You can’t control acts of nature, but you do have the power to plan for other situations to prevent manure spills.

Regardless of your efforts, there’s always the possibility of a tanker spill, storage overflow, sub-surface tile drainage or runoff from land application.

“Planning before you apply any manure, as well as identifying potential weaknesses in the way manure is handled, stored or applied allows you to correct weaknesses before catastrophic situations occur,” says Don Jones, agricultural engineer, Purdue University.       

He recommends that you develop a manure emergency-action plan to ensure that your employees and family members:

  • React quickly to a manure discharge or a situation where a discharge is imminent.
  • Have access to the tools, equipment and the help they need to minimize any discharge impact. A written plan also helps you recognize and correct potential situations that could lead to a discharge. “To develop an effective emergency action plan, you have to think critically about how manure on your operation is collected, stored, transported and land applied or otherwise utilized,” says Jones. You can reduce the chances for an unplanned manure release by following a few simple practices.
  • Train an employee or family member to regularly inspect all manure-handling equipment and facilities. It’s best that the same person do inspections for several continuous days in order to keep observations consistent over time.
  • Create an inspection checklist. Outline items and areas that should be inspected so that you don’t omit portions of your system. The objective is to find anything that deviates from normal so you can identify potential problems and promptly remedy the situation. For example, check for burrowing rodents in an earthen lagoon, make sure that valve locks are closed and latched properly, and monitor lagoon manure levels.
  • Keep quick-mitigation supplies on hand. This will help you get ahead of spills or contain them until heavy equipment can be brought to the site. For example, fill a burlap sack with kiln-dried sawdust to collect small spills or prevent them from moving down ditches or tile lines. Keep several on hand in a dry area.
  • Install an alarm or alert system. See that vital manure-handling components have alarms that can signal when malfunctions occur. For instance, add an alarm to your transfer sump pump.
  • Control the spill’s source. Plug holes where leaks are occurring. Stop manure application or pumps. Close valves. Separate pipe connections to create an air gap and stop any siphoned flow. Transfer spilled manure to another basin, lagoon or tank. Shut off the water in the case of a waterline break.
  • Control the spill’s impact. Build a containment dam in the field, ditch or stream. Cap tile lines and remove excess manure. Construct a temporary holding basin to hold the manure down slope from the release. If accessible, place soil over the point of seepage to absorb the manure and prevent flow away from the site.
  • Comply with reporting requirements. Did the release reach any surface water, streams, well casings or other sensitive areas? You must immediately report manure spills that occur on public roads (call the county sheriff) and those that reach surface waters (state environmental agency.) Prepare a summary report for your files to document your actions and report to your state environmental management agency as required.
  • Clean up the affected area. Collect the spilled manure and land-apply it at agronomic rates or return it to manure storage. Restore the damaged area.

Document clean-up procedures (some states require a clean up plan to be filed with the appropriate agency.)

If you take the time now to develop a proper response plan, you will make faster and better decisions when and if a spill should occur.