Rain falls, and that might make some farmers happy, depending on the time of year.
Then, a lot of rain falls, off and on, for months, and not only do fields fill up with water, but so do manure ponds and lagoons, and that might make some farmers a bit nervous.
Ohio had the third wettest year ever in 2018, and there’s been little letup since then, leaving farm fields across the state saturated. For farmers with a lot of livestock, spreading manure onto wet land as fertilizer is not an option right now, and manure ponds are filling up fast.
Because manure ponds and lagoons are outdoors and uncovered, they collect not only animal waste from livestock housed inside, but they also collect rainwater. Indoor pits located under livestock holding facilities, such as hog barns, also collect manure; those are also reaching capacity.
“Week after week and month after month have gone by, and there have been very few opportunities to get the manure applied,” said Glen Arnold, a manure management specialist with The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).
Typically, farmers with a lot of livestock, such as dairy cows or hogs, pump out their manure ponds and pits in the fall, after harvest. The ponds then fill up through the winter, when farmers are limited in terms of spreading manure on fields as fertilizer due to runoff concerns. But harvest got delayed last year because of rain.
Even after harvest, there were few days when manure could be applied to fields because the land was already saturated with rainwater. And in Ohio counties with tributaries that flow into Lake Erie or Grand Lake St. Marys, state laws limit when farmers can apply manure or other fertilizer to prevent the nutrients from getting into the water.
With so few opportunities to spread the manure, many manure ponds, lagoons, and pits didn’t get fully emptied before winter arrived. And since then, opportunities to spread the manure have been few. It is very unusual for farmers to have so few days to apply manure, Arnold said.
“You’re sitting there with a large amount of manure that needs to be applied to the land, and all you’re seeing is rain. I would say it’s a top concern,” said Sam Custer, Ohio State University Extension educator in Darke County, which has a significant number of hog producers. OSU Extension is CFAES’ outreach arm.
Arnold and Custer are working with farmers to consider options and find additional times during the growing season to apply manure. Last year, they field-tested a method found to be effective for applying manure in the spring on fields with growing corn.
For now, farmers can pay the expense of pumping and transporting their manure to other ponds with more space; expand their ponds; or just wait, hope the rain stops, and then begin spreading their manure onto drier fields.