Spotlight: Manure in Alberta
By Stephanie Gordon
On Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry hosted an online discussion about manure management, here are some highlights.
Trevor Wallace, nutrient management specialist, and Chris Ullman, agri-environmental specialist with Alberta Agriculture, were on hand to share information and answer any questions that came in.
Ullman spent more than a decade helping producers with manure management and in particular, focused on the province’s environmental legislation for the management of manure. Currently, all of the province’s regulations surrounding livestock operations, and even how to handle issues such as odor, dust, noise, among others, are listed with the Agricultural Operation Practices Act (AOPA).
Wet fall conditions
Wet fall conditions are not new for Alberta producers. In 2016 and 2018, parts of the province saw exceptionally wet conditions that delayed harvest. But wet conditions also delay manure application. This year, an early September snow and erratic fall weather put applications on hold. Laura Thygesen, agri-environmental extension coordinator with Alberta Agriculture, brought this up in the discussion by asking how should producers prepare for manure storage becoming an issue with harvest running long and snow already on the ground.
Ullman agreed that the late fall in 2019 is causing problems for producers who need to apply manure. He shared that a producer’s first best practice is to work with their Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB) inspector if they have a need to spread due to unusual weather conditions.
“Winter spreading is strongly discouraged but, may be authorized by the NRCB in exceptional circumstances,” Ullman wrote. He pointed producers to the NRCB’s fact sheet on applying manure on frozen or snow covered land, which also covers alternatives to spreading that producers can do instead.
“The other option for producers with solid manure is to stock pile manure in the field under the ‘short-term solid manure storage’ provisions of the AOPA [legislation],” Ullman added. “They will need to choose [planning] sites that meet regulations for setbacks to neighbor’s common bodies of water and avoid areas that flood or have a high ground water table.”
For short-term manure storage, there is a time limit on how long it can stay in one spot before it needs to be spread. The AOPA allows manure to be stored in the field for seven months one time in three years and also regulates where these “short-term solid manure storages” may be located. Ullman wrote that, “This means that you could plan a four-year rotation in your stockpile sites and pick locations that meet (or exceed) the required distances to neighbours, water sources, flood plains and depth to ground water.” While location is important, he also added that, “The slope at the location is important too, because setbacks to water are greater where the land slopes towards that water.”
ManureTracker is an Alberta-based manure record keeping mobile application that can help producers transition from paper records. The app allows others from the farm to be added to an account to help with record keeping. There is also the option for a producer to print manure records if the NRCB requests them. As for best practices, Ullman wrote that a good start would be to enter all land, storage areas and production pieces before entering any transfers or spreading info. “As well, if your commercial applicator has the ManureTracker app you can use it to request manure application and help coordinate your record keeping,” Ullman added.
Finally the discussion wrapped up with a focus on safety particularly around manure storage. “Safety around manure storage is a very important issue. Concerns about manure gasses, confined spaces and drowning are worth your time to consider and carefully plan to protect yourself, your family and your employees,” Ullman wrote.
Producers were directed to the Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Community (LPELC) as a resource for manure storage and safety issues.