Cover crops and winter spreading: a match made in heaven

Cover crops are the perfect companion for spreading manure in the winter

Livestock farmers face many challenges. One of the most daunting is where should manure be spread in the winter. There are tools available to help determine what fields you should spread on, MARI for example, but sometimes when the thermometer dips down and the sun never seems to shine you just want to go to the nearest field and quickly spread. Another option that you have is to spread on the fields that you have put seeded with a cover crop, as long as the field levels of phosphorus are not too high.

The major concern with winter spreading of manure is runoff. Cover crops can capture the manure so that it is held in the field. This will decrease the likelihood of manure running off into surface water or leaching through field tiles.

Cover crops can uptake the manure nutrients in the spring for an early growth. This not only will mean healthier plants but it also will decrease the likelihood of nitrogen leaching through the soil and getting into groundwater. Another benefit will be an increase in biomass production. This equates to more organic matter being produced. The soil in the field will become healthier and less fertilizer will be needed for crop production.

There is also a social aspect to using cover crops on fields that have manure applied. An unfortunate fact about manure is that it smells. One of the easiest ways that farmers can reduce odor emissions is to spread it in vegetation. As the weather warms up cover crops can uptake the manure nutrients so that hopefully odor emissions are reduced.

If you have any questions about cover crops you can contact Paul Gross,, Christina Curell,, or Florian Chirra, If you have any questions about practices that will help protect water quality contact Christina Curell, curellc@anr.msu.


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