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Cattlemen hear DNR, EPA grazing views

By Staff | Sep 10, 2010

By KRISS NELSON

Farm News staff writer

More than 100 cattle producers, ag lenders, agronomists and environmentalists attended the “Doing Things Right: Farming for the Future,” conference Aug. 26 in Fort Dodge.

The conference, sponsored by the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers, assembled environmental and regulatory experts to help explain regulations on manure and nutrient management issues; a sociologist that discussed research done on livestock farming in Iowa and included a tour of A.J. and Kellie Blair’s cattle and hog farm near Dayton. (See related story by Larry Kershner.)

The conference began with a keynote address by Dr. Steve Sapp, an Iowa State University professor of sociology.

Sapp said that a recent study conducted found that animal agriculture was vital to the economic and social vitality of small towns throughout each of Iowa’s 99 counties.

The question the study was conducted to answer, Sapp said was, “does large-scale livestock farming harm the social and economic structure of small communities?”

In other regions of the country, Sapp said, it appears that the larger the scale of agriculture, the bigger negative effect to smaller communities; but not as certain the same was true the state of Iowa as a whole.

Sapp said the study was conducted in all of Iowa’s 99 counties in which one town was selected for interviews to be held.

Census data from 1994 and 2004 were used and objective data used in the study included median household income, poverty rates, infant death rates, violent crime rates, retail pull factor and income equality.

Subjective data used in the study included neighbor quality, community services, government services and civic engagement.

The findings in that particular study, Sapp said, there was a, “modest, favorable effect on small communities in Iowa.

“There doesn’t seem to be a lot of concern of effects of large-scale farming,” Sapp said.

The next study he conducted was to learn if these larger scale agricultural livestock producers are good neighbors. This study was done over 16 communities in eight counties with 150 surveys and 20 in-depth interviews with pork producers.

Town residents were asked questions about area pork producers and in turn pork producers were asked about their towns’ citizens.

Sapp said they found to be rated as nearly equal to fellow town residents and also found pork producers take pride in employing area residents and in being good neighbors.

They also found that pork producers struggle just as much as urban and other rural residents regarding odor issues and what constitutes as humane treatment of animals.

“We found no reason for concern thus far that large scale farming is detrimental to rural towns,” said Sapp. “Nor do they erode the social fabric among farmers and small town residents.”

Panel members speak

Following Sapp’s address, a panel discussion convened with Gene Tinker with the DNR; Eldon McAfee, an attorney with Beving, Swanson and Forrest, P.C. that primarily practices in agricultural law and represents the Iowa Pork Producer Association and does presentation updates on livestock and environmental regulations; Dan Breedlove, senior attorney with the Environmental Protection Agency serving as Region 7’s agriculture counselor.

Discussions focused on recent enforcement efforts pertaining to the Clean Water Act and offered real-time scenarios of compliance efforts related to individual operations.

Chris Gruenhagen, government relations counsel for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation was moderator for the discussion.

Scenario 1

The first scenario involved a farmer with two cattle feed lots, one made up of 600 head of cattle and the other with 400 head that are 2,000 feet apart. The land between the two feedlots consists of row crops and the manure is spread with the same spreader. The question asked is does this producer require a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit?

McAfee said that if the producer keeps the cattle as separate feed lots, they are both small enough in numbers that neither would require an NPDES permit.

however, McAfee cautioned, the farmer could have a problem if he is co-mingling manure application on the same lot on those 2,000 feet.

According to McAfee, the producer needs to be sure to not have a common system for manure disposal.

Applying the waste could be another issue, McAfee said.

Using the same manure spreader and loader could actually be considered a “common system” under federal law.

“I personally don’t think it is, but to play it safe, (the producer) better have a separate loader and spreader,” said McAfee.

Breedlove agreed saying the EPA will apply rules as broadly as possible to protect the environment.

“If you’re looking to negate all of the risks, two difference spreaders will be two completely different systems,” said Breedlove.

Both McAfee and Breedlove said that for surety and clarity for one’s operation, they should get an NPDES permit.

“It’s in place, issued by the state, so if you’re meeting requirements, it can help with the EPA,” said Breedlove.

Scenario 2

The next scenario generated much debate on manmade conveyances for filtering feedlot runoff, based upon an open feedlot with 580 head of cattle, where the Natural Resource Conservation Service designed a system that runs to a road ditch.

Breedlove said if the goal for this producer is to not have a permit, if they can remove the manmade conveyance they would be under regulations. Otherwise, he said, with the man made conveyance in place, they will need a permit.

McAfee countered that a road ditch issue is a big one for cattle producers.

“Producers with feed lots where there’s a manmade ditch or similar manmade device are not being penalized, but are told to get a permit or do something with the manmade conveyance,” said McAfee.

Tinker said the Iowa DNR is developing a standard to determine if a design system will need a “best professional judgment,” which is decided, he said, by the DNR.

Contact Kriss Nelson at jknelson@frontiernet.net.

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