Wisconsin Professional Manure Applicator Education

Why Look at Manure Applicator Educational Programs?

Based on 2013 statistics, Wisconsin has a dairy herd of 1.2 million cows that produce 12,000,000,000 gallons of manure and waste water. Custom manure haulers in Wisconsin handle an estimated fifty percent of the dairy manure and forty per cent of all livestock manure generated in Wisconsin. Because custom manure applicators are a critical component of nutrient management plan (NMP) implementation, University of Wisconsin Extension initiated manure hauler education across the state in the early 1990’s. In 2000, the applicators sought UW – Extension advisory support in forming the Professional Nutrient Applicators Association of Wisconsin (PNAAW). This began a long term relationship between UW – Extension and the professional applicators in Wisconsin and across the upper Midwest.

Following a needs assessment of the industry, the board of directors of PNAAW expressed an interest in a voluntary training and certification program. The overall goal of the training was to educate the custom manure haulers and their employees in safe handling and application practices, spill response, regulations and nutrient management. Road safety, neighbor relations, and confined space safety education modules were added later.

What did we do?

In March of 2002, the board of directors of the PNAAW and a group of Michigan manure applicators independently approached Extension in each state to initiate a voluntary certification and training program. Over the next 5 months, applicators and Extension staff examined the 5 existing manure applicator certification programs and created the program currently in use in Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan.

Field photo 2012

Manure expo 2012, checking out a new dragline applicator.

The UW – Extension Nutrient Management Team’s Custom Manure Hauler Workgroup joined with Extension faculty in Illinois and Michigan to develop a three-state certification program with three levels of training/certification. The certification includes a partnership with the insurance industry to provide a market-based incentive to participate. Business and employee management issues are addressed during an annual multi-state regional symposium coordinated by UW-Extension.

Certification: The program is segmented into three certification levels. Firms must meet level 1 requirement to gain level 2, and meet level 2 requirements to achieve level 3.

  • Level 1: Requires each employee to be trained and tested on spill response techniques, state specific regulations (including CAFO regulations) and common sense application techniques. Firms that document compliance are eligible for a 10% vehicle liability premium reduction. Training is ~3 hours in length and is completed annually.
  • Level 2: Requires crew supervisors and business owners to attend 6 hours of continuing education over a 2 year period. Classes are offered at field days and the annual conference. Once a firm has achieved Level 2, they may conduct Level 1 training in-house.
  • Level 3: Develop and implement an EMS (Environmental Management System). The EMS requires the firm to document their process and ensure all employees know their job responsibilities. Insurance auditors will evaluate each firm’s EMS annually to insure compliance. Premium reductions include 10-40% on vehicle liability and 50% on environmental liability.

Not your typical Wisconsin “boat” show. PNAAW 2014 manure boat agitation demonstration, organized with UW-Extension.

All certification levels also require that the firm complete the PNAAW Performance Standards Checklist at least once per year.

Membership in the state’s applicator association is required for certification, as certification is granted by the association and not by Extension. Each state association may also require additional performance standards, such as documentation of equipment calibration, to grant certification.

One area of continuing education began in 2002, when UW – Extension with permission from Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), conducted manure spill response training using actual manure. The basic educational focus was containing, controlling, cleaning up, and then meeting reporting requirements of a spill. Since 2002, 20 live action demonstrations have occurred. Training has expanded to include calibrating of manure equipment and determining manure application rate per acre.

What have we learned?

PNAAW requested that Extension assist in filling an educational need not met by current farm shows – being able to compare different manure agitation and application equipment side by side in the field (using actual manure) to help determine which best meets individual needs. The result was the first Manure Expo in August 2001, which drew 432 people from 5 states and Canada.

The Manure Expo has grown to an annual 2-day educational and demonstration event. 2015 is the 13th Expo; the event has been hosted by Extension and custom applicators in Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania in the US and Guelph, Ontario, Canada. An average Expo will draw over 1,000 people from industry, university, farm, and application professionals.

PNAAW 2014

PNAAW 2014

The pit before the boat demonstration begins 2014.

The voluntary certification program has saved Wisconsin and Michigan over $100,000 annually because regulatory mandates require state finances for staff and office to run mandated programs. In addition to the sharing of curriculum in multiple Midwestern universities the training and educational sessions are a success in the formation/enhancement of three state associations in Michigan (now inactive), Pennsylvania, and Indiana/Ohio.

Applicator and industry partnerships contributed to a multi – state agriculture weight study based at the Minnesota DOT/University of Minnesota, MN Road Research Center. Over $640,000 was pooled from applicators and Applicator Associations (WI, MI, MN, IA, and OH), industry and agencies to fund research on the impact of larger manure hauling and agriculture equipment on pavement.

Custom manure applicators are a key component in the environmental application of manure. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) has tracked crop acres managed with a NMP. In 2004, 0.7 million crop acres were managed using a NMP; in 2014 the NMP managed acres increased to 2.58 million acres in Wisconsin.

Future Plans

Each year a new need will arise. Education will be provided for employee relations, business planning, family/work balance and the need to review new technology. A few projects that began in 2014: manure boat agitation field day and precision manure application. Education will be developed in the future as a need arises from the manure application industry.


Richard Halopka, CCA, Clark County UW-Extension Crops & Soils Agent richard.halopka@ces.uwex.edu

George Koepp, Columbia County UWEX Agriculture Agent, Jerry Clark,Chippewa County UWEX Crops/Soils Educator, Ted Bay, Grant County UWEX Crops/Farm Management Agent, Kevin Erb, UWEX Conservation Professional Devp. & Training Cord., Becky Larsen, UW Biowaste Specialist, Jim Leverich, UW On Farm Research, Kim Meyer, UW Arlington ARS, Cheryl Skjolaas, UW Agriculture Safety Specialist

Additional information

In 2014, over 400 custom manure applicators in Wisconsin were certified in at least one level of the program. Eight PNAAW member application firms revised their level 3 status in 2013 and are saving $44,000 annually on pollution insurance policies, while PNAAW firms achieving level 1 and level 2 certification reduced pollution insurance policies premiums by an additional $78,000 per year.

The collaboration of PNAAW, University of Wisconsin Extension, University of Wisconsin Specialists, WDNR, DATCP and UW – Extension County Agents has provided the foundation of a proactive approach to education and training, leading to problem solving results from a knowledgeable application industry.


2009 U.S.A. water quality poster, manure spills

2009 U.S.A. water quality poster, manure spills

Bulletin for manure spill response developed by UW-Extension nutrient management team PNAAW workgroup.

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