Helping smaller feedlots, dairies adhere to rules
In 2001, a partnership between the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and Iowa State University initiated the Iowa Plan for Open Feedlots.
The goal of this plan was to help large, open feedlot operators (greater than 1,000 head) come into compliance with state and federal regulations for manure management and water quality. This program was quite successful at bringing large feedlots into regulatory compliance.
Now, nearly 11 years later, the same agencies and the Iowa State Dairy Association, in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are initiating the Small Open Lot Plan. The goal of this effort is to assist open feedlots and small dairies in assessing feedlot and outdoor pen areas for potential runoff of manure and nutrients, and to implement practices and strategies to mitigate potential impacts on water quality.
• It’s not just big livestock operations that are being watched by the EPA.
• Small, open feedlots and small dairies have come under closer scrutiny.
• Iowa now has an outreach plan to help small farms on environmental issues.
As most other sectors of the livestock industry have come into compliance, smaller operators have historically been left out of those efforts because regulators have addressed large operations with the goal that these compliance efforts would address the majority of the concern.
However, in the past two years Iowa livestock operations, in particular, small open feedlots and small dairies have come under closer scrutiny by EPA. This is often done with “flyovers” and ensuing on-site inspections. The days of smaller producers thinking they are not on the regulatory radar screen are long gone.
Size of operation defined
In response to this scrutiny, the organizations have designed the Small Open Lot Plan to raise awareness about environmental issues on these small farms. For the purpose of this program, the term “small feedlots and dairy operations” is defined as beef or dairy livestock operations that house less than 1,000 animal units (less than 1,000 head beef or immature dairy or 700 head mature dairy) in a feedlot-type situation. Other sizes include:
• Medium CAFO. Once you’ve determined the size of your operation, you must determine your regulatory status. If your outdoor open lot or cow yard has between 300 and 999 cattle or dairy heifers, or 200 to 699 mature dairy cows, and manure or process wastewater (including milkhouse washwater) are discharging to a water of the U.S., you are classified as a medium-size concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO, and your operation needs the required manure controls, a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, a nutrient management plan and certain records kept.
If you are a medium CAFO, you are required to follow certain design criteria for containment of manure on your farm. Because smaller farms may have limited access to technical or financial resources, the design criteria are typically less stringent than requirements for large CAFOs.
• Small animal feeding operation. If your operation is smaller than a medium CAFO, you are not required to have a NPDES permit or a nutrient management plan unless designated to do so by DNR. However, you still can’t allow manure to discharge to water sources, and you are required to follow certain separation distances for manure application.
Educational outreach will help
Because the Small Open Lot Plan is educational in nature, one of the first goals is to raise awareness about potential impacts of manure runoff. DNR has partnered with ISU Extension to place water quality testing kits in 20 counties. These kits are available for livestock producers to use to check water quality in streams below their feedlots and cow yards.
The kits will come with an instructional video and a fact sheet on water quality impacts. The results are confidential, and livestock producers are not required to share this information. This test can help identify if runoff is reaching the stream and the potential impact on aquatic life.
The second goal of this plan is to provide written material in the forms of manuals and fact sheets that can assist producers in making decisions on what kinds of manure control structures or management practices will help eliminate runoff from their feedlots.
In addition, ISU Extension will host several field days this year to look at demonstration sites that will highlight different structures and management practices. The demonstration events will also include information about technical and financial resources available.
All this information, including a list of ISU Extension offices that are offering the water quality kits, will be available through the Small Feedlot and Dairy Operations Web page, a subset of the Iowa Manure Management Action Group, at www.agronext.iastate.edu/immag/smallfeedlotsdairy.html.
Specific questions regarding this plan can be addressed to Shawn Shouse, ISU Extension ag engineer, at 712-769-2600, or Angie Rieck-Hinz, Extension program specialist, at 515-294-9590. You may also contact your area ISU Extension ag engineer, beef or dairy specialist, your local DNR field office, or the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association for more details.
Rieck-Hinz is an Iowa State University Extension program specialist.
This article published in the February, 2012 edition of WALLACES FARMER.