Premium Standard Farms (PSF) is raising the bar for environmental performance with an extensive air emissions monitoring program and a commitment to reduce effluent nitrogen by half.

In doing so, PSF resolves alleged environmental violations under both the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, according to the Department of Justice.

“This is the first time that any livestock operation will participate in air emissions monitoring of this scale,” remarks Charlie Arnot, PSF vice president/communications and public affairs. “We have agreed to measure emissions of ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and non-methane, volatile organic compounds from lagoons. The same group of compounds and particulate matter will be measured from barns for a period of six to nine months to account for seasonal variation in emissions from our facilities,” he explains.

Nitrogen concentration in land-applied swine effluent will also be cut in half at PSF's largest farms. This is the first time a livestock producer has agreed to meet such stringent environmental standards, he adds.

Several lagoons on seven farms across five counties in northern Missouri will be monitored to ensure pre-set Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards. “There has never been evidence of a problem with our [single-stage, anaerobic] lagoons, and we have a high degree of confidence in their integrity,” remarks Dave Townsend, PSF vice president of environmental affairs.

PSF has never had a lagoon leak or spill. All of the discharges have been from flushing systems or from land application, adds Arnot.

“However, we recognize that some neighbors have concerns. It is our hope that extensive electromagnetic and hydrologic tests will put those concerns to rest,” relates Townsend.

PSF has also agreed to develop a series of Best Management Practices to reduce any risk of lagoon spills. These are to include improved land application practices, rapid response and notification and larger setbacks if needed.

Mandatory testing will be monitored by EPA and the state of Missouri, says Arnot. Results will be posted on PSF's Web site, www.psfarms.com.

Voluntary Settlement

The civil settlement between PSF (and its partner, ContiGroup Co., Inc.), the EPA and the Citizen's Legal Environmental Action Network calls for a fine of $350,000 and PSF to reduce pollution using waste management technologies. PSF estimates these steps will cost up to $25 million.

The settlement, voluntarily agreed to by PSF, holds some valuable lessons for agriculture, says Townsend. All of agriculture needs to be prepared to deal with more stringent regulations on the horizon. Discharge and water quality issues have most commonly surfaced during the past five years.

“It's clear that the emerging area of regulatory focus is air emissions,” he says. “The industry needs to participate in collecting accurate scientific emission data upon which a regulatory framework may be constructed if testing indicates it is warranted.”

PSF's Proposed Plans

The air pollution and nutrient effluent reduction proposal for PSF's hog operations is based on a complex system called Advanced Nitrification Denitrification (AND). Projected to be partly operational this summer, it will initially process waste from more than 50,000 finishers, according to Townsend.

In the plan, swine manure is flushed from barns to covered lagoons. Lagoon covers are permeable to treat odors and also provide an air scrubbing action which reduces odors before they are released into the atmosphere (See Figure 1).

Townsend reports more than 100 covers have already been installed. Tests have shown a dramatic reduction in odors.

Effluent leaves the lagoons and cycles through a series of covered basins. There, ammonia nitrogen is converted to nitrate nitrogen, and finally harmless nitrogen gas, before it is released into the air.

Through this technology, nutrient concentration of the effluent is dramatically reduced. That enables PSF to apply more effluent to fewer acres, reducing the amount of land needed for application and reducing potential lagoon spills, notes Townsend.

“Historically, we have applied approximately one inch of effluent per acre per year,” explains Townsend. The new plan should allow much higher application levels.

By reducing the application area, larger buffers can be created between neighbors and streams, he says.

PSF also plans to use center-pivot irrigation systems featuring low-pressure drop nozzles that deliver effluent much closer to the ground.

To reduce air emissions, the plan calls for hog barns to have air dams — walls built behind each barn to deflect vented, fresh-mixed air upward, increasing dilution and dispersion.

Another phase of the system investigates ways to reduce the need for lagoons and recycle manure into an exportable product. Technology being studied includes a methane digester for reusable energy and a liquid/solid separation system to turn organic material into fertilizer, gas, oil, carbon and specialty chemicals.

Extracted flush water would be subjected to nutrient and algae reduction treatment, slow sand filtration and disinfection before the clear water is returned to the barns for use by the animals. The plan is to reduce dependence on area water supplies and reduce irrigation to lessen spill risk.

The water re-use system is designed to operate during warm months so treated water can be stored and used during cooler months.

Efforts will also be made to test alternative crops to improve nutrient effluent uptake and acreage for manure application. For more details on all the systems being tested and implemented, go to the company's web site, www.psfarms.com.

PSF's plans under the current civil settlement build on an 1999 settlement with the state of Missouri to improve waste handling technology, states Arnot.

In the next year, PSF will evaluate its innovative plans before further commitments are made, he stresses.

“PSF is committed to being an industry leader in environmental stewardship, food safety, animal well-being and worker safety. Our stakeholders expect nothing less, and we are balancing economics and environment in order to be economically viable for years to come,” concludes Arnot.