Lay It, Don’t Spray It

Irrigating manure similar to irrigating water is becoming an issue across the state. Photo courtesy of

By Charles Collier, The Denmark News

On Monday, August 1, the Town of Cooperstown adopted a two-year moratorium on the spray irrigation of liquid manure. Opposition to the fertilization tactic stems from health concerns regarding airborne pathogens such as e. coli, streptococcus spp., salmonella and various others. The Town is the twentieth Wisconsin municipality to restrict spray irrigation of manure, joining three from neighboring Kewaunee County.

Farmers in Cooperstown are not allowed to use center-pivot systems, and nozzles attached to trailers can be no higher than 18 inches, a measure meant to reduce the drift of manure to surrounding properties and water sources.

Manitowoc County Board Supervisor James Falkowski applauds the Town’s reasoned approach to protect against the “unknowns.”

“The board of supervisors in Cooperstown took a studied and reasonable approach to addressing the ‘unknowns’ regarding the aerosolized application of animal effluent, within the purview of their statutory actions. This includes taking into consideration developing metrics quantifying risks and perils with practices involving aerosolized manure applications.” Falkowski said in an email.

Falkowski recognized the legal limitations of county and local governments in issuing ordinances, but that the issue has been discussed at the county level and officials are being proactive in educating themselves.

“Most deliberation is with the equity to protect and prioritize both the health of groundwater, air quality, and agricultural interest throughout the County. If an organic model emerges it will be recognized for all to know.”

Under state law, only Concentrated Animal Feeding Opeartions (CAFOs,) operations with 700 or more milking cows, are required to apply for a permit with the Department of Natural Resources to implement the practice. For the next two years, even small farmers are prohibited from irrigating their manure with center-pivot sprayers.

That application process is intensive, requiring a manure management plan, multiple field surveys, daily logs of wind speed and direction, temperature, soil composition, as well as monitoring of nearby water sources and fields to identify any drift. As of today, only 14 CAFOs in the state use spray irrigation to fertilize their fields.

Spraying liquid manure, contend those using it, is beneficial in a variety of ways. Sprayers say the impact on roads is greatly reduced as large trucks are not required to make multiple trips, application of manure is more precise, and soil compaction becomes less of an issue.

These beneficial claims have been researched and weighted by the Wisconsin Manure Irrigation Group commissioned by the UW-Extension office, which recently released their comprehensive report on the effects of manure spray irrigation titled, “Considerations For The Use Of Manure Irrigation Practices” explores in-depth both sides of this concerning issue.

Aside from the aforementioned application and maintenance requirements, the only state laws protecting residents from the documented health risks, mainly associated with respiratory problems adversely affecting children and the elderly, are distance requirements of 500-feet from a residence or 250-feet with a homeowner’s written consent.

In consideration of a recent study showing one-third of wells in Kewaunee County, where cows outnumber people, being contaminated with bacteria and coliform, contaminants associated with manure seeping into groundwater, there is growing pressure for legislators to face the public health issues arising from large-scale farming. Representative Andre Jacque said that before being asked about the issue, he had no idea it was going on and was unaware of any traction in Madison to address the hazards.

Much of the state regulation currently in place relies on self-reporting, and a growing distrust in the DNR was bolstered when the state Legislative Audit Bureau found the department failing to enforce their policies on water polluters 94% of the time.

The two-year moratorium in Cooperstown is meant as a measure to abate health concerns while waiting for technology to progress and the science to be more perfected. The Town has authority to pass an ordinance either over-riding or reinforcing the moratorium before the two-years are complete.