Spring brought a mixed bag of news to Iowa pork producers. Strict environmental rules already in place were tightened again in a new bill passing the legislature. The governor was expected to sign the bill at presstime.

While the new bill, House file 2494, adds more responsibility to producers, it also solves a big, aching question facing the state's pork industry. The bill contains an important provision that preempts counties from regulating livestock.

The county regulation question has festered in the state for a few years. It came to a head last year in a lawsuit centered in Humboldt County.

Two months ago, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled counties do not have the right to regulate livestock, unless expressly authorized by state law. The court recommended the legislature address this issue one more time in legislation. Bill 2494 does this.

"We were pretty pleased with (the bill)," reports Norm Schmitt, Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA) president. "It has the preemption for county ordinances regulating livestock. We thought that was pretty important."

The county regulation dispute and tougher environmental bill come at a time when Iowa's status as top pork producing state comes into question. For the first time in several decades, Iowa did not farrow the most pigs of any state in the U.S. In 1997, North Carolina farrowed 18.2 million pigs and Iowa farrowed 17.3 million pigs. Iowa reported a larger sow herd, 1.35 million versus 1.05 million in North Carolina.

But the state remains the top hog marketer in the nation by a long shot. They marketed 21.3 million hogs in 1997. Their nearest competitor was North Carolina with 13.9 million hogs marketed that same year.

A big change in the state's hog industry is the drop in the number of hog farms. John Lawrence, Iowa State University economist, found 14,000 farms quit the business from 1992-96.

Stiff Environmental Rules The Iowa hog producers staying in the business face stiffer environmental rules. But many of them agree with some of the new rules. The Iowa Farm Bureau sought several of the stiffer provisions on behalf of their membership, reports Christina Gault, general counsel in the public policy area for Iowa Farm Bureau.

"We had specific things we were looking for in the bill that our members adopted last year," Gault says. "Manure management plans and continuing eduction (for manure applicators) were among them.

"We think overall it is a good environmental bill," she adds. "The main point of the bill was to create a stable environment in which producers can still responsibly operate, but at the same time make sure there is adequate protection for the environment."

Main changes in bill 2494 affecting pork producers include:

* Manure must be either injected or incorporated when applied within 750 ft. of a neighboring premise. * Nuisance protection was lifted some by stating plaintiffs must prove "failure to follow existing 'prudent' generally accepted management practices" instead of the previous wording of "negligent operation." Also, the nuisance does not have to be continuous. This bill states the nuisance must be for "substantial periods of time."

* An educational requirement for manure application is now on the Iowa books. Confinement operators with >200,000 lb. animal weight capacity and commercial manure applicators must be certified for manure application. They must certify every three years by passing an exam, or completing two hours of instruction each year.

* Annual inspections of earthen manure storage structures must be conducted by DNR.

* Counties can designate a person to accompany DNR for a site inspection.

* More producers must submit manure management plans now. Owners of confinement operations with >200,000 lb. animal weight and constructed after May 31, 1985, must submit plans. The previous bill required manure plans for hog units constructed after September 1995.