Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued the new Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) rules. These rules mean additional environmental protection requirements for all poultry, swine, dairy and beef producers. The nation's food animal producers will see enhanced manure handling, nutrient management planning — and increased record keeping and reporting requirements.

The good news is that the federal government has stepped up to the plate. As the ink dried on the 2002 farm bill, we began to realize that American taxpayers are willing to put their money where their mouths are to the tune of $51 billion over the next decade. That's how much will be spent to help farmers and ranchers adopt practices that benefit the environment.

But before you jump too high for joy, understand that involvement in programs like Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) will put you in bed with the government like never before.

The rule-making efforts cap the EPA's evolving efforts to develop uniform CAFO standards for all states. The onus will now be on the states to upgrade existing regulatory programs that meet these tough new national standards.

But the EPA acted only after a cadre of radical environmental groups (collectively called “The Club”) sued for more stringent and sweeping CAFO regs. The Sierra Club specifically campaigned heartily to protect America's water from “factory farms” — one of the organization's four national priority campaigns. The Sierra Club says it's committed to keeping factory farm pollution out of America's drinking water, lakes and rivers, and eliminating the threats that all CAFOs pose to “public health and rural heritage.”

And just so you know its agenda, The Club says the problem is not so much with farming as it is big agribusiness. To make matters worse, says The Club, agriculture is still largely unregulated and out of control. The Club is not stopping with EPA's new CAFO nationally based regs though, they're asking local communities throughout rural America to organize against the “big” livestock operations and develop local ordinances against agriculture.

The bottom line is that the CAFO rules will add new costs that could threaten the continued existence of some producers — and a large segment of our agricultural infrastructure. This is concerning as producers continue to work hard to comply with the new CAFO rules and find ways to minimize the economic stresses they will face.

Beyond CAFO though, we wonder what's next for our nation's animal agriculture. While they were outgunned and outspent by The Club in the two-year CAFO war, commodity organizations like the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and the National Farm Bureau (NFB) battled every step of the way for the most reasonable CAFO regs possible. It's frightening to think what kind of nightmare we'd have without the orchestrated involvement of members and their professional staffs. These groups, and their state affiliates, are already gearing up to help producers find the technical assistance and moral support they will need to meet the new CAFO rules.

So as you go about figuring out where you fit into this new CAFO picture, keep in mind the following points:

  • The regs could have been worse for all livestock producers.

  • The impact on the swine, dairy and poultry industries will likely be more restrictive than on the cattle industry.

  • Taxpayers are footing part of the bill, albeit with strings attached.

  • Utilize the resources of your ag commodity organizations to their utmost.

  • The Club is trying to chip away at our agricultural infrastructure under the guise of environmental protection.

To review the 400+ page CAFO rules go to: http://cfpub1.epa.gov/npdes/afo/cafofinalrule.cfm

For translation, contact the NCBA at www.beef.org