Don't drop your guard on the CAFO issue. That's the advice from Bobbie Frank, Cheyenne, WY, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts and a woman who's worked as hard as anyone over the past several years on CAFO-related issues.

Frank says that during the federal rule-making process there was a lot of focus on CAFOs. But since the rules were established early last year, the attention has died down.

She says feeders, especially smaller operators who are less likely to utilize consultants or other professional environmental help, need to monitor not only the federal regulations on CAFOs but state regulations, as well. The latter are often more stringent.

For Joe Eisenmenger, Humphrey, NE, the new regulations governing CAFOs are not on his front burner today. But, he agrees that for the 5,000-head Eisenmenger Feedyard operation, the new rules are something he needs to monitor.

“We were fully permitted prior to the new regulations being issued,” he says. But, because the new regulations are stricter in regard to manure management and water quality, they would become an issue if Eisenmenger decided to expand the feedyard.

“Then, of course, we'd be opened-up to a whole new set of rules for the expansion,” he says.

The new rules aren't so stringent that they'd keep him from adding bunk space, he says, but he can see where they might make larger feeders think twice about expanding.

“The bigger feeders might have trouble complying with the land base needed to apply the manure they generate,” he says. “That's not an issue in our case, but I can see where it could be in the future.”

Different Sets Of Rules

Federal law says animal feeding operations that discharge waste under certain conditions are considered CAFOs and are required to obtain National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) discharge permits. CAFOs are generally considered animal feeding operations that have more than 1,000 animal units, but also include smaller operations that discharge waste directly into surface waters.

The new CAFO rules published Feb. 12, 2003, in the Federal Register were adopted within the authority of the 1972 Clean Water Act (CWA) as amended, to address changes in the animal production industries.

“It's critical that feeders know and understand the requirements asked of their operations,” Frank says. “This, of course, is made more difficult because nearly every state has a different set of rules that go beyond the federal rules.”

Frank recently finished conducting a series of workshops designed to familiarize Wyoming's feeders and cow-calf producers with the new CAFO regulations.

“Our biggest issue now is with the 300- to 999-head feedlot with ‘unacceptable conditions,’” Frank explains. “That's our biggest workload.”

Generally, Wyoming feedlots are in good shape, she says, because feedlots of 1,000 head or more capacity have been required to be permitted for several years. While larger feedlots now have new requirements in nutrient management plans, waste disposal and recordkeeping, most Wyoming feeders have been ahead of the curve in these areas. That's because the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality had requirements in place in advance of the final federal regulations, Frank says.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates approximately 15,500 livestock and poultry operations will be required to obtain NPDES permits or demonstrate that they have “no potential” to discharge. This estimate includes 11,000 large operations and 4,500 medium-sized operations that meet certain conditions.

Nutrient Management Plans

Federal regulations require all large CAFO operators to ensure proper application of manure, litter and other process wastewater to land under the control of the CAFO. Land application must be in accordance with a nutrient management plan (NMP) that establishes application rates for each field based on the technical standards each state has established for nutrient management.

“The NMPs are going to require more records — but a lot of the larger feeders already have those systems in place,” Frank adds. “But, I really encourage the smaller- and intermediate-size farmer-feeders to check their state regulations with regard to NMPs.”

Generally, a CAFO operator may only apply animal manures and waste waters to land at rates that meet the nutrient needs of current or intended crops grown on the land.

Alan Sutton, a Purdue University animal nutrition and waste management specialist, says land application areas on some animal feeding operations may not be sufficient to meet the CAFO rule requirements to apply nutrients at agronomic rates for the cropping program.

“Technology options are available to reduce the nutrient loading,” he says. “These options can concentrate valuable nutrients in the solids portion for transport and utilization off farm in an environmental friendly and sustainable manner.”

The initial nutrient content of the waste stream can be dramatically reduced by using proper feed management and diet modification practices, Sutton explains.

“These technologies can substantially reduce the land required for terminal management of livestock and poultry waste,” he says. It may also facilitate easier compliance with CAFO land application requirements and reduce requirements for total watershed management regulations under consideration that would limit runoff from land application sites, he adds.

As CAFOs grow in size, Sutton says these technologies may prove economically attractive in lieu of expanding the land resource base for manure application through ownership or leasing.

Where To Go For Help

Frank emphasizes that feeders can get technical help in addressing CAFO issues from their local Natural Resources Conservation Service or conservation district personnel.

“Depending on the expertise of the individuals, they might need to do some research on the state regulations,” she says. “But, I always recommend people start with their local resources so they initially have someone who is ‘non-regulatory’ working with them to help them comply.”

Rick Koelsch, Lincoln, NE, works on beef and swine environmental issues for the University of Nebraska. He says that helping livestock and poultry producers understand and implement EPA's new CAFO rules will be an important role challenging many organizations in the next few years.

To assist with this task, he's worked with the Livestock and Poultry Environmental Stewardship (LPES) team to develop a series of fact sheets that address frequently asked questions about the CAFO rules.

Fourteen fact sheets were released on Aug. 4. Additional fact sheets will be added as questions and issues arise. The facts sheets are available on the LPES Web site at: www.LPES.org.

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is designed to address both locally identified resource concerns and state priorities. Nationally, EQIP provides up to 75% (up to 90% for beginning or limited-resource producers) in cost-share funds to help producers implement conservation systems and address regulatory requirements.

When the new CAFO regulations were issued in the 2002 farm bill, Congress knew it had to step up to the plate with money to help alleviate compliance costs.

“I think EQIP funds are being put to good use,” Frank says. “In Wyoming, we set aside about $1 million of federal EQIP funds just to address CAFO issues.”

Bottom line, says Frank, is that producers need to find out what they must do to comply with the new CAFO laws.

“If they don't know if they comply, they need to move quickly to get into compliance,” she says. “There are some environmental organizations that aren't happy with the final rules and I think they will use some other tactics to put the squeeze on animal agriculture.”

Those “other tactics” include using citizen complaints and class-action lawsuits. “I fear that if the industry doesn't move fast, that's what we'll be facing,” Frank says.

The most recent set of regulations steered clear of air-quality and odor issues, Frank says. But, air-quality issues surrounding CAFOs based on citizens complaints have already cropped up in Wyoming.

“And if air quality becomes an issue in Wyoming,” she says, “it can become an issue anywhere.”