* Purdue Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering

August 5, 2008

Ag engineer: Plan carefully when closing manure storages

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Farmers deciding to close their confined livestock operations can't forget to properly shut down their manure storage facilities, said a Purdue University agricultural engineer. And in the process, producers should be able to recover some of the cost of closing the facilities.

Producers can convert earthen manure storage structures into freshwater ponds, pastures or cropland, Don Jones said. The conversion process requires careful planning and notifying the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, which is the agency that issues permits for confined livestock operations in the state.

A new Purdue Extension publication helps farmers work through the process. "Closure of Earthen Manure Structures," written by Jones, fellow Purdue professor Alan Sutton and Ryan Westerfeld of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, is available online at

High corn and soybean prices are making it difficult for producers to continue raising livestock profitably and could force some to shut down or suspend production at their operations, Jones said. "If they do that, they'll have to do something with their manure storage areas," he said.

Earthen manure storage is what the name implies: a storage area for manure built at least partially into the ground. The structures can be several acres in size for large livestock operations and hold millions of gallons of liquid manure. Manure lagoons are a type of treatment earthen storage that are larger to allow time and conditions conducive to the decomposition of organic matter.

How a producer closes the earthen structure is less important to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) than making sure the environment is protected, Jones said.

"If you're going to close an earthen structure, you'll need to clean it out - pump out the liquid - and then refill it with water" Jones said. "You'll then need to agitate it thoroughly. You may have to complete the process of filling, agitating and emptying the earthen structure two or three times until tests show that you have fairly clean water. At that time it can be used as a pond. However, this would only apply to structures that have some sort of watershed, such as an unused outside lot area that is no longer in use so that rainwater can refill the pond."

Removal of the storage structure's liner is an important step, Jones said. With a clay liner, the top 6 inches or so of soil probably needs to be removed, he said. That soil can be rich in nitrogen and phosphorous and probably be land applied as crop fertilizer.

A plastic liner should be taken to a landfill if the storage area will be converted to pasture or cropland, Jones said.

"Once all the manure has been removed from the storage structure, the producer has to notify IDEM within 30 days so that IDEM can send an inspector to the farm and verify that the storage has been closed properly," Jones said. "If approved, then the producer can finish closing the structure."

Producers who wish to convert their storage structures into useable farmland have a bigger job ahead of them, Jones said.

"That will entail the same closure process as turning the storage structure into a pond, plus diverting surface water away from the area," he said. "Then the area needs to be refilled with soil and mounded so that it sheds rainwater. At that point a crop or grass of some sort can be established on the site."

Jones urged producers to make proper use of the manure from their closed earthen structures.

"The manure has considerable value, especially in times of high fertilizer prices, and should be used for the cropping program," he said. "If the operator cannot use manure as a fertilizer source in a cropping program, they should work out some sort of arrangement with the neighbors, by either trading the manure or selling it. It doesn't make any sense to throw away fertilizer nutrients at this point in time in agriculture."

If producers believe they will resume operation in the future and wish to maintain their permit with IDEM, they will not need to close the manure storage but, instead, maintain it as required by their permit while operating, Jones said.

"This includes maintaining a proper amount of freeboard above the liquid level of the storage and maintaining berms about the storage or lagoon," he said. "If operation is not resumed within three years, it must follow the closure procedure I've outlined."

Producers face a penalty if they do not notify IDEM that they've closed a structure and stopped operating livestock and poultry enterprises.

"IDEM does not want large earthen structures sitting full of manure for a long period of time when the operation is not active," Jones said.

"Closure of Earthen Manure Structures" includes general recommendations and sections on the characteristics of earthen storages and lagoons, protecting the integrity of the existing earthen liner during closure, and the removal of liquids and pumpable material.

For more information about the publication or earthen manure storage structures, contact Jones at (765) 494-1178, .

Complete information about closing permitted manure storages can be obtained by calling IDEM at (317) 308-3016 or by downloading Article 16 of Indiana's Confined Feeding Rule at  and scrolling down to Rule 11.

Writer: Steve Leer, (765) 494-8415,

Source: Don Jones, (765) 494-1178,

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722;
Beth Forbes,
Agriculture News Page

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