WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Farmers deciding to close their confined livestock operations must also properly shut down their manure storage facilities, according to a Purdue University agricultural engineer, although producers might be able to recover some of the cost of closing the facilities.
High corn and soybean prices are making it difficult for producers to continue raising livestock profitably and could force some to shut down or suspend production at their operations, said Purdue’s Don Jones. “If they do that, they’ll have to do something with their manure storage areas.”
Producers can convert earthen manure storage structures into fresh water ponds, pastures or cropland, said Jones, but the process requires careful planning. In Indiana, for example, it requires notifying the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, the agency that issues permits for confined livestock operations in Indiana.
Earthen manure storage is as its name implies: A storage area for manure built at least partially into the ground. The structures can be several acres in size for large livestock operations and hold millions of gallons of liquid manure.
Manure lagoons are a type of treatment earthen storage that are larger, to allow time and conditions conducive to the decomposition of organic matter.
Protect the environment
How a producer closes the earthen structure is less important to IDEM than making sure the environment is protected, Jones said.
“If you’re going to close an earthen structure, you’ll need to clean it out — pump out the liquid — and then refill it with water,” Jones said. “You’ll then need to agitate it thoroughly.
“You may have to complete the process of filling, agitating and emptying the earthen structure two or three times until tests show that you have fairly clean water.”
At that time, Jones said it can be used as a pond, but only if it’s a structure that has some sort of watershed, such as an unused outside lot area that is no longer in use, so that rainwater can refill the pond.
Take out the liner
Removal of the storage structure’s liner is an important step, Jones said.
With a clay liner, the top 6 inches or so of soil probably needs to be removed, he said. That soil can be rich in nitrogen and phosphorous, and probably be land applied as crop fertilizer.
A plastic liner should be taken to a landfill, if the storage will be converted to pasture or cropland, Jones said.
Dot your I’s
“Once all the manure has been removed from the storage structure, the producer has to notify IDEM within 30 days, so that IDEM can send an inspector to the farm and verify that the storage has been closed properly,” Jones said. “If approved, then the producer can finish closing the structure.”
Producers who wish to convert their storage structures into useable farmland have a bigger job ahead of them, Jones said.
“That will entail the same closure process as turning the storage structure into a pond, plus diverting surface water away from the area,” he said. “Then the area needs to be refilled with soil and mounded, so that it sheds rainwater. At that point a crop or grass of some sort can be established on the site.”
Jones urged producers to make proper use of the manure from their closed earthen structures.
“The manure has considerable value, especially in times of high fertilizer prices, and should be used for the cropping program,” he said.
“If the operator can not use manure as a fertilizer source in a cropping program, they should work out some sort of arrangement with the neighbors, by either trading the manure or selling it. It doesn’t make any sense to throw away fertilizer nutrients at this point in time in agriculture.”
Can ‘mothball’ storage
If producers believe they will resume operation in the future and wish to maintain their permit with IDEM, they will not need to close the manure storage but instead, maintain it as required by their permit while operating, Jones said.
“This includes maintaining a proper amount of freeboard above the liquid level of the storage and maintaining berms about the storage or lagoon,” he said. “If operation is not resumed within three years, it must follow the closure procedure I’ve outlined.”
Producers face a penalty if they do not notify IDEM that they’ve closed a structure and stopped operating livestock and poultry enterprises. “IDEM does not want large earthen structures sitting full of manure for a long period of time when the operation is not active,” Jones said.
A new Purdue Extension publication could help: Closure of Earthen Manure Structures, was written by Purdue’s Don Jones and Alan Sutton, and Ryan Westerfeld of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture.