Arecent survey of pork producers, conducted to identify environmental concerns, has revealed that some don't understand key issues.

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) contracted with Validus Services, LLC, which collected the thoughts of 183 Strategic Investment Partners (SIP) on 35 questions posed in January and February of 2008.

The majority of producers responding to the survey were owners (74%), contract feeders (11%) and environmental managers (7%), according to Michael Formica, environmental policy counsel.

These respondents represented mostly farrow-to-finish operations (48%), wean-to-finish systems (26%) and farrow-to-wean operations (11%).

Getting Ready for CAFO

When asked how prepared they are to comply with the CAFO (confined animal feeding operations) rule, a large percentage of producers are willing to comply, but many don't understand the rule. That rule is targeted for publication in the Federal Register in August, Formica explained in a World Pork Expo talk.

In the NPPC survey, 34% indicated they didn't understand the CAFO rule, and 75% suggested that NPPC explain the CAFO rule, while more than 75% requested an explanation of the Ag Stormwater Exemption, which governs discharges from CAFOs.

Close to 70% also requested more information on strategies for phosphorus reduction in manure and an explanation of how to calculate manure value.

The top five environmental issues identified in order of importance were water quality, air quality, antibiotics, respiratory issues and greenhouse gases.

Respondents identified five elements that the industry should focus on to improve environmental performance: practice better location selection, eliminate manure spills, manage old lagoons, control the odor of spreading manure and improve mortality disposal.

Producers said animal housing presented the most financially challenging issue for odor control and manure application, followed by under-building pits.

On serious issues affecting pork production today, about 81% rated animal welfare the top priority, followed closely by food safety, the environment and concerns about public health. Worker care and on-farm security rounded out the major concerns.

Environmental issues that neighbors actually complain about vs. what producers view as the public's perception of concerning issues are a point of contention. Generally there is a disconnect between issues raised by the local community vs. concerns expressed by the media. Neighbor complaints are largely about hog odors, while television or newspaper reports raise concerns about discharges of manure and chemicals into waters.

That same theme of neighbors' complaints vs. producer views of public concerns shows that on issues of erosion, dust, runoff and water shortages, neighbor complaints make up a very small percentage vs. producers' views of what the public perceives to be an issue.

Dealing with EQIP

Thirty-five percent of those surveyed said they have an EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) contract to improve the environment on their farms. But 3% said they never heard of EQIP, 16% said they never considered applying for EQIP funds and 6% said they wanted to stay away from government programs.

Additionally, 14% indicated they had not participated in the program; 1% said they were discouraged from participation by local Natural Resources Conservation Services personnel; and 10% said that bureaucracy discouraged them from applying for funding.

Formica says during 2003-2005, livestock received about 60% of all EQIP dollars. Of that 60%, beef practices garnered 66% of those funds, while swine operations cashed in on only 3% of funds. The hope is to greatly expand available funds for pork producers.

Formica says the survey was conducted to identify public policy areas requiring renewed producer outreach.

Overall, producers directed NPPC to work harder at refuting misconceptions about industry practices.

In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to review two years of research data collected on a cross-section of CAFO farms to develop on-farm air emission standards.