After extensive debate during late-night sessions in Des Moines, the Iowa Legislature passed a bill on April 11 that puts air quality limits on livestock confinement operations. The bill also includes provisions for an annual fees assessment on a per-animal-unit basis, and construction permit fees for equipment and personnel monitoring.

The long-awaited bill surfaced from the Senate Ag Committee and was debated and passed by both houses during the last three days of the legislative session.

Nearly 1,300 livestock producers rallied on April 4 to urge legislators not to restrict the growth of the Iowa industry. Their efforts resulted in several changes from earlier drafts of the legislation, lightening the restrictions of the bill.

Previous bills, passed in 1995 and 1998, had established requirements for manure management plans and in-creased setback distances.

More County Input

The new bill includes a matrix, or point system, which counties and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) must use to award “construction points” to producers wishing to build confinement facilities. According to the interim matrix, at least 100 points are required to build, explains Eldon McAfee of the Beving, Swanson and Forrest law firm in Des Moines, IA, which represents a number of independent pork producers and the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA).

“The matrix is the most significant [part of the bill] from a policy standpoint,” McAfee says.

The process rates a proposed site based on its effect on the environment and community. Any new operation being built to house more than 1,000 animal units (2,500 pigs over 55 lb. or 10,000 pigs from 15 to 55 lb.) must first complete a matrix and submit it to the county for approval as part of applying for a state permit with the Iowa DNR. (One animal unit equals 0.4 hogs weighing more than 55 lb. or 0.1 hogs weighing 15 to 55 lb.)

If a proposed facility does not pass at the county level, the Iowa DNR must evaluate the site using the same matrix.

“Many like the idea of the matrix because it gives more county input,” McAfee continues. However, “it sets the principle without knowledge about how it will work.

“This new process lowers the permit level,” he says. “However, a site can house up to 7,499 head (3,000 animal units) before additional engineering is required.”

The previous permit threshold of 625,000 lb. of animal weight capacity, or about 4,100 head of finishing pigs, kept most new Iowa sites at three- or four-building finishing sites because of the state DNR permit process. McAfee predicts that pattern might change. “They (pork producers) will likely build below 2,500 head or larger sites in the 5,000 to 6,000 head of finishing pigs range,” he says.

A site with less than 1,000 animal units will not require the county matrix or a state permit, but will have to meet construction design standards and have a manure management plan. Any Iowa operation with more than 500 animal units must have a manure management plan on file at the state DNR.

Increased Setbacks

The increase in setback distances makes building a new operation in Iowa even more difficult. “Every time the law is amended, they increase the distances,” McAfee says.

Residential setback distances will be increased from 1,000 ft. to 1,250 ft. for operations housing 1,250-2,500 head weighing more than 55 lb. For operations up to 7,500 head, the separation distance will be increased from 1,000 ft. to 1,875 ft.

New setback distances also now apply to operations using dry manure systems. “This mostly affects poultry producers and hog producers with hoop buildings,” he adds. Under current law, those operations are subject to the same animal unit permit and nutrient management requirements as producers with liquid manure storage. However, the same separation distance now applies to facilities with like size.

“There will be producers — family farmers — who own land and could be the ones prohibited from building. They can't just build somewhere else,” he says.

The new setback distances will be effective on March 1, 2003.

Phosphorus Limitations

The legislation makes both phosphorus and nitrogen limiting nutrients in manure management plans. The bill provides for three phase-in periods for existing producers, allowing them time to adjust to the phosphorus standard for nutrient application, McAfee continues:

  • Operations submitting new manure management plans after Sept. 1, 2003, must meet the requirements by July 1, 2003, when the new rules become effective.

  • If a producer submits their first manure management plan on April 1, 2002 and before Sept. 1, 2003, that operation must meet the phosphorus index by July 1, 2005.

  • Existing operations that filed their first manure management plans before April 1, 2002, have four years or until July 1, 2007 to comply with the new rule.

Producer-Assessed Fees

Pork producers will fund additional DNR staff and equipment under the new bill. Producers will pay a construction permit fee up to $250 and a first-time manure management plan fee up to $250. An annual fee for their updated manure management plan is based on 15¢/animal unit, which equals about $240 for a 4,000-head capacity operation.

Air Quality Rules

The bill includes air quality standards to be measured at the nearest “separated location,” which includes a residence, business, church, school or public-use area, according to McAfee. The Iowa DNR has the authority to develop rules limiting hydrogen sulfide, ammonia and odor from any open feedlot or livestock confinement facility.

“This bill is clear — they have to take the measurement at the separated location, not on the farm,” McAfee explains. “The standard cannot be enforced before Dec. 1, 2004. However, DNR currently plans to move forward to establish those standards by this fall. This is apparently an attempt to have standards in place for lawsuits by citizens against livestock operations before the standards can be enforced on Dec. 1, 2004.”

Jill Spiekerman-Carrothers is a freelance writer based in Cambridge, IA.