When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its proposed stricter controls to reduce water pollution from feedlots in January, the South Dakota cattle feeding community went into action.

In its announcement, EPA proposed two options requiring even smaller feedlot operators to come into compliance with federal environmental regulations for manure management. Those new proposals will definitely impact more South Dakota cattle producers, says John Rubendall, with the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association’s (SDCA) Cattle Feeders Council. However, he says the stricter proposals were not unexpected.

"We knew the regulations would lower the number of animal units needed to qualify as a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO), we just didn’t know what those numbers would be."

Rubendall, technical feeder services director, assists CFC members comply with permitting regulations. If the proposed regulations are approved, more of the state’s livestock producers will need to complete the permitting procedure. Under the current Clean Water Act, CAFOs are defined as point sources of pollution and subject to permits and effluent guidelines.

Currently, a CAFO is defined as having 1,000 or more cattle or animal units. Smaller facilities could always be determined to be a CAFO if they proved to be a threat to water quality, says Rubendall. Under the new proposals, the bar has been lowered. One definition of a CAFO would include livestock facilities with more than 500 cattle or other animal units. The other proposal would require operations with 300 to 1000 cattle to have a permit if it meets certain risk-based conditions.

Another change in the proposed rules is that livestock producers, when spreading manure on cropland, will need to calculate the amount that can be spread based on phosphorus levels of the soil. Currently, calculations are based on nitrogen levels. Rubendall says it’s estimated that this change will require an estimated four to five times more land needed for manure application.

EPA will be taking public comment on the proposals until July 30, 2001. It plans to take final action on the regulations by December 15, 2002, and for newly defined CAFOs, permits will not be required until approximately January 2006. SDCA will be submitting comments.

"There’s an awful lot of people in South Dakota feeding from 600 to 800 head of cattle right now," says Gregg Yeaton, chairman of the CFC. "All of a sudden they’re going to fall under the same rules as the larger lots as far as having a waste management system and nutrient management plan."

That prospect concerns some cattle producers, says Rubendall, who was hired by the council in October and has been out talking to producers and making site visits.

"They know they may have a problem but they’re not ready to contact government officials because they think they’ll be put on a list," he says.

Instead, Rubendall makes a site visit, determines possible problems, and finds out potential answers for the producer from officials at the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the agency permitting CAFOs in South Dakota.

And, he says, DENR and the South Dakota Department of Agriculture have been supportive of the program.

"They’re excited about it," he says. "They understand that I can go out initially and talk to these producers and assist them," says this Mitchell-native who grew up as part of a feedyard business. "They can ask the questions and I can assist the producer with options."

Yeaton, part of Yeaton Farms in Chamberlain, a family-owned feedyard, is currently going through the general permitting process. He says that having someone like Rubendall to help with the process would have been beneficial. And he’d like other cattle feeders and producers across the state to have that opportunity.

"I think we’ll be able to help our members," says Yeaton, whose facility will be inspected each year by DENR under his general permit.

"Our primary objective is to try to keep people from being forced out of business or to have fines levied against them," says Yeaton. "We want to help them get done what they need to be done in order to come into compliance."

In addition, Yeaton says Rubendall is working on other aspects of the permitting process. He is currently identifying engineering firms and contractors that are qualified and experienced in cattle feedlot waste management designs and construction. The CFC is also pursuing some type of financial assistance to help producers come into compliance, and he will stay current on rules and regulations so that he can update CFC members on an ongoing basis.

For more information on the SDCA Cattle Feeders Council, contact the South Dakota Cattlemen's Association at 605/869-2272 or visit www.Sdcattlemen.org

Deadline Extended

The EPA says it will allow an additional 75 days for review of a rule, written in the final days of the Clinton administration, to limit water pollution from large feedlots.

The extension, announced by EPA administrator Christine Whitman, would allow public comment on the proposal through July 30. EPA says participants in eight public meetings around the country in March had requested more time to examine the proposed regulations.

The new administration is reviewing many of the regulations issued during Clinton's final days.

source: South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association