Preparing for an inspection on the farm
April 17, 2019 by Haley Banwart
Livestock farmers are subject to inspections by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). And, because these assessments usually occur with little or no notice to the farmer, it is essential to be prepared for your livestock farm to be inspected at any time.
Follow these simple compliance checks to ensure your farm is in accordance with the environmental rules and regulations, and to learn how to best respond to potential DNR or EPA inquiries.
Part I: Before the inspection
1. Collect background information and take corrective action
The EPA is not legally required to notify farmers before assessing livestock farms. However, if you are contacted prior to inspection, collect as much information as possible about the investigation. Consider presenting the following questions to the inspection agent:
- What prompted the inspection?
- What areas of the farm will be inspected?
- How much time will the inspection take?
- How many inspectors will be assessing the farm?
- Does the inspector intend to interview farm employees?
- Does the inspector intend to collect samples?
After gathering this information, complete a self assessment of your farm as a compliance check and take corrective actions to fix any issues. Consider your farm’s proximity to water sources, potential for manure discharge or other areas of improvement of your management practices.
2. Review your records and identify confidential information
Confined animal feeding operations (CAFO) are required to keep detailed records. Whether or not your farm meets the definition of a CAFO, you should maintain monthly records to verify your animal inventory, document manure storage levels and track manure application dates, acres applied and nutrient
Of course, there are other farm records that you are entitled to identify as confidential information, such as legal correspondence or environmental audits. Prior to inspection, determine which records will remain off-limits and which records may be made available to the inspector but claimed as confidential business information (CBI). You should also consider what areas of the farm may be off limits due to safety or biosecurity requirements.
3. Designate a point of contact and develop an inspection plan
Do not give an inspector unaccompanied access to your property. Instead, select a point of contact to be present while the agent is assessing the farm. Designate either a family member or an employee who is most familiar with your farm’s environmental compliance and management practices, and develop an action plan so all members of the farm know who to notify, as well as, under what conditions the inspector should be granted access to documents and property. All parties involved should be courteous, truthful and answer only the questions asked of them.
4. Consider legal counsel or an environmental consultant
While most farms do not have legal counsel on-site during an inspection, it may be wise to request assistance from an attorney or your environmental consultant if the inspection is unannounced or not routine, if a state enforcement action is threatened or pending, or if there are indications of a criminal investigation.
Part II: During the inspection
1. Accompany the inspector and cooperate with requests for information
After notifying all family members or employees that an enforcement official will be evaluating the farm’s environmental compliance, direct the point of contact to accompany the inspector at all times. If the inspector takes notes, photos or samples, so should the point person. If the inspector requests a copy of certain records, be sure the point of contact also makes a copy and obtains receipts for any samples or original documents that will leave the farm. Following these steps will allow you to know exactly what information the inspector has collected and will serve as evidence against any disputes or discrepancies in the future.
During the EPA or DNR inspection, it is also important to cooperate, but not speculate. Although it may seem natural to put up your defenses, remember that federal law prohibits knowingly and willfully falsifying or concealing material facts or making fraudulent statements of material facts. Answer the agent’s questions truthfully while not volunteering information beyond what was asked of you. If you don’t know an answer, assure the inspector you will follow-up in a timely fashion.
2. Claim confidentiality and determine if employee interviews will be conducted
If applicable, claim any records the inspector requests as confidential business information (CBI) to protect trade secrets or other private business matters. Failure to claim CBI may waive your farm’s claim and subject the records to public scrutiny.
In the event the inspector wishes to formally interview specific individuals other than the point of contact, notify legal counsel immediately. A request for interviews may signal the EPA or DNR is building a record against your farm.
3. Request an exit interview
Rather than waiting to receive the inspectors final report, request an exit interview to learn as much as possible about the investigator’s findings. This step will allow you to ensure the agent’s conclusions are not based on inadequate information or a misunderstanding, and it will help you determine how to handle any potential disputes.
Part III: After the inspection
1. Organize notes and obtain the inspection report
Following the inspection, ask the point of contact to summarize the inspection and exit interview in written form. Compare these notes to the EPA or DNR report to identify any errors. All owners or management not present at the time of the inspection should be informed about what information was collected. If potential violations were noted, contact legal counsel to determine how to proceed.
2. Respond to the DNR or EPA requests and conclusions
If additional information was requested at the time of the inspection, provide it to the inspector as soon as possible. You may wish to consult with legal counsel to help prepare this information and communicate with the environmental organization on your behalf.
The EPA responds to non-compliance in a number of ways including: A letter notifying the farm of violations, administrative compliance order, administrative compliance order plus an administrative penalty, civil judicial enforcement action (penalties and/or injunctive relief) or criminal enforcement. Any of these non-compliance notices require immediate attention.
3. Correct all violations
Once you are aware of what violations have been issued to your farm, correct them as quickly as possible. Your cooperation will demonstrate a cooperative attitude and will reduce any “per day” penalties.
For more information about preparing for a DNR or EPA inspection, visit: supportfarmers.com/InspectionInfo or call 1-800-932-2436. •
Haley Banwart is an assistant field specialist at the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.