A moratorium on animal feedlots was the talk of the Minnesota legislative session. But when state lawmakers wrapped up their session in late April, they opted instead for an environmental study.

The Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) will be a 2- to 3-year comprehensive study of the environmental, economic and social impacts of the livestock industry, says David Preisler, executive director of the Minnesota Pork Producers Association (MPPA). It may cost $2.7 million.

"It's hoped that the GEIS can give us an inventory of what we've got out there in actual numbers of feedlots, and then we can start dealing with them in terms of where there are problems with feedlots," expresses Duane Bakke, Lanesboro, MN, MPPA legislative committee chair.

The legislative action comes on the heels of a slight slowing of growth in Minnesota. Like most states in '98, hog growth has slowed, says Preisler.

However, the March Hogs & Pigs Report showed that Minnesota's breeding herd rose 3%. Marketings are up 11% over the same period in 1997.

During the past decade, Minnesota has exhibited a steady growth in hog numbers. This is contrary to the trend in many other Midwestern states which suffered declines in hog numbers. The hog economy remains solid for the near future.

Lagoon Ban But Minnesota producers continue to face increasingly strict environmental rules. The state legislature also enacted a two-year moratorium on construction of new, open-air, earthen or flexible-membrane-lined lagoons for hog operations, reports Preisler.

In regards to manure application rates, the state requires that commercial manure applicators be licensed after March 1, 2000. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture also must report to the state legislature by January 1999 on the need for livestock producers who apply their own manure to be licensed.

In March, MPPA President Jim Quackenbush of Chokio, MN, lamented the plight of older livestock facilities. A total of $1 million was then allocated by the state to upgrade facilities under 1,000 animal units (a.u.).

"In our opinion, there is too much time spent talking about new permits and not enough time talking about what is already out there, especially older facilities," stresses Preisler. "It has nothing to do with size and everything to do with age."

Older feedlots were often sited near rivers or creeks for drainage. Now we know runoff problems can result, he says, and those situations need to be corrected.

The state Pollution Control Agency ((PCA) is required to issue either individual or general National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) feedlot permits based on size of facility and date of application, says Preisler.

The PCA must issue individual NPDES permits for newly constructed or expanded operations of 2,000 or more a.u. if received after bill enactment. Individual NPDES permits will also be issued after Jan. 1, 1999 for new or expanded facilities with 1,000 to 2,000 a.u.

An individual or general NPDES permit can be issued to existing feedlots with 1,000 a.u. or more.

Counties can permit facilities that are less than 1,000 a.u. There are already 48 counties that have adopted that authority. The state authorized $400,000 to improve county feedlot programs.

An environmental review rule that treats separate sites as one operation was mandated to be reviewed and rewritten, explains Preisler. This rule has been a hardship for producers wanting to work together.

It's a new interpretation on an existing rule," says Bakke. "People are in favor of it because they want to keep everybody small. What they don't realize is it does just the opposite. Because if they are going to be viewed as together anyway, they might as well build the facilities all together on one site," he observes.