Three opportunities to spread green in spring

6/27/2019
This article was origionally published in Agriview and is part of a four-piece series on creating new manure spreading opportunities for Wisconsin farmers. It was written by Aaron Pape, UW Discovery Farms Tile Drainage Education Coordinator based on UW Discovery Farms work and participating farmer experiences. 
Prioritizing corn planting above spring manure applications is common, and for good reason. Earlier planting often leads to higher yields. However, supplying nutrients to feed those crops and emptying manure storage are also important. Techniques are available that allow manure to be spring applied without disrupting corn planting. 
Distributing manure applications to times other than fall spreads the workload over the year and increases the availability of manure hauling equipment and custom applicators. Spring applied manure provides nutrients in close proximity to crop needs, increasing efficiency. Spring manure also spends less time sitting in idle fields than fall manure, potentially reducing the risk of nutrient loss. Spreading manure onto green, growing plants improves nutrient capture.  Here are three ways to spread green in spring.
Spread on covers
Overwintered cover crops provide a green plant to spread manure on. Winter cereals like rye, wheat, and triticale produce tremendous growth in early spring. The growing cereal acts as a water pump to dry the soils. The combination of cover crops and reduced tillage improve water infiltration and the soils’ ability to carry weight, allowing manure equipment to access fields at a time most conventionally farmed fields would be too muddy to drive on. The cover crop reduces runoff and absorbs some of the manure nutrients, releasing them to the cash crop as the covers decompose.
Spread on planted corn
Another spring hauling opportunity is to apply manure after corn planting. Derek Van de Hay, a Discovery Farms and Lower Fox Demo Farms participating farmer, surface applies 6-8,000 gallons of manure on his corn within 3 days of planting. If he spread manure prior to planting, he would have to wait 2-3 days for the soil to dry out again before he could plant. This system ensures that his corn is planted as timely as possible and the additional moisture from the liquid manure helps the seeds to germinate.
Sidedress manure
An emerging technique for in season manure applications is sidedressing manure.  Jesse Dvorachek, a custom manure hauler operating in Northeast Wisconsin, has custom built a manure tanker capable of side-dressing corn up to 24” tall without damage to the crop.  Using precisely placed dual tires, the tanker travels through the field with the corn passing harmlessly between the duals. 
Some farms are applying manure to young corn with a drag hose. When applied through the V3 or even V4 stage, the crop is not damaged by the hose, as the growth point is below the ground surface.  Glen Arnold at Ohio State University has conducted trials demonstrating that not only is applying manure at sidedress safe for the corn, but it also boosted yields over corn sidedressed with UAN.  By sidedressing manure, those nutrients are provided to a growing crop when they are needed.  That reduces the risk of nutrient loss to water resources.  June is also a slow time for manure hauling, so custom applicators are more available.
Conclusion
Spreading manure on growing plants in springtime improves nutrient use efficiency and may even boost yields.  Applying manure more synchronized with crop needs also reduces risks to water quality.  Spreading green in spring is a great opportunity to get your crops off to a great start while reducing the scheduling crunch that relying on fall manure applications can produce.  Find ways to create new spreading windows on your farm.