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Manitoba farmers need manure spreading flexibility this fall

The Manitoba government’s deadline is almost here, but wet weather has kept applicators out of the field

The manure could soon hit the proverbial fan.

The Nov. 10 deadline for applying manure to Manitoba fields, as well as fertilizer, is just a few days away. As of last week many livestock farmers hadn’t emptied their hog manure lagoons or cattle pens because wet weather prevented some fields from being harvested, while many harvested fields were too wet to travel on.

Freezing temperatures were helping farmers get crops off and manure on, but Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) president Bill Campbell told the organization’s advisory council here Oct. 25 KAP will press the Manitoba government to extend the manure application deadline.

“You can rest assured we will ask for an extension, even if it (the ground) is frozen up,” Campbell, a cattle and grain producer from Minto, Man., told the meeting.

Why it matters: Livestock farmers need a place to put their manure before winter if they want to continue operating this winter and storing more manure.

While extending the deadline for applying manure is possible, according to the rules a blanket extension seems unlikely given provincial regulations are designed to prevent manure from being applied to waterlogged or frozen soil to prevent algae-promoting nutrients from running off and polluting creeks and lakes.

However, individuals get permission to apply liquid and semi-liquid hog manure to fields when lagoons are in danger of overflowing.

While there’s no emergency exemption for solid manure, typically found with cattle operations, that type of manure can be stockpiled in a field and then spread when conditions allow between April 10 and Nov. 10, a Manitoba government official wrote in an email Oct. 31.

In fact many cattle producers do that to reduce the cost of spreading. As solid manure sits it shrinks.

“The province understands that conditions have been difficult for producers this fall and staff are in the process of discussing the issue with stakeholders,” an official with Manitoba Conservation and Climate wrote in an email Oct. 28. “The request for options to provide flexibility are being considered, but no final decisions have been made at this time.”

Every year Manitoba Conservation and Climate consults with stakeholders, including KAP and the Canadian Association of Agri-Retailers, about the deadline. That meeting was supposed to happen last week, but was rescheduled for sometime this week.

“The applicator who does our hog manure said this morning (Oct. 25) he has requests for 70 million tonnes more (manure) than he has capacity to do between now and the 10th (of November), even if he can go every day,” Randolph, Man., hog and grain producer Marge Rempel told the KAP meeting.

Campbell said 75 per cent of the farmers in his area hadn’t cleaned their cattle pens yet.

“And I am one of them,” he added. “You cannot move until it’s 20 below out into the field to spread. You can’t spread when it’s not frozen ground. Well, that’s the only time I can move. Maybe you guys will have to bail me out of jail or something. I have no place to keep my cattle if I don’t spread the manure.”

Even though cattle producers are allowed to pile manure in fields, spreading the manure is less risky because piles will leach, according to Mark Lebeau, who runs a feedlot cleaning service around Pilot Mound, Man.

“When we’re spreading it on top of the ground it’s composted manure, because 90 per cent of the manure that we haul out now has been piled all summer, so it’s rotted down,” Lebeau told Manitoba Co-operator reporter Alexis Stockford at the Manitoba Beef Producers’ district meeting in Baldur Oct. 30. “It’s composted. It’s spread on top of the land. There’s no water running off of that at all, even if the ground is frozen.”

Desmond Lebeau, with the same company, said the application deadline needs to be extended because wet weather delayed manure spreading for six weeks.

“We’ve worked a lot later than this before and the regulation, if you think about it, doesn’t really make as much sense as it should anyway,” he told Stockford. “We spread on a gravel pit — basically it was hard-packed pasture, two weeks before the deadline and then the day before the deadline, we were in stubble where we were sinking two or three inches, in stubble. Which one would run off first if you had a foot of rain? It would be the one that’s on the hardpack. It’s more where you’re spreading than it is the regulations, because some will never run anyway.”

Both Lebeaus said they can’t keep up with the requests coming now for feedlot cleaning.

During that meeting Mark Lebeau moved a resolution to push the Manitoba government into paying more attention to conditions for extending the manure application deadline.

“There’s no prohibition on field storage (for solid manure),” Petra Loro, Manitoba Agriculture and Resource Development’s livestock environment specialist, said in an interview Oct. 30. “You obviously want to locate it to prepare for spring and moisture levels at that time.

“In my opinion if they (cattle producers) have a place for field storage I would be cleaning out those pens and storing it where I did the least damage possible if the pens are really mucky.”

The Manitoba government is aware of the issue and the manure application companies are preparing to meet farmers’ manure needs, she added.

“Right now everybody is in full gear to get as much on and get the job done before the prohibition, but Mother Nature will have to co-operate just a little bit,” Loro said.

While colder weather firms up wet soil so manure applicators can get on the land, it causes problems for liquid manure applicators because pipelines freeze up, she said.

“Industry will do its best,” she said. “I can’t speak for them, but my sense is that they will apply what they need to (lower lagoons), to get through the winter and move on to the next job.”

Upwards of 40 per cent of hog producers will have trouble getting their manure applied before the deadline, Grant Melnychuk, Manitoba Pork’s manager of sustainable development programs told Manitoba Co-operator reporter Geralyn Wichers during a hog producers’ meeting Oct. 30 in Portage la Prairie. However, the council has been discussing the issue with Manitoba Conservation and Climate, he added.

Several changes are coming to streamline the emergency spread process, he said.

One is a commitment to respond to requests within one working day.

A Manitoba government official confirmed that change in an email. The official said many hog barn operators own several facilities.

“Clients are able to provide a single request for multiple operations but are still required to provide pertinent information for each operation as part of the approval process.”

Farmers must provide information on the livestock operation, proposed fields, rates and volumes to be applied. They must also provide an indication of soil nutrient levels and risk mitigation measures.

More information on how to submit a written request for winter manure application will be available on the Manitoba government Sustainable Development website.

While Manitoba Conservation and Climate recognizes bad weather has delayed manure applications this fall, applying manure to frozen soil is an environmental risk, the official wrote.

“The department developed a procedure to address emergency requests from producers facing a risk of manure breaching their storage facilities. We expect the procedure will ensure an efficient and timely emergency authorization process. All other requirements in the Livestock Manure and Mortalities Management Regulation will remain in place including the requirement that producers are required to ensure that manure does not escape the field.”

For more details

Information on Emergency Manure Spreading Requests is available by contacting Environmental Approvals Branch at: [email protected] or by phone at 204-945-8321.

– With files from Alexis Stockford and Geralyn Wichers

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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