Farm Horizons, August 2012
Do we need feedlot regulation?
By Lori Brinkman, Assistant Carver County Feedlot Administrator
Farmfest, which takes place each summer in Redwood Falls, typically includes a series of featured forums.
Last year, one of the forums was titled, “Regulation . . . The Biggest Threat to Production Agriculture?” I did not attend the forum, but saw a couple quotes from the panelists following the discussion. The first included the view of Don Schiefelbein, president of the Minnesota State Cattleman’s Association. Schiefelbein was quoted as stating, “We need to work together to find solutions; we already have enough regulation.”
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) Deputy Commissioner John Linc Stine offered the agency’s goals, “Help people make good environmental decisions, be pro-active and engaged, be a good partner and build trust, and protect Minnesota’s natural resources.”
In my opinion, both statements sound like we’re on the right track to reduce the amount of feedlot runoff that reaches our water bodies. If the MPCA wants to enable livestock producers to do the right thing through education, involvement, and teamwork, and livestock producers want to be empowered to do what’s necessary to find solutions rather than having someone dictate the solutions to them through increased bureaucracy, we should be able to improve the protection of Minnesota’s natural resources through our current framework of feedlot best management practice implementation.
Feedlot best management practices, or BMPs, can be implemented at a feedlot that has the potential for manure or wastewater runoff. Note, I said potential. Feedlots are evaluated based on potential rainfall and runoff events because that’s when manure typically leaves the lot and has the potential to reach a water body or a conveyance to a water body.
Clean water diversions, which may include berms, rain gutters, or surface drains, intercept clean water before it reaches an open lot, becoming a conveyance for manure. Filter strips slow contaminated water after it leaves a lot to reduce the nutrient load and organic matter that may reach a water body.
Milk house waste management eliminates direct discharge of waste milk and milking system wash water into tile lines, which may discharge to ditches, streams, or lakes.
Lot relocation, lot size reduction, agricultural waste storage, and manure and nutrient management are all pretty self-explanatory and are all considered feedlot BMPs. All of these practices are eligible for technical assistance through your local soil and water conservation district or natural resources conservation service office, and some of the practices may be eligible for cost-share assistance.
In addition, there are other water organizations including CROW (Crow River Organization of Water), and local government units such as the Carver County Water Management Organization that have submitted applications for, and have been awarded grants to assist feedlot operators to voluntarily implement feedlot BMPs.
Unfortunately, there have been instances where these funds have gone unused and were returned to the funding source to be distributed to other project applicants, and it wasn’t because there were no feedlot issues to resolve. Once funding is returned, the likelihood additional funds will be awarded to an organization diminishes with each uncompleted project.
It is not my goal to determine why funds go unused. Reasons may vary from perception that a practice is too costly, to an individual who doesn’t agree their feedlot is truly a pollution issue. The one question I have heard face-to-face is, “If I don’t volunteer to do it now, is there someone who is going to make me do it five years from now?”
So the questions remain, “Do we need feedlot regulation?” Probably. “Would it be simpler if we didn’t?” Absolutely.