Good conservation can lead to better water quality


Nutrient management and water quality are two topics that have been spotlighted recently and are issues that deserve attention. There is no doubt agriculture plays a role and has a responsibility to do its part to address certain concerns.

There are many ways that proper nutrient management can help increase water quality — too many to cover in one article. Given the time of year, let’s discuss manure application in winter months.

What to consider

There are many factors to consider when using manure as a soil amendment. The biggest and maybe the most unpredictable is the weather.

As I sit here and type this article, I look out my office window and it is sunny and 15 degrees. Yesterday at the same time it was 57 degrees and raining!

If nothing else we definitely have a wide variety of weather in northeast Ohio.

Many times this kind of volatility in weather inhibits manure application. No land application should occur if there is greater than a 50 percent chance of one-half inch of rainfall within 24 hours.

Also, no application should be done on soil in which the top 2 inches is saturated from rainfall or snowmelt.

Lastly, no surface applied organics should be spread on frozen/snow covered bare soil.

If you’re a livestock producer and are forced with storing manure it is in your best interest to have ample storage. Usually four to six month storage is enough to offset weather constraints.

Keeping nutrients in place

When it is suitable to apply, how can we insure that the manure/nutrients stay where they will help increase soil fertility?

It only makes sense we want the manure to remain where it is applied for it to be most profitable.

There are some best management practices that should be followed to insure manure remains a soil amendment and not a pollutant.

According to Ohio Administrative Code, “agricultural pollution” occurs when there is failure to use management or conservation practices to abate the degradation of waters of the state, including animal manure.

A person must be mindful of this and consider several variables when land applying manure. Use ways to limit mobilization of the applied nutrient.

Fields that have substantial residue going into winter will be way better suited for application in marginal weather.

Cover crops

Active cover crops are a great way to diminish physical runoff. Well established ryegrass, oat and/or cereal rye are examples of covers that help reduce field erosion.

Corn stalk fodder is another residue that aids keeping soil/nutrients immobilized during the dormant winter months.

Even when manure is applied on these more ideal fields, setbacks should be used. Using some key setbacks to sensitive areas in the field is essential to maintaining nutrients. No application within 200 feet of any streams, ditches and surface inlets.

When spreading close to a lake or pond with a vegetative barrier, a minimum of 35 feet is required and with no barrier, 200 feet is required. At least a 200-foot setback is to be maintained from any residence and private well.

One setback that may be just as crucial as any other is a minimum of 200 feet of all grassed waterways. Another setback to be noted is in regards to public wells and surface waters for drinking for which a minimum of 300 feet is required.

Setbacks are measured from top of bank, not centerline or water’s edge. All of these setbacks deal with land application; manure injection has different and varied amounts.

Other factors

Only a few of the variables that need to be considered for land application of manure have been discussed here.

In an attempt to maximize investment return and minimize pollutant potential other items to consider, but not limited to: characteristics of material, land availability, topography, cropping rotation, soil status and application method.

Also if application is occurring in a watershed that has been deemed in distress there are additional management practices that have to be followed.

If you have questions about proper ways to store and utilize manure as a nutrient on your operation please contact your local county soil and water office.


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Todd Miller is a graduate of Youngstown State University with a degree in biology. He was a science teacher for Columbiana Career Technical Center prior to becoming the district technician at Mahoning SWCD. He and his family currently farm over 200 acres where they raise beef cattle for production and consumption, and he is the past president of the Columbiana Mahoning Trumbull County Cattleman’s Association. Miller can be reached at 330-740-7995, or by email at



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