply with reporting requirements. That publication, along with other manure spill response resources, is available on-line at: http://articles.extension.org/pages/28679/manure-spills-and-emergency-planning.

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