Most feedyards operate under some form of environmental regulation. In some areas of the country, feeders are conducting profitable business under tight environmental regulations and enforcement. Bill Brandenberg, manager of Meloland Cattle Company, understands regulation and enforcement and the impact each has on operational costs.
The El Centro, CA, feedyard currently feeds about 14,500 head of Holsteins and cattle from the Southeast. Originally built in 1962, Brandenberg's family has owned the feedyard since 1980. With the age on the yard, Brandenberg has incorporated numerous upgrades to all parts of the yard.
Environment Is The Focus Brandenberg deals with regulations from federal, state and local levels that cover everything from additives to water quality. While the regulations may be for the overall public good, Brandenberg says he invests a lot to make them work at Meloland.
"Just to understand various regulations and the processes required to fit them to our operation requires attending a lot of meetings," Brandenberg says. "The time spent at meetings is considerable, but there's a great deal more time spent in the office and with our staff so we implement and follow regulatory guidelines correctly."
For example, Brandenberg constructed a new feed holding tank several months ago. It took him 18 months to meet permit guidelines, earthquake standards and environmental standards before construction was completed. On top of that, he spent more than $12,000 in design fees, inspection fees and other costs.
Ross Jenkins, manager of Phillips Cattle Company, also near El Centro, has similar experiences with meeting standards.
"Thirty percent of what we do is related to regulatory issues," Jenkins says. "We're dealing with mass-type regulations instead of those that might apply specifically to our industry.
"However, we were doing a lot of these things prior to regulation," Jenkins adds. "We have to be a decent part of the community. We're fortunate in this area. We've got a cooperative, not adversarial, relationship with our water quality control board."
Example Living with the imposition of tough enforcement has become a daily routine at most feedyards. Meloland's no different.
"Our county dust ordinance requires the pens be kept at a 20% moisture level," Brandenberg says. "Thus, our water truck runs eight to nine hours a day during the dustier period between March and June.
"Most of our pens run 100- to 120-feet deep," he adds. "The truck throws water 40 feet. It simply takes a long time to keep the pens adequately watered.
"To their credit, our county officials have been willing to work with us to make sure ordinances are enforced fairly," Brandenberg says. "Several of them have helped us incorporate required practices into the feedyard. It's a lot easier to work with them and help them understand our situation and vice versa."
Brandenberg has adjusted to regulation, but takes the responsibility upon himself to do so. He's changed a few practices, too.
"We've put in berms to keep runoff from irrigation ditches," he says. "And we've dropped our pour-on use because of the container disposal we have to go through.
"It's not just environmental regs we deal with," Brandenberg says. "We're also dealing with animal health, employee safety and liability, among other things."
Improvements Forthcoming But, California's business climate is improving, he says.
"First, environmental groups are taking a second, more positive look at the beef industry. Secondly, some insurance premiums are coming down. Ten years ago, we were paying $80,000 per year for workmen's comp insurance. Today we're paying $20,000 annually," Brandenberg says. "Liability insurance has dropped, too."
Brandenberg attributes much of his regulatory burden to a different legislature than other regions.
"Most states don't have the urban-oriented legislature we do in California," he says. "I find that, in general, other agricultural states have better representation. Truthfully, we (agriculture) haven't done a good job of educating our legislators in this state."
Not Just California Though it has a reputation of being an overly-regulated state, California's not alone by a long shot. Additions to existing Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, state regulations and local ordinances are hitting other feeding states quickly.
In fact, the EPA Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) is making implementation of existing concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) regulations a priority.
Deanne Meyer, livestock waste management specialist at the University of California-Davis, cautions to get ready for inspection by EPA.
"All (CAFOs) will be inspected sooner or later," Meyer says. "Inspectors will be checking for compliance with the Clean Water Act and, more recently, the Clinton administration's Clean Water Action Plan.
According to OECA, the long-term goal of its compliance assurance implementation plan is to inspect within three years all CAFOs which are:
* the subject of citizen or government tips and complaints;
* located in priority watersheds;
* located in watersheds with high animal feeding operations (AFO) or CAFO density;
* located near surface waters; and
* have the potential for large amounts of animal waste to reach surface waters.
Regional and state authorities will inspect all other CAFOs within five years.
"If you don't already, now's the time to learn and know what the federal and state regulations are in your area," Meyer says. "Then proceed to be in compliance with all of them."
"One of the biggest challenges may be determining which regulatory agency has the most power and the largest noose," Meyer says. "It's confusing as to what is legal and what isn't. The problems related to geography make it difficult as to the specific laws that apply. In fact, your ZIP code can impose an environmental requirement on your operation."
Ross Wilson, government affairs director for Texas Cattle Feeders Association (TCFA), says it's important to note that a majority of CAFOs have already been inspected by state regulators, many of whom are under contract with EPA for implementation of Clean Water Act regulations and enforcement.
Wilson says consistency of regulations shouldn't be confused with geographic and climatic differences.
"Requirements tailored to fit the region and tailored to different species will be more protective of the environment," Wilson says.
He adds that EPA officials admit they're unsure how many feedyards have water quality permits, or other required permits. The agency seems to be agreeable to correcting its information, however.
Understanding the charge by which EPA operates is helpful as well, Meyer adds.
"The objective of EPA is to protect the environment and enforce existing regulations. It has no responsibility to educate, explain or work with you. It's up to you to understand the law."
Significant Adjustments Texas feedyards have operated under environmental standards as strict or tighter than EPA requirements for years. In fact, TCFA recently conducted meetings with EPA to encourage the use of sound scientific data to eliminate confusion surrounding existing environmental standards.
"We're going to see more of an EPA presence from now on," Wilson says. "Whether it's air quality or water quality, agriculture overall is going to be put under additional scrutiny from state and federal regulators."
Increased regulation will be the norm for the foreseeable future. If you're not already ahead of the curve, the opportunity to get there is now, says Wilson. Get in touch with local officials, learn the laws, their needs and begin or enhance compliance. Detailed information from EPA/OECA can be found on the Internet at http://es.epa.gov/oeca/ strategy.html
Next BEEF Feeder: A discussion of specific environmental regulations and how to comply.