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Mind Your Manure

Can you spread manure in the winter when the ground is frozen, or snow covered?  We get this question a lot, so… can you? The answer, it depends. Surface manure applications on frozen and/or snow-covered ground are discouraged and considered “not acceptable” under current USDA guidelines because these conditions provide a serious risk of runoff.  Soil is considered “frozen” if the manure cannot be injected or immediately incorporated into the soil. 

In the case of solid manures, the guidance is manure will not be surface applied in these conditions and should be stockpiled on an acceptable site until it can be applied for the next growing season.

For liquid manure, it is also “not acceptable” to spread in these conditions and therefore discouraged in all but emergency situations. An “emergency” exists as a temporary situation due to unforeseen causes and after all other options have been exhausted. Only limited quantities of liquid manure shall be applied to address manure storage limitations until nonfrozen soils are available for manure application.

If you must make emergency winter manure applications, follow the accepted best management practices for the situation. In Ohio, those accepted best management practices can be found in the USDA-NRCS Nutrient Management Standard (590). They are: (in part)

  • Stay back 200-foot from grassed waterways, streams, drainage ditches, tile surface inlets and all other water bodies and 300 feet from developed springs, wells, and public surface drinking water intakes. In certain instances, these setbacks may need to be increased.
  • Apply on fields with at least 90 percent surface residue cover.
  • Apply manure to areas of the field with the lowest risk of nutrient transport such as areas furthest from streams, ditches, waterways, with the least amount of slope.
  • For fields exceeding 6% slope, apply manure in alternating strips 60 to 200 feet wide on the contour, or in the case of contour strips, on the alternating strips.
  • Limited application rate                  
    • 5,000 gallons or, next crop need/removal for P, whichever is less.
  • Do not apply on more than 20 contiguous acres. Contiguous areas must be separated by breaks of at least 200 feet.

All applications of liquid manure to frozen and snow-covered soils should be documented in the producer’s records. As always, the 4R’s (Rate, Time, Source and Placement) of all nutrient applications applies anytime nutrients are applied.

 Additionally, there is a risk of runoff when the top two inches of soil are saturated and when there is greater than a 50% chance of rainfall of more than half inch within 24 hours of the time of application. The Ohio Applicator Forecast is designed to help nutrient applicators identify times when the weather-risk for applying is low. The risk forecast is created by the National Weather Service and takes precipitation, temperature, and snowmelt data to estimate the amount of water in each area. This amount of water is used with soil data, such as texture and depth, to determine how much should soak into the ground, and how much should flow over the surface. Utilize this helpful tool at

Following best management practices keeps nutrients where crops can use them and protects the aquatic life in our creeks and streams.  If you have specific questions about how these best management recommendations relate to your field or operation, please check out our website at or call the office at 740-852-4003, 831 US HWY 42 NE, London, Ohio 43140.