Certified to spread: Building a custom manure hauler certification program
Michigan moves toward building a custom manure hauler certification program while other states show interest.
August 8, 2018 by Tony Kryzanowski
Farmers who haul manure and custom manure applicators in Michigan may soon be able to qualify for significant reductions in their pollution insurance premiums by participating in a voluntary manure hauler certification program built around a successful model developed in neighboring Wisconsin.
While lower potential premiums are one of the benefits to participating in the program, the certification program is being driven by five main goals.
The first is to prevent manure application problems before they occur. Charles Gould, an educator with Michigan State University Extension, says there were four major manure runoff events that took place in both Wisconsin and Michigan in 2002, which fueled strong interest in custom manure applicators in both states for certification programs to try to avoid future incidents.
Since then, Wisconsin has implemented a successful manure hauler certification program, and Michigan will soon follow.
The second goal of the Michigan program is to increase nutrient management plan implementation, encouraging both farmers and custom applicators to closely adhere to guidelines written within those plans.
The third goal is for anyone land-applying manure to demonstrate responsible manure application.
Gould says it is likely that a participant in the certification program “is more aware and their activities and are less likely to impact family activities, like a graduation party or a 4th of July activity. If a farm needs to top-dress after the first or second cutting of hay for example, the manure application window is narrow and they aren’t going to take the day off. But they should see the tent/party and avoid fields upwind or next to the site.”
The fourth goal is to increase the base level of manure management knowledge for all applicators.
“We want to raise the bar,” says Gould. “We want everyone to know a little bit about everything, so that there’s competency for anyone who gets into the driver’s seat of the tractor.”
The final goal is to improve professionalism among manure applicators, which has really resonated among ‘for-hire’ land applicators.
“There are a lot of folks that moonlight as manure haulers and they don’t always do the kind of job that a competent commercial manure applicator does,” says Gould. “The for-hire people want that individual to have the same skills that they have so that there is a level playing field.”
Also, by offering their own certification program, Michigan custom manure haulers may be able to accomplish what Wisconsin’s industry has been able to do so far, which is to avoid the state bringing in legislation to regulate the industry. This has already occurred in some states.
“What we are doing is trying to put something in place that has financial incentives built in, so that when the haulers and applicators meet the requirements, that results in a reduced insurance premium,” says Gould.
He adds there is also an environmental incentive because they are avoiding the movement of nutrients into state waters. Michigan is almost entirely surrounded by the Great Lakes.
“We are a peninsula,” says Gould. “So, we have pretty stringent surface water quality standards and our farmers know that.”
There is also a social benefit. Participants in the certification program will become better informed on practices that help to maintain good relations with neighbors.
While Michigan developed a voluntary certification program that operated from 2003 to 2010, they couldn’t find anyone in the state willing to act as the certifying agency. That all changed when the Michigan Agribusiness Association offered to backstop the program. The association already has experience with certifying commercial fertilizer applicators.
With that support in hand, a meeting was held in early March to gauge industry interest in this new certification program. It attracted 57 individuals representing a large cross section of large dairy farms, smaller farms, and commercial manure applicators. In addition to the certification program details, information as provided about the attractive insurance component offered as part of this new program. Delivering the details was the same agency that is working with applicators in Wisconsin. After the meeting, Gould says participants expressed overwhelming support for the certification program.
“Now that we have an entity that will certify, we have been able to put everything else in place, and that’s what we are in the process of doing now,” he says.
The goal is to have an up-to-date certification program available to Michigan farmers and custom manure applicators by the end of the year.
Since 2003, the Professional Nutrient Applicators Association of Wisconsin (PNAAW) has partnered with the insurance industry to provide discounts for manure applicators that participate in their voluntary certification program.
Recently, the PNAAW spent a year revamping the insurance component of its program following court decisions in Wisconsin in 2015 that decreed bacteria was a pollutant.
“The new program has a strengthened auditing component by the insurance industry and provides full environmental coverage for $10 million aggregate,” Gould says. “The new discounts average 38 percent on all insurance, except Workman’s Compensation, for for-hire applicators who implement the fullest extent of the program. Otherwise, it is 10 percent for those who just do the basics.”
He adds that the average annual insurance premium savings in Wisconsin is more than $300,000.
He emphasizes that the certification program is intended for anyone who hauls and applies manure, from individual farmers working on their own property to all sizes of custom manure applicators.
“We’d really like every farmer who applies manure to be certified,” says Gould. “So you don’t have to be a commercial manure applicator to be certified.”
There are three tiers to the Michigan certification program. Tier One and Tier Two will be offered through Michigan State University Extension, with the entry point likely through the Michigan Agribusiness Association.
The goal of Tier One is to provide a basic knowledge of manure spill response and proper manure application techniques. Individuals achieve this level by passing a test. Once certification is awarded, they must take two hours of training and testing annually to retain this level of certification.
Tier Two is for anyone who supervises manure application. This level focuses on more advanced training and may include topics like odor management, using GPS in manure application, ethics, and regulations. Maintaining Tier Two status requires participation in a minimum of four modules over two years and showing proficiency through testing.
Individuals and companies can achieve Tier Three by developing and implementing an environmental management system (EMS) plan. Gould says that an EMS plan is designed to improve the day-to-day management of for-hire applicator business practices with an emphasis on environmental stewardship.
There is a third-party insurance auditing component to this tier to ensure that applicators are adhering to their EMS plans. It is achievement and adherence to the requirements of this level where custom manure applicators can earn significant pollution insurance premium reductions.
In addition to the existing program in Wisconsin and the imminent program in Michigan, a manure hauler certification program called the Great Lakes For-Hire Custom Manure Applicator Voluntary Training and Certification Program is also offered by the University of Illinois Extension.
Gould says that having similar certification programs among bordering states benefits custom manure applicators that work across state boundaries.
Wisconsin Extension has also recently received financial support to work with colleagues in Georgia, North Dakota and Oklahoma to expand the program to applicators and farmers in those states.