Weather conditions impede farmers’ post-harvest duties

Early snows  (Julie Falk/Flickr)
Snow and cold temperatures are impeding farmers’ ability to apply fertilizer to fields during the post-harvest season. (Julie Falk/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | November 28, 2014

Early snow and unusually cold temperatures this month will likely cause repercussions for farmers in the spring as they are currently unable to fertilize their fields.

The frozen ground – which measures between 5 and 9 inches deep – has caused difficulties for farmers looking to fertilize their fields, especially using liquid manure. This is problematic not only for the soil but also the receptacles that hold the manure which will eventually exceed capacity.

“We’re hoping for a warm spell so we can get out there and inject more manure. Otherwise, we’re going to have to surface apply some of this manure so we don’t have facilities that are running over,” said Iowa State University Extension Agronomist Joel  DeJong during an interview on Radio Iowa.

In 2010 the Iowa Code established that farmers cannot apply fertilizer to their soil between December 21 and April 1. Fertilizer applied to frozen ground has a greater chance of running off the field and polluting nearby waterways and damaging local ecosystems. Several manure spills have occurred in Iowa this month including one in Fairfield where an estimated 3,000 gallons of liquid manure “spilled into an unnamed creek.” In August, a spill occurred in northwest Iowa that killed more than 860,000 fish in Mill Creek.

The state in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently passed rules for stricter regulation of manure spills specifically and livestock farms more generally. Fines and other actions are taken against farmers and operations that violate the new rule.

2 thoughts on “Weather conditions impede farmers’ post-harvest duties

  1. Interesting topic, it’s good to cover issues like this so the general public can be aware of some of the challenges faced in agricultural conservation. I’m afraid this story may be confusing to some however, in mixing the issues of land application of fertilizer and manure, with that of manure spills.

    The fourth paragraph moves directly from one to the other. Sure they’re both manure-related issues, but manure lagoon spills are rarely if ever caused by frozen ground delaying application, and the impacts of land application on frozen ground are not comparable to the single-shock impacts of a major spill.

  2. […] Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) from the Natural Resources and Environment Subcommittee introduced the bill last month. If passed, the bill would bar farmers from applying fertilizer when (1) the ground is frozen or snow-covered; (2) the ground is water-saturated; (3) the 24-hour weather forecast calls for a half-inch of rain or more; or (4) the ground is sloped at 20 percent or greater. The currently law – which was added to the Iowa Code in 2010 – states that farmers cannot apply fertilizer to their soil between December 21 and April 1. […]

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