When a federal appeals court in March struck down a 2003 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule for large livestock operations to have environmental discharge permits, producers thought they were in the clear.

A few months later, producers are starting to rethink their situation, says Earl Dotson, president and chief executive officer of Environmental Management Solutions (EMS), LLC, an Urbandale, IA-based environmental consulting firm.

“It has really complicated the issue. There is a lot of confusion from state to state as to what they need to do to address their environmental problems,” states Dotson at a World Pork Expo press conference in Des Moines.

“Producers ask, ‘Do we need a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Permit (NPDES), a nutrient management plan, a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan (CNMP) — what do we do?’” he explains.

EMS is responding to those queries by working with a Washington, DC, law firm to develop a CAFO Decision Guide to spell out what permits concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) should have.

EMS is also helping producers become aware of and qualify for federal funds for environmental conservation.

Good Records Needed

Producers are at a crossroads with environmental records, according to EMS officials.

“Environmental recordkeeping today is where production and financial records were 10 years ago,” says Dan Uthe, EMS director of data management. “The good producer today wouldn't consider running an operation without good financial and production records. And the majority of producers are starting to realize that environmental records help them document their environmental performance. They can show they are meeting regulation requirements and qualify for agency programs.”

Records should track total nutrients applied throughout the operation and not just manure, reminds Uthe. They should also document yields, inventories and cover inspections of buildings, equipment and containment procedures.

Records should be readily available at a moments' notice, Uthe stresses.

EMS can guide producers through the kinds of environmental records they need to keep, notes Dotson. EMS developed Environmental Records Systems for producers, which consists of an all-electronic dataset with a Web-based data entry system. EMS can also help set up recordkeeping systems using Excel spreadsheets or hand-entry systems on paper.

“Producers need to understand that unlike financial records, which can be updated as it gets close to tax time, environmental records need to be maintained every day of the year,” Dotson declares.

Permitting

Dotson points out that there are no pat answers as to which permits producers will need in the near future. It is doubtful that the new federal CAFO rules will be completely reworked by 2007, the original launch date. It could take EPA three years or more before the agency issues its new regulations.

But, “high-risk producers” shouldn't wait until the new EPA rules are issued to get an NPDES permit, says Dotson.

“If you live three miles from Des Moines and have a major hog operation, you should be looking to get an NPDES permit because people are going to be watching,” he adds.

If you don't have an NPDES permit, and you have a discharge or a leaking lagoon, you could face a penalty of up to $32,500/day under the proposed EPA rules governing CAFOs.

If producers think it's still early in the game — think again, Dotson warns.

By contacting EMS, producers can access the new CAFO guidelines spelling out the scenarios they may be facing and the permits they should consider obtaining.

Federal Funds Available

An equally compelling reason for obtaining conservation planning assistance is the access it provides to an abundance of federal cost-share funds. Getting a plan such as a CNMP, for instance, helps qualify an operation for Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funds, explains Dotson.

Plus, meeting environmental standards is becoming part of the process of just staying in business, he suggests. A growing number of communities won't allow producers to expand unless they show proof of adhering to certain conservation practices.

One program, the Conservation Security Program (CSP), is probably one of the first programs to provide cost-share assistance to farmers for being good stewards of the land, says Dotson.

“With this program, if you are working toward or are good stewards of the land, you are going to realize some dollars,” he says. Some producers who sign up get funding just because of existing conservation practices.

In 2005, there were 202 new watersheds identified as eligible for CSP funds, says Dennis Pate, director of planning for EMS.

Producers who are not yet in a watershed identified by USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service should feel fortunate because it gives them time to develop and implement a conservation plan, he says.

There are several pieces to the CSP payment puzzle, but the enhancements payment “is where the money is at,” says Pate. This area covers producers who are exceeding minimum guidelines for nutrient management and other resource concerns such as energy use.

EMS is developing a format to speed up the signup process for accessing CSP funds, adds Pate.

Resources

For information on conservation planning, contact EMS by phone (515) 278-8002; fax (515) 278-8011; or go to their Web site, www.emsllc.org. EMS also has a regional office in Dublin, TX, which can be reached by phone (254) 445-3333 or by fax (254) 445-3306.

Summer Training Seminars

EMS is offering specialized training in three seminars this summer as follows:

  1. Nutrient Management Work-shop is July 20 from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., providing tools on how to write a nutrient management plan;

  2. Two EQIP workshops on July 21, the first 9 a.m. to noon, and the second from 1-4 p.m.

  3. RUSLE-2 Workshop Aug. 11 provides hands-on training to learn how to use this equation to aid farmers in conservation practices. The session is 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

All workshops are held at EMS offices located at 10654 Justin Drive, Urbandale, IA.

For signup information, contact Jenny Felt, EMS director of education, at (515) 278-8002, extension 104 or e-mail feltj@emsllc.org.