Considerations for Land Spreading Milk

With milk prices plunging lower and demand for dairy products declining because of the COVID-19 pandemic, some dairy processors do not have the storage capacity to take delivery of milk. As a result, some farms, including within Fond du Lac County, have been forced to dump milk into their manure storage facilities.

There are several different agronomic concerns that need to be addressed when milk is stored and land spread as nutrients applied to soil and plants. In addition, environmental regulations need to be followed when applying milk.

To address this issue, a collaboration of UW-Madison College of Agriculture & Life Sciences Department of Soil Science, UW-Madison Extension, and UW Nutrient & Pest Management Program educators developed, implemented, hosted, and evaluated “Considerations for Land Spreading Milk” webinar.  With nearly 630 individuals registered for the webinar, the webinar presenters discussed reasons for milk surpluses at some dairy processing plants and future expectations, nutrient management as it relates to land spreading of milk, environmental rules and regulations, and handling and storage issues that should be considered for milk.

The live webinar had over 628 unique viewers with over 1,300 views of the recorded webinar (as of April 16, 2020) at

Based on post-webinar evaluations (n=174), respondents indicated a 1.7 point increase (on a scale of one to five, one being very low and five being every high) in knowledge on where we are now and why are we here with the dairy markets, +2.1 increase regarding nutrient availability, agronomics, and water quality issues associated with land spreading milk, 1.6 increase regarding applicable Wisconsin DATCP & DNR rules for land spreading milk, and a +1.9  increase in knowledge regarding managing milk in manure storage, handling and treatment systems.

Based on the webinar, 100 percent of the respondents felt more confident in land spreading milk waste as a crop nutrient source in a manner to meet pertinent rules and regulations and maintain environmental quality.

Eighty-five respondents indicated, based on the webinar, the following practices they would implement/adopt in their work or share with others:

  • Fifty-five percent of the respondents indicated nutrient management and application considerations for land spreading including:  “I will help others understand the fertilizer value of land spread milk, if they need to dump milk on their farm”; and “If applying milk, treating it like a highly available source of nutrients.  That it also has special considerations due to its oxygen using capability if getting to surface waters.”
  • Twenty percent of the respondents will share information with others including:  “As an Extension Educator with Michigan State University Extension, I will cite and take this information into some of the resources we produce for our dairy industry.” and “We have openly shared the materials from this webinar in their original format/content with customers from WA to PA. This addressed all of the questions we could have raised or that customers are raising, well done.”
  • Twelve percent of the respondents indicated the impact of milk on manure storage, handling, and treatment systems including “Try and avoid putting milk through any system you don’t need to. Take it to the field or lagoon with as few steps as possible.” and “Do not dump milk down the drain for fear of plugging up the equipment.”
  • Nine percent of the respondents indicated sharing of the dairy market situation leading to milk disposal including “Stressing to others how much dairy products are consumed at restaurants and foodservice.” and “Discussing the various parts of the dairy market and how they’ve been affected.”

Forty-five additional comments were provided by respondents including:

  • I thought that, overall, the presentations were excellent and very informative for a wide audience. I also appreciate that you are taking such a thoughtful approach to dealing with these issues.
  • Timely information, good to have at any time. Presenters had good slides and made it easier to understand.
  • Thanks for educating us on this topic, I’ve been an NM planner for over a decade and much was new information!
  • It was very clearly presented information, very practical, and pertinent to the situation at hand.  Excellent presentation
  • I think it was great to share the state of dairies (milk prices etc.). I found that very valuable and shared with my organization.
  • Very good and educational webinar. It was a webinar all dairy farmers and all crop consultants in Wisconsin should have been listening to.
  • It would have been beneficial to provide options for land applications based upon soil conditions (reduced application rates, immediate incorporation, ranking fields for application based on current conditions, etc.).
  • I enjoyed having different speakers throughout the 1.5 hours.  It made the presentation more interesting
  • This webinar was very well put together and very interesting.  (not all webinars are VERY interesting)
  • Thank you so much for addressing such an important and applicable topic in a timely and well-organized manner!
  • I am simply impressed by how fast this event was developed. Seeing the need for this material, advertising, registering, and holding the event within a few days of the first reports of dumping is impressive. JOB WELL DONE!
  • I really enjoy the platform for online education.
  • Conduct more of these types of webinars an all sorts of topics… really informative and was a good format for viewing/participating.
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